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Workshops & seminars, Conferences & lectures

Working with Concepts in the Social Sciences

with Dr. Frederic Schaffer, Professor,
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Monday, May 14, 2018 –
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
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 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 operationalization, measurement validity, and the dangers of conceptual stretching. 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:

1. 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.

2. For you to learn the basics of conceptual reconstruction: how to construct concepts by manipulating the intension and extension of a term, how to build complex family resemblance and radial categories, how to assess the goodness of term using criteria such as measurement validity, differentiation, coherence, and theoretical utility.

3. For you to learn basic elucidative strategies derived from ordinary language philosophy and Foucauldian genealogy and how to assess the goodness of social-science concepts by recognizing problems of one-sideness, universalism, and objectivism.

4. For you to gain practice reconstructing and elucidating concepts by doing in-class exercises with concepts that you yourself have chosen.

Note that I will also be available during the lunch breaks for one-on-one consultations about your individual research needs and how the insights of this course might be adapted to meet those needs.



Click here to find out more about the WSSR's collaboration with the ECPR.

WSSR Spring 2018 Lineup in Qualitative Methodology

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