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Workshops & seminars, Conferences & lectures

Interpretive Approaches to Concepts

with Dr. Frederic Schaffer, Professor,
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Thursday, May 12, 2016 –
Friday, May 13, 2016
9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Dr. Frederic Schaffer
Professor, Department of Political Science
University of Massachusetts Amherst


This event is free


Henry F. Hall Building
1455 De Maisonneuve W.




Concepts are foundational to the social-science enterprise. This two-day workshop offers participants new ways to think about and work with them. In contrast to the more familiar positivist project of concept “reconstruction” – the formulation of a technical, purportedly neutral vocabulary for measuring, comparing, and generalizing – Professor Frederic Schaffer will introduce workshop participants to an interpretivist approach that he 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 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 threefold:

  1. For participants to understand the difference between reconstructing and elucidating concepts and to see what is at stake in choosing to do one or the other.
  2. For participants to learn the basics of elucidative strategies derived from ordinary language philosophy, Cambridge school historiography, and Foucauldian genealogy.
  3. For participants to elucidate concepts that they themselves are interested in by doing hands-on interviewing and textual-analysis exercises.

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