Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”


Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription to the ECPR Methods School offers and updates newsletter has been successful.

Discover ECPR's Latest Methods Course Offerings

We use Brevo as our email marketing platform. By clicking below to submit this form, you acknowledge that the information you provided will be transferred to Brevo for processing in accordance with their terms of use.

Working with Concepts

Member rate £492.50
Non-Member rate £985.00

Save £45 Loyalty discount applied automatically*
Save 5% on each additional course booked

*If you attended our Methods School in July/August 2023 or February 2024.

Course Dates and Times

Monday 1 – Friday 5 August 2022
2 hours of live teaching per day
15:00 – 17:00 CEST

Frederic Schaffer

University of Massachusetts Amherst

This seminar-type course provides a highly interactive online teaching and learning environment, using state of the art online pedagogical tools. It is designed for a demanding audience (researchers, professional analysts, advanced students) and capped at a maximum of 12 participants so that the Instructor can cater to the specific needs of each individual.

Purpose of the course

Concepts are foundational to the social-science enterprise. This course 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 generalising.

The other is an interpretivist approach that focuses on what I call 'elucidation.' Elucidation illuminates the worldviews of the people whom 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.

ECTS Credits

3 credits Engage fully with class activities
4 credits Complete a post-class assignment

Instructor Bio

Frederic Schaffer is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he teaches comparative politics. His research examines the meaning and practice of democracy across cultures and back in time. His methodological writings develop language-centred approaches to foundational research tasks like comparing, interviewing, and working with concepts.

He is the past chair of both the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods group of the American Political Science Association and the Committee on Concepts and Methods of the International Political Science Association. Among his publications are:

His most recent methodological writings include "Two Ways to Compare" in Rethinking Comparison: Innovative Methods for Qualitative Political Inquiry (2021) and "What is Interpretivist Interviewing?” in The Oxford Handbook of Methodological Pluralism in Political Science (forthcoming 2024). Interviews with him appear in Democractic Theory (2023), Politologija and the New Books in Political Science (2020) podcast.

Frederic’s ECPR course—Working with Concepts—received the Cora Maas Award for the best course at the 2022 ECPR Winter School and Summer School in Methods and Techniques. In addition to teaching at ECPR, he has offered methods workshops hosted by a variety of institutes, organisations, and universities including the Institute for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research, the Kind Institute in collaboration with the Southern Political Science Association, the Methods Excellence Network, Concordia University, Pompeu Fabra University, the University of Innsbruck, and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies.

This course will teach you about the presuppositions, aims, and tools of positivist reconstruction and interpretivist elucidation.

With regard to reconstruction, you will learn how to how to construct concepts by defining and organising properties; how to situate the concept on a ladder of generality; how to build more complex ladders of generality that include diminished subtypes; and how to assess the goodness of a concept using the criteria of external differentiation, internal coherence, explanatory utility, and content validity.

With regard to elucidation, you will learn basic elucidative strategies derived from ordinary language philosophy and Foucauldian genealogy and how to assess the goodness of social-science concepts by recognising problems of one-sidedness, universalism, and objectivism.

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.

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.

What you'll need

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.

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