Measuring Meanings | Computing Concepts

Practices of Operationalization and their Implications for Text Studies

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Call for Papers

Since the work of physicist Percy Bridgman (1927, 5), ›operationalization‹ is used to refer to the practice of determining or measuring concepts by means of a »set of operations«. In Bridgman’s strong variant of operationalization, he regarded the meaning of concepts as synonymous with the operations used to measure it. In Bridgman’s view, such operational definitions are fundamental to all research in physics. The concept of length, for instance, would thus be defined by the operations which are necessary for measuring the length of a physical object. Early on, this position was intensively discussed (cf. Frank 1956), and also criticized for that, in extreme cases, each new measurement method of a concept is equivalent to a new operational definition: »it becomes a tautology that any measurement operation is the correct one for the concept associated with it« (Chang, Cartwright 2008, 367).

Text-oriented DH projects seem to align with a weaker variant of operationalization in that their activities are structured by clearly delineable sub-steps (cf. Pichler, Reiter 2022; Krautter 2022). Thereby, operationalization can both contribute to the definitional refining of (humanities’) concepts, and facilitate opportunities for their empirical examination. The workshop aims to address these questions from scientific, computational, and praxeological perspectives, and thus attempts to provide an overview of the different theoretical positions and practical approaches; in particular with regard to operationalization in the field of digital humanities and digital text analysis. We especially solicit contributions that develop their theoretical reflections by means of concrete data. Please refrain from submitting textual analyses that do not include a theoretical reflection on their operationalization practice.

Guiding questions include, but are not limited to:

  • What is referred to as a concept in the text studying fields of the humanities? What is the role of such concepts in theory building?
  • What is the function of quantitative, formal or computational analysis in terms of conceptualization in text studying fields?
  • How does the practice of operationalization relate to traditional and current approaches to conceptualization in philosophy, e.g., Carnapian explication and conceptual engineering?
  • What is the practice of operationalization in text studying fields of the humanities?
  • How does operationalization interact with established machine learning workflows? Which understanding of operationalization is inherent in these workflows?
  • How does operationalizing engage with interpreting?
  • How do we compare and evaluate operationalizations?
  • How can we conceptualize the ›agent‹ that conducts the measurement (e.g., computer vs. human)? What impact do different agents and their capacities have on our understanding of operationalization?
  • What are the differences between expressing measurement rules in natural (such as annotation guidelines) and formal language in relation to the operationalized concepts? How do these as well as their guiding background assumptions affect our understanding of operationalization?
  • Does the advent of large language models (such as BERT and GPT) change our notion of operationalization – and if so, how?


Bridgman, Percy W.: The Logic of Modern Physics. New York 1927.

Chang, Hasok / Cartwright, Nancy: Measurement. In: The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science, ed. by Stathis Psillos / Martin Curd. Abingdon, New York 2008, 367–375.

Krautter, Benjamin: Die Operationalisierung als interdisziplinäre Schnittstelle der Digital Humanities. In: Scientia Poetica 26 (2022), S. 215–244.

Pichler, Axel / Reiter, Nils: From Concepts to Texts and Back: Operationalization as a Core Activity of Digital Humanities. In: Journal of Cultural Analytics 7.4 (2022),

Frank, Philipp G. (eds.): The Validation of Scientific Theories. Boston 1956.