Elucidating Concepts: An Interpretivist Approach
June 16, 2023
9:30 a.m. - 1:50 p.m. (EST)
Dr. Frederic Schaffer
Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
This workshop builds on the previous workshop “Working with Concepts: An Introduction to Positivist Reconstruction and Interpretivist Elucidation.” It explores new ways to think about and work with concepts derived from interpretivist methodology, in contrast to the more widely-known positivist approach of concept reconstruction.
In this workshop, participants will dig deeper into two key elucidative strategies: “grounding” (examining how concepts are used in everyday language) and “exposing” (identifying how concepts are embedded in webs of power). Participants will learn how to ground using ordinary language interviewing, a tool for uncovering the meaning of words in everyday talk. By studying the meaning of words, the promise is to gain insight into the various social realities these words name, evoke, or realize. Participants will learn how to expose by means of Foucaudian genealogy. The focus will be on exposing power carried by social science concepts, a task that is especially important insofar as the language of social science contains many concepts that have become naturalized or stabilized in ways that obscure from view their histories of contingency and contestation. The promise of genealogy is to denaturalize the natural and destabilize the stable, thereby make space for new ways to conceptualize the world.
The goals in this workshop are fivefold:
To dig deeper into concept elucidation and explore the elucidative strategies of “grounding” and “exposing”;
To answer basic questions about grounding by means of ordinary language interviewing: what this form of interviewing is and what can be discovered through it;
To learn how to conduct an ordinary language interview and gain practice doing one with a concept of each participant’s own choosing.
To learn how to expose by means of Foucauldian genealogy with a goal of denaturalizing the natural and destabilizing the stable, thereby making space for new ways of conceptualizing the world;
To use the tools of Foucauldian genealogy to practice exposing a concept of each participant’s own choosing.
Audience & Prerequisites
Participants are encouraged to first attend the workshop “Working with Concepts: An Introduction to Positivist Reconstruction and Interpretivist Elucidation.” If they were unable to do so, they should read chapter 1 of Frederic Charles Schaffer, Elucidating Social Science Concepts: An Interpretivist Guide (Routledge, 2016). In advance of the workshop, all participants will also need to identify a concept of interest to them that they will use in the two in-class exercises. Participants should also be able to work in Google Docs.
Grounding by means of ordinary language interviewing
Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. 1972. “Context, Sense, and Concepts.” In Wittgenstein and Justice: On the Significance of Ludwig Wittgenstein for Social and Political Thought. Berkeley: University of California Press; 71-98.
Schaffer, Frederic Charles. 2014. “Ordinary Language Interviewing.” In Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Empirical Turn, 2nd edition (Armonk, NY: M.E. Shape): 183-93.
Exposing by means of genealogy
Foucault, Michel. 1977. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History.” In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews edited by D. F. Bouchard. Ithaca: Cornell University Press; 139-64.
Oren, Ido. 1995. “The Subjectivity of the ‘Democratic’ Peace: Changing U.S. Perceptions of Imperial Germany. International Security 20,2: 147-84.