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The art of concept formation. As we are … prisoners of the words we pick, we had better pick them well Giovanni Sartori.

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Presentation on theme: "The art of concept formation. As we are … prisoners of the words we pick, we had better pick them well Giovanni Sartori."— Presentation transcript:

1 The art of concept formation

2 As we are … prisoners of the words we pick, we had better pick them well Giovanni Sartori

3 What is a concept? Definition: „‚the basic unit of thinking‘, such that ‚we have a concept of A (or of A-ness) when we are able to distinguish A from whatever is not A‘“ (Mair 2009: 179) Concepts consist of (Gerring 1999: 357-8) – Extension (referents, denotation): cases to be defined – Intension (definition, connotation): attributes defining these cases – Label

4 What do we need concepts for? Link the real world with the world of language Help us to communicate Help us categorise and to understand the world around us Help us to see whether like is compared with like Defining one‘ s concepts is therefore an essential part of the research process

5 Concepts and the Research Process Where is concept formation situated? – At at the very beginning (especially in quantitative studies) First „what is?“ or „of what is this an instance?“ before „how much?“ – But: concept formation is a constant process especially In qualitative research (with aim to sharpen concepts) (retroduction) Within the research community in general: concepts are constantly defined and redefined

6 Concepts are … (Hoover/Donovan 2008: 15) … tentative (potentially contested) … based on agreement „… useful only to the degree that they capture or isolate some signficant and definable item in reality“

7 What are the problems of non- or ill- defined concepts? In general – Bad labelling (label already in use, ambiguous, offensive etc.) – Extension too wide (concept not meaningful any more, does not distinguish, remains ambiguous) – Definition to narrow (limit ourselves in what we can talk about, investigate) – No clear definition (ambiguity)

8 Common mistakes with concept formation in term papers No concept definition at all. No debate about what this study is about Many concept definitions without priority. „There are many definitions to be found, so we cannot really define this“ One concept definition, yet not used. Quoting some (lexicon) definition in your „theory“ section, but then disregard what it says

9 Sartori‘s ladder of abstraction Levels of Abstraction Logical Properties of Concept Example 1Example 2 High-Level Categories Max. extension, min. intension RegimePolitical Party Medium-Level Categories Extension and intension in balance Liberal Democracy Mass Party Low-Level Categories Minimal extension, maximal extension Westminster (majoritarian) Democracy „Business firm model“-party

10 (Sartori‘s) Rules of Concept Formation Analyse cases only as part of a wider class of cases (what is this a case of?) Compare only within classes (of cases) If cases do not share one class → move up the ladder of abstraction If results are meaningles/too general → move down the ladder of abstraction Balloon image (Mair) – For detailed look: heavy basket (full of properties) – for overview: throw properties out of the basket

11 Group Work Discuss the concepts of -Americanization -„queuing“ -Football -Scottish identity How would you define the concept ? (intension) What different forms/types /cases exist ? (extension) What is the concept part of? (Move up the ladder of abstraction) What can it be compared with (members of the same class)


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