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What Makes a Concept Good? A Criterial Framework for Understanding Concept Formation in the Social Sciences

John Gerring
Polity
Vol. 31, No. 3 (Spring, 1999), pp. 357-393
DOI: 10.2307/3235246
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3235246
Page Count: 37
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What Makes a Concept Good? A Criterial Framework for Understanding Concept Formation in the Social Sciences
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Abstract

Nowhere in the broad and heterogeneous work on concept formation has the question of conceptual utility been satisfactorily addressed. Goodness in concept formation, I argue, cannot be reduced to 'clarity,' to empirical or theoretical relevance, to a set of rules, or to the methodology particular to a given study. Rather, I argue that conceptual adequacy should be perceived as an attempt to respond to a standard set of criteria, whose demands are felt in the formation and use of all social science concepts: (1) familiarity, (2) resonance, (3) parsimony, (4) coherence, (5) differentiation, (6) depth, (7) theoretical utility, and (8) field utility. The significance of this study is to be found not simply in answering this important question, but also in providing a complete and reasonably concise framework for explaining the process of concept formation within the social sciences. Rather than conceiving of concept formation as a method (with a fixed set of rules and a definite outcome), I view it as a highly variable process involving trade-offs among these eight demands.

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