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Explication and communities of practice


Studies of explication in use suggest that the practice of explication is informed by the mores, traditions and semiotics of the respective profession, team or group.


In early 2005, a detailed literature search was undertaken with the aim of clarifying the idea and practice of explication in the context of multiple definitions found in a wide range of sources including the internet and professional practice.

Based on the literature review, the use of the term “explication” was noticed in writings and internet links relating to at least five communities of practice, namely:

  1. explication as a process within knowledge management;
  2. explication as a form of literary sensemaking;
  3. explication as a psychotherapeutic approach;
  4. explication as an element of heuristic inquiry, and
  5. explication as a philosophical enterprise.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, we found different interpretations and emphases across the five communities of practice, and these are summarised below.

Summary of results

In knowledge management

The process of making “the tacit” explicit is a central theme in the work on knowledge management which is concerned with philosophical and methodological issues in transforming tacit (or implicit) knowledge into explicit knowledge (cf. Ambrosini and Bowman, 2001).

In literary sense making

Copeland (nd) takes explication to be consistent with explication de texte. He writes:

“An explication (also called a literary analysis) verbalizes one’s experience of a work of literature and accounts for this experience by a detailed, objective investigation of the literary text. It is not a paraphrase or a summary of what the work says but an explanation of what it does: how the work generates in you the experience you have undergone as a reader. You explicate a work in order to get to know it better and hence to like it better.” (Copeland, nd).

In psychotherapy

In this field, the use of the term explication suggests a sort of action learning approach.

Sachse (2003) writes,

“A clarification or explication process requires a client to face the relevant parts of his meaning structures by putting forward relevant questions. These questions first aim at describing a problem, but later aim at clarifying the client’s feelings and the felt meanings determined by aspects of the problem. Eventually, these questions aim at explication of the problem-determined meaning structures.”
“These questions, whether explicitly or implicitly mentioned by the client, are described as the client’s processing modes. A processing scale with eight levels has been suggested; a client can go through it in the explication of his meaning structures”. (Sachse, 2003)

The definition found here is consistent with the processes of explication as a personal development process; a process which surfaces alternative perspectives and uncovers new meanings/interpretations by asking key questions about the evidence which waits to be unearthed from the enquiry/review/interrogation of one’s ongoing and past experiences.

In heuristic enquiry

Heuristic enquiry shares many of the demanding characteristics of explication as a personal development process. Hiles (2001, pp. 3 -4) comments that heuristic enquiry is,

an extremely demanding process, involving disciplined commitment, rigorous self-searching and self-reflection, and ultimately a total surrender to the process. It does not suit a fixed time-frame for research, and should not be attempted lightly. In essence, it is a research process designed for the exploration and interpretation of experience, which uses the self of the researcher…..The researcher really needs to feel passionate about the research question (West, 1998a; 1998b). Indeed, what is explicitly the focus of the approach is the transformative effect of the inquiry on the researcher’s experience” which is achieved by a “process of discernment.”

In philosophy

Explication is grounded in philosophy. Explication is “an appropriate methodology for formal philosophy” (Maher, 2007), and in Mautner’s argument (1996, p. 189), the explication process is a way of

“replacing a vague or otherwise defective pre-theoretical concept, the explicandum, with a better one, the explicatum.”


We have briefly explored five common usages of the term“explication”.

What stands out from a review of these definitions is that each is expressed within the contexts of the particular subject area, discipline, or community of practice. Indeed, as each discipline or field of enquiry is necessarily subject to (and part of) its own languaging, then inevitably different meanings are attributed to identical words, and the word “explication” is not exempt.

But the differences among the definitions belie their similarities, for each definition involves a form of clarification. Thus, in knowledge management it’s about making the implicit explicit; in literary analysis, it’s about getting to know a text better; in psychotherapy, explication is about helping a client to clarify and understand their feelings; in heuristic inquiry it is about the exploration and interpretation of one’s experiences, and in Mautner’s dictionary entry (which echo’s Canap’s argument (1950)), explication aims to derive a new concept or theory which is better than its predecessor.

On this analysis it is clear that explication is a form of experiential learning, and offers helpful meanings to those who choose to use the word in the context of their own discipline. Whether the word is well specified in its usages by particular communities of practice is a different matter; and beyond the purposes of this web page.

References in order of appearance….

Ambrosini, V. and Bowman, C. (2001) “Tacit knowledge: Some suggestions for operationalization”, Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 38, No. 6, September, pp. 811-829.

Copeland, T. (nd) “How to Write an Explication”, Youngstown State University

Sachse, R. (nd) “Concrete Interventions are Crucial: The Influence of the Therapist’s Processing Proposals on the Client’s Intrapersonal Exploration in Client-Centred Therapy”, Ruhr Universität, Bochum, F.R.Germany

Hiles, D. (2001) “Heuristic Inquiry and Transpersonal Research”, Paper presented to CCPE, London, October 2001.

Maher (2007). “Explication defended” Studia Logica, Volume 86, Number 2, July 2007, pp. 331-341.

Mautner, T. (1996) The Penguin dictionary of philosophy, Penguin Books, London.

Carnap, R. (1950) Logical foundations of probability, University of Chicago Press, Illinois.

Page last published: 27 April 2013