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CONCEPT, THEORY, CASE Deciphering the Differences 1.

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Presentation on theme: "CONCEPT, THEORY, CASE Deciphering the Differences 1."— Presentation transcript:

1 CONCEPT, THEORY, CASE Deciphering the Differences 1

2 Outline 1. Definitions 2. Debates in Academia 3. Quantitative vs. Qualitative Approaches 4. Applying Theory to Case 2

3 1. Definitions – Concept  A concept is one word, or phrase, that suggests an abstract idea or phenomenon in the social sciences.  Concepts are highly contested.  Concepts can be ambiguous – a major task in philosophical and theoretical writing is to clarify them.  Concepts are building blocks for theory – it is important to be clear what you mean when you use them! 3

4 -Take a piece of paper and write down your definition of what freedom is. -What are its components? -What are the similarities/differences of your definitions? Class exercise: What is freedom? 4

5 1. Definitions – Theory  Theories are an attempt to logically and systematically explain real-life phenomena in an accessible and clear way. 5

6 1. Definitions – Theory  Theories have different functions:  Make generalisations and classifications – grand theories try to explain how the world works e.g. Marxism  Build hypotheses to be tested through empirical research  Draw connections at an abstract level, which might not be immediately observable, to guide research in new directions  Explain and identify potential causal mechanisms and other relationships between different phenomena 6

7 1. Definitions – Model  Models are mid-level theories that are restricted to specific phenomena.  They work as analytical tools, simplifying specific phenomena, and use a set of specific concepts to look at a phenomenon.  They are often based on greater theories, however, scholars with different theoretical standpoints can use the same models as tools of analysis. 7

8 1. Definitions – Variable  Variables are concepts that are defined in such a way that they can be observed and/or measured in some way.  Variables can be evaluated in terms of to their validity and reliability.  We distinguish between dependent and independent variables. 8

9 2. Debates in Academia? Academia is all about debates – can you think of some? Theories evolve over time and with debates. 9

10 Realism vs. Neorealism  Before World War II ‘realism’ meant something different to what it meant in the post-WWII cold war environment.  Classical realism puts an emphasis on the self- interested and unchanging human nature, which makes states self-interested and power-seeking units.  Neo-realism explains conflict by the state of anarchy in the international sphere. It is less power- seeking, but survival-seeking behaviour that leads to conflict. 10

11 3. Quantitative vs. Qualitative Approaches - Quantitative and qualitative approaches often ask and answer different questions, so that they may conceptualise ideas/phenomena differently despite often using the same words. - When using a quantitative approach, scholars must use concepts in a way in which they are quantifiable. - Qualitative approaches can allow for much broader conceptualisations. 11

12 Class exercise: Conceptualising “Democracy” for a Qualitative and a Quantitative Study QualitativeQuantitative 12

13 4. Applying theory to case.  In this course, we apply different theories and models, employing different concepts, to analyse specific events in history, i.e. cases.  Theories and models by definition are analytical tools that simplify the “reality” of a case in order to make it analysable.  Thus, different theoretical lenses simplify cases in different ways, and thus can shed light on different aspects of a conflict, as they ask questions differently. 13

14 Question: What caused the Great Lakes Conflict of 1996? What kinds of sub-questions would we ask to answer this, looking at the conflict from a… … Realist perspective? … Social constructivist perspective? Class exercise: Looking at the 1996 Great Lakes Conflict 14

15 Conclusion  What is a…  …concept?  …theory?  …model?  …variable?  What makes good research?  Is quantitative always better than qualitative?  What is the use of applying theories to a case? 15

16 16 This presentation is licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 South Africa License. To view a copy of this licence, visit Or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California 94105, USA.

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