Concepts are foundational to the social-science enterprise. This two-day workshop introduces you 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 I call “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 worldviews 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 the workshop are fourfold:
For you to understand the difference between reconstructing and elucidating concepts and to see what is at stake in choosing to do one or the other.
For you to learn the basics of 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 criteria of external differentiation, internal coherence, explanatory utility, and content validity.
For you to learn one basic elucidative strategy derived from ordinary language philosophy and how to assess the goodness of social-science concepts by recognizing problems of one-sideness, universalism, and objectivism.
For you to gain practice reconstructing and elucidating concepts by doing in-class exercises with concepts that you yourself have chosen.
You will need to bring a Wi-Fi enabled laptop as well as MS Word (or other document-editing software) and Adobe Acrobat (or other pdf-viewing software) to do in-class exercises. You will also need to identify one or two concepts of interest to you. It would be helpful if you could do that in advance of the workshop.
Workshop Outline & Reading List
Workshop Part I - Wednesday, January 8
Session 1 - Afternoon Section 1
2:00pm - 4:00pm
Methodologies and concepts
In this introductory part of the workshop, you will learn what it means to adopt a positivist or interpretivist methodology and their respective approaches to concepts.
The basics of positivist reconstruction You will learn a few fundamental tools of concept reconstruction: identifying and organizing the defining properties of a concept and situating that concept on a ladder of generality which includes its enclosing concept, contrasting concepts, and subtypes. You will then reconstruct a concept of your own choosing and situate it on a ladder of generality.
Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine, and Dvora Yanow. 2012. Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes (New York: Routledge): 4-7.
Sartori, Giovanni. 1970. “Concept Misformation in Comparative Politics.” American Political Science Review 64,4: 1033-46.
_____.2009. “An Illustration.” In Concepts and Method in Social Science: The Tradition of Giovanni Sartori edited by David Collier and John Gerring. New York: Routledge; 72-74.
Session 2 - Afternoon Section 2
4:30pm – 6:20pm
We add to our reconstructive repertoire by learning how to construct more complicated ladders of generality that include diminished subtypes. You will then create diminished subtypes of your own concept and place them on the ladder of generality which you have already created.
Assessing reconstructed concepts from a positivist perspective Using the positivist criteria of external differentiation, internal coherence, explanatory utility, and content validity, you will learn to assess the goodness of a reconstructed concept.
Collier, David, and James E. Mahon, Jr. 1993. “Conceptual ‘Stretching’ Revisited: Adapting Categories in Comparative Analysis.” American Political Science Review 87,4: 845-55.
In 2020, for the first time, the WSSR is collaborating with the Southern Political Science Association and is hosting a series of half- and full-day workshops during their conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Join us between January 8th and January 11th and attend one or more of our workshops: