Colchester, United Kingdom

Working with Concepts

online course
when 7 August 2023 - 11 August 2023
language English
duration 1 week
credits 4 EC
fee GBP 478

Learn to use 'formation' and 'elucidation' as ways to think about and work with concepts in your research in social science enterprise.

Need to know

No prerequisite knowledge is required for this course. You will need to identify one or two concepts relevant to your own research interests. You'll be working with these concepts during several hands-on exercises.

In depth

In this course, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of positivist reconstruction and interpretivist elucidation, including their presuppositions, objectives, and tools. You will learn how to construct concepts by defining and organising properties, placing them on a ladder of generality, building complex ladders that incorporate diminished subtypes, and evaluating their quality based on criteria such as external differentiation, internal coherence, explanatory utility, and content validity.

You will also be introduced to basic elucidative strategies inspired by ordinary language philosophy and Foucauldian genealogy, and learn how to recognise and address issues of one-sidedness, universalism, and objectivism in social science concepts.

How the course work online

This course takes advantage of the flexibility afforded by online teaching to offer a rich, multi-modal learning experience that includes:

• Pre-course readings that provide you with foundational knowledge about working with concepts in the social sciences.
• Independent but collaborative reading that gives you foundational knowledge about working with concepts.
• Recorded lectures that teach you about the presuppositions, aims, and tools of positivist reconstruction and interpretivist
• Independent exercises that allow you to build your reconstructive and elucidative skills.
• Live sessions that give an opportunity for class discussion and afford you practice in reconstructing and elucidating a concept that you have chosen yourself.

During the week, you should expect to spend roughly four hours each day on homework (readings, watching videos, completing exercises) in addition to the two-hour live class sessions.

Hardware, software and database requirements

• Internet connection on a computer with Zoom installed.
• Software to open and read PDFs.
• Ability to work in Google docs.
• Access (from your home institution) to Jstor and the Oxford English Dictionary is optimal but not essential.
• A tablet, laptop or second monitor to view worksheets during live sessions may be useful but is not essential.

Course leader

Frederic Schaffer is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he teaches comparative politics. His methodological area of expertise is the investigation of concepts.

Target group

Researchers, professional analysts, and advanced students, and enrollment is limited to a maximum of 12 participants to ensure personalized attention from the instructor.

Course aim

This course aims to explore the importance of concepts in the social-science enterprise. You will learn about two different approaches to conceptualization:

• the positivist approach, which emphasizes the creation of technical and neutral vocabularies for measurement and comparison, also known as concept 'formation' or 'reconstruction'; and
• the interpretivist approach, which focuses on 'elucidation' to gain insight into the worldviews of the people being studied. In this course, we will also examine how social scientists' backgrounds, including their language, historical era, and power structures, can shape the concepts they use in their work.

Credits info

4 EC
You can earn up to four credits for attending this course.
3 ECTS credits – Attend 100% of live sessions and engage fully with class activities.
4 ECTS credits – Attend 100% of live sessions, engage fully with class activities and complete a post-class assignment.

Fee info

GBP 478: ECPR Member
GBP 956: ECPR Non-Member


Funding applications for the 2023 ECPR Summer School in Research Methods and Techniques are now closed.
For more details on funding opportunities for ECPR's other events, please visit our website.