Colchester, United Kingdom

Working with Concepts

online course
when 29 July 2024 - 2 August 2024
language English
duration 1 week
credits 4 EC
fee GBP 492

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

There is no prior knowledge required for this course. All of the information you need will be covered in the lectures and tutorials.

During the week of the course, you will spend three hours per day in live class sessions on Zoom. You should expect to devote, in addition, roughly four hours each day to homework (readings, watching videos, completing exercises). The instructor will conduct live Q&A sessions and offer designated office hours for one-to-one consultations.

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 will 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 elucidation.
- 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.

To avoid online fatigue, the course employs a pedagogy that includes small-group work, short and focused tasks, as well as troubleshooting exercises that utilise a variety of online applications to facilitate collaboration and engagement with the course content.

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

The instructor will conduct live Q&A sessions and offer designated office hours for one-to-one consultations.

What you'll need

1) A concept or two

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.

2) Hardware, software and database requirements

- Internet connection on a computer with Zoom installed
- 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

It is tailored for a discerning audience consisting of researchers, professional analysts, and advanced students, and enrollment is limited to a maximum of 16 participants.

Course aim

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

- The positivist approach, which emphasises the creation of technical and neutral vocabularies for measurement and comparison, also known as concept 'formation' or 'reconstruction.'
- 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 492: ECPR member - check whether your institution is a member here:
GBP 985: ECPR non-member


Funding applications for the 2024 ECPR Methods School summer programme are now opening for applications. Apply before mid-April 2024. For more details on funding opportunities for ECPR's other events, please visit