Registration policy

Methodological courses are designed for first-year students. If there are vacancies (less than 20 students), it will be opened for registration to students from previous cohorts (registration will be based on first come first served basis).

For students from previous cohorts (2nd year onwards) interested in taking this course, please send an e-mail to: [email protected]. Please indicate in the subject 'Registration to PhD Methodological Course'.



Defining and Working with Concepts in the Social Sciences


Professor: Frederic Schaffer (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

Duration: 20 hours

Dates (tentative): 17-21 January 2022


Course Description

Concepts are foundational to the social-science enterprise. This 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:

  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 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.
  3. 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.
  4. For you to gain practice reconstructing and elucidating concepts by doing in-class exercises with concepts that you yourself have chosen.