An Introduction to Some
Key Concepts
Anthony Sealey
University of Toronto
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Key Concepts to be Discussed
1) Theories, Concepts and Variables
2) Measures and Indicators
Theories, Concepts and Variables
• In the social sciences, we use the term
‘theory’ to refer to explanations of
observable regularities or patterns.
• Theory tell us why what we know to be
true is true.
e.g. Some people believe that Canadian
political culture is more ‘deferential’
than American political culture and
that Canadians are more likely to
favour a greater level of government
intervention that Americans.
Seymour Martin Lipset’s ‘Formative
Events’ theory suggests that this difference
can be explained by the differences in the
events which led to the creation of these
two countries. While the United States was
an outcome of a violent revolution against
the British government, the Canadian state
was created peacefully.
• ‘Concepts’ can be thought of as
theoretical building blocks which we use to
build theories. Concepts are often quite
abstract, but can also be quite concrete.
e.g. ????
• ‘Concepts’ can be thought of as
theoretical building blocks which we use to
build theories. Concepts are often quite
abstract, but can also be quite concrete.
e.g. Power, democracy, left- vs. right-wing,
feminism, moral traditionalism
• Broadly speaking, a ‘variable’ is anything
that can take on a variety of possible
values. The creation of variables is an
important step toward the operationalization
of a concept.
• When we operationalize a concept, we
provide a specific definition of it that
allows us to measure it. The creation of
specific variables helps us to do this.
e.g. For the purposes of this analysis, a
‘war’ is any armed conflict in which at
least 1000 people killed in armed
conflict in a given year.
Measures and Indicators
• A measure is a variable that has been
constructed in order to operationalize a
specific concept.
• An indicator is a variable that is combined
with other indicators in order to create a
measure.
e.g. Creating a Measure for ‘Social
Progressivism’
Social
Progressivism
Outlooks on
Gay Rights
Outlooks on
Prostitution
Outlooks on
Abortion
• Notice that in some case, a given variable
can be conceived of as either a measure or
an indicator.
e.g. ‘Outlooks on gay rights’ can be used
either as a measure of ‘homophobia’ or an
indicator of a measure of ‘social
progressivism’.