DP Course

Working with Concepts


12/12/2023 - 13/12/2023

  • Concepts are foundational to the social-science enterprise. This ten-hour workshop introduces participants to two distinct ways to think about and work with them. One is the positivist approach to what is called concept “formation” or “reconstruction” – the formulation of a technical, neutral vocabulary for measuring, comparing, and generalizing. This approach focuses attention on building concepts with a high degree of external differentiation, internal coherence, explanatory utility, and content validity. The other is an interpretivist approach that focuses on what Dr. Schaffer calls “elucidation.” Elucidation includes both an investigation into the language of daily life and a reflexive examination of social-science technical language. It is intended to illuminate both the world views of the people that social scientists wish to understand and the ways in which social scientists’ embeddedness in particular languages, historical eras, and power structures shapes the concepts with which they do their work.

    The main goals of this workshop are for participants to:

    1. Understand the difference between reconstructing and elucidating concepts as well as the divergent positivist and interpretivist methodological presuppositions which undergird them.

    2. Learn the basics of (positivist) conceptual reconstruction: how to construct concepts by defining and organizing properties; how to situate the concept on a ladder of generality; how to build more complex ladders of generality that include diminished subtypes; how to assess the goodness of a concept using the positivist criteria of external differentiation, internal coherence, explanatory utility, and content validity.

    3. Learn one basic (interpretivist) elucidative strategy derived from ordinary language philosophy and how to assess the goodness of social-science concepts from an interpretivist perspective by recognizing problems of one-sidedness, universalism, and objectivism.

    4. Gain practice reconstructing and elucidating concepts by doing in-class exercises


    The course will take place online on the 12th and 13th December 2023, both days from 1 to 6pm.

    About the lecturer  

    Dr. Frederic Schaffer is a Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is also a board member and past chair of the Committee on Concepts and Methods of the International Political Science Association, founding member of the Methods Excellence Network. His subfield of specialization is comparative politics and my methodological areas of expertise are interviewing, working with concepts, and interpretivism.

    Register here.




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