Writing a Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework gives direction to your research question/study.  It tells the reader your own position on the problem you are planning to investigate.

Here are two examples from my own work in the Common World Childhoods Research Collective:

Theoretical Framework: We frame our research and networking activities within the common worlds (Latour, 2004) conceptual framework that we have extrapolated elsewhere (Common World Childhoods Research Collective, 2014; Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2012; Taylor, 2013; Taylor & Giugni, 2012). This framework resists the nature/culture divide and situates childhoods within entangled human and non-human, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and social and environmental issues and concerns. Common worlds differ from the idealized natural worlds usually associated with Romantic Euro-western traditions that typically separate or pit nature and childhood against the corrupting influences of human society (Louv, 2008). Common worlds are natural and social worlds, messy and imperfect more-than-human worlds. Drawing from the environmental humanities, feminist eco-philosophies, more-than-human geographies, new material feminisms, science and technology studies, and Indigenous worldviews (e.g., Battiste, 2014; Haraway, 2008; Whatmore, 2002; van Doreen, 2014), our common worlds framework conceives of childhood and pedagogy beyond the human-centric concerns of mid-20th century human development theory and into the contemporary ecological challenges and concerns of the 21st century. Two related conceptual reframings inform our research. First, we reframe childhood as collective, situated, and entangled within messy real world relations. Second, we reframe pedagogies around these relations, rather than around individual children’s needs and ‘child-centred’ learning, focusing instead on the ethics and politics of human entanglements in the world and learning how to inherit and respond to these colonialist and ecological legacies.

Theoretical Approach/Framework: Our theoretical approach is informed by the new conceptualizations of waste and waste relations within the environmental social sciences on materiality. It is based on four premises:Waste materials are not static. Our first premise draws on retheorizations of matter that emphasize its “manifold mobility” (Davies, 2012). Matter transforms in intra-action with other forms of matter (Barad, 2007), flowing, scraping, mixing and mutating in “ceaseless … metabolic interchange” (Ingold, 2007, p.7). Waste matter is characterized by dynamic movements, disorderings, and transformations (Edensor, 2005; Gille, 2010; Moore, 2010).It is not just humans that make things happen. The second premise directly challenges humanism’s insistence that human reason gives us the sole capacity to exercise intentional agency. Increasingly, social science scholars are posing an alternative notion of distributed agency that decentres the human and acknowledges nonhuman entities as co-actors and co-shapers of the world (Plumwood, 2002; Latour 2004; Gibson-Graham & Roelvink, 2010; Hird, 2012).

Humans and waste materials exist in entangled relationships and affect one another. Our third premise draws on the understanding that no matter exists outside of relentless relational and intra-active networks (Barad, 2007; Alaimo, 2010; Gille, 2010; Hird, 2012). Our lives are inextricably entangled with the materials that we call waste. We both contribute to the production of waste materials and are affected by their movements and transformations (Hird, 2013).

Entangled human/waste relations have ethical implications. The fourth premise draws directly from Hird’s (2013) waste research and ties all the premises together. Hird’s studies of the microbial underground of landfill sites show that most of the transformative action on waste materials takes place in what she calls the “inhuman domain” of “geo-bacteria liveliness” (2012: 457, 458), in which humans do not “ultimately manage or determine processes and outcomes” (2012, p. 458). These perspectives offer a direct challenge to human-centric thinking about waste as only our making and our problem to solve. They demand a new kind of environmental ethic. In Hird’s terms, we must learn to “consider ourselves as vulnerable to, and with, our environment as latecomers to life’s already long-established flourishing and failing within a volatile landscape” (2012: 464)


3 thoughts on “Writing a Conceptual Framework

  1. HI Veronica,

    I have some questions on the expectations and criteria for our own conceptual framework papers. First, are the examples given here a good measure on how long you expect them to be? Is it okay for them to be this short, or would you want them to expand more on the ideas they’d be working with? The ones you posted here look kind of short to me, which is why I’m asking; they seem to be barely longer than an abstract, and I’m trying to get a good gauge on where a ‘theoretical framework’ fits on the spectrum between an abstract and a full on thesis proposal.

    Second, how constrained are we by which perspectives, conceptualizations, theories, etc. we should use? Do you want us to directly link our frameworks with the course readings, can we work with ideas that might be secondary to or tertiary to the readings, or ideas that informed the readings themselves? Can we colour outside the box here and use theories or conceptualizations that might not by typical of CYC literature, and if so, would you still expect some sort of hybridization or minimum content from the course readings?

    Finally, could you elaborate on what the research exactly was in the two examples posted above? It would be helpful to be able to correlate the research question with the framework. I’m also still slightly confused about the difference between the methodology and the framework, and how those two things interact. Is the framework like a conceptual ‘location’ for the paper?

    • Great questions!

      1- These are brief examples. Your paper is going to be longer. You need to elaborate on the concepts you introduce in the paper.

      2- We are exploring only a few theories in the course (mostly the posts)… Each paper will be different, and I don’t want to answer your question with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Some of you have already approached me with possibilities, that might be the best best way to go. Get in touch with me. And, remember that the purpose of the first two drafts is to explore exactly what you will be writing about. I don’t expect final drafts for your first draft. My answer to your questions is ‘it depends…’

      3- Conceptual and methodological frameworks do interact. Absolutely. How you investigate a topic (the kinds of questions that you ask) is always inspired by how you define/construct/view the topic.

      The first example asked the following questions: How might we be better informed about and constructively respond to the profound ecological challenges facing 21st century children? How might we contribute to seeking intergenerational environmental justice? How might we work with young children to transform understandings about our place in the world and how we think about and conduct our environmental relations? How might we constructively, creatively, and practically engage with growing concerns about human-induced climate change, species extinctions, and waste challenges? How might we develop pedagogical and methodological approaches that reposition humans within more-than-human common worlds and that support young children to create life-sustaining and enhancing environmental relations?

      The objective of the second example was to develop new early childhood education waste practices that are not based solely on managing (reusing and recycling) waste, but instead create better waste futures by supporting children to comprehend how our lives are deeply entangled with and affected by waste materials.

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