epistemology concepts micro-macro causation and explanation keynote

Concepts as Building Blocks of Theories

Concepts are the building blocks of theories. They help to grasp real world phenomena and to define logical relations among and between them. However, concepts are not simple depictions of reality. They possess certain internal theoretical structures which reflect the implicit ontological and normative assumptions of the theorist who establishes or uses them. This is particularly true in the social sciences, where researchers regularly derive concepts from politically-laden everyday language.

This module addresses methodological challenges encountered in the construction and use of concepts in the social sciences. It will focus on three aspects:

First, it addresses general advices and caveats concerning the semantic dimension of concepts. Not just the implicit normativity needs to be taken into account, but also the often polysemic nature of social scientific concepts. Second, the module focuses on the ontological characteristics of concepts: How can/should we construct concepts? To what extent can we identify explanatory power of concepts? How can we integrate these claims into theory building and application? In a third step we will focus on the empirical side of concepts. This concerns ways of improving construct validity and challenges in the operationalization of concepts in empirical research.

In dealing with these questions, this module aims at clarifying the implications of concept construction for theory building in general and for the empirical application of concepts and their transferability between different theoretical approaches in particular.