Research Committees and Study Groups of the IPSA
You are cordially invited to participate in a conceptual exercise organized by IPSA RC1 on
Conceptual and Terminological Analysis (COCTA) that will contribute to the goal of the
millennial project for Development of Political Science, sponsored by IPSA RC33. We are
seeking answers to three questions -- each is explained in a note linked to the accompanying
1. BLURB.* Your group is listed on the IPSA Home Page
with a blurb that explains its goals
and identifies its key concepts. If you were to re-write your blurb today, looking toward the
coming millennium, would you want to make any revisions, and if so, what would they be?
2. PUZZLES.* Are any terms used in your blurb
problematical for members of your group -- if
so, you will have had some discussion of their meanings. Have you encountered the need for new
terms since you began your work, and what are they? Please explain.
3. GENESIS.* Who were your pioneers in proposing and establishing your group and, if they can be contacted by e-mail, please give us their addresses? We would like to ask them some questions about the considerations that led them to think your group would be important and would contribute to the development of Political Science.
1. BLURB.. The word, blurb, is a neologism of this century referring to a short publicity notice. Although designed to explain the contents of a book, it is also applicable to any short statement about the purposes of a group, and it's hard to think of a better word to describe what we find in the notices about the goals and strategy of our IPSA research groups. They not only describe a group's self-image and intentions, but also seek to promote interest among members of IPSA who might want to join the group. As times change and new members join, group interests also evolve. Old problems may be solved and new ones emerge. That means that our blurbs need to be revised from time to time. As we enter the new millennium, we also want to think ahead and anticipate future problems relevant for study by our groups. Does this not dictate periodic revision of these key statements about our activities and intentions?. It certainly does for IPSA RC1, the first Research Committee to be chartered by IPSA. We are in the process of registering a new blurb that will, we hope, clarify our goals for the coming years. Here is our draft text which differs significantly from the blurb you will find on the IPSA Home Page:
RC1: Conceptual and Terminological Analysis / L'analyse
terminologique et les concepts. -- Recognized 1976
COCTA focuses on the concepts and terms used in political science theories. It promotes both
the disambiguation of terms with multiple meanings that are used by political scientists in their
research and teaching, and the development of new concepts designed to handle the emerging
problems of a globalizing world. Doing this requires a combination of semantic methods that
focus on the clarification of existing terms and the newly elaborated ana-semantic (onomantic)
methods that permit the description of needed concepts and their unambiguous representation.
COCTA also promotes the systematization of related concepts in hierarchic ladders of
abstraction and also the recognition of overlapping concepts that cannot be reduced to
hierarchies. It acknowledges the need for fuzzy concepts that lack clear boundaries as well as
the operational concepts needed in the compilation of data and the testing of theory by the
falsification of propositions. Research that advances theory, knowledge and our ability to
understand and handle important problems requires conceptual building blocks and a growing
capacity to recognize and manage them in our work.
To achieve this goal, COCTA creates opportunities for theoretical and empirical discourse
within the International Political Science Association, and promotes cooperation with
comparable groups in scholarly bodies like the International Sociological Association, the
International Studies Association, and other members of the International Social Science
Council. The INTERCOCTA methodology developed over the past decades with UNESCO
support is available for use by all IPSA members. In addition, COCTA cooperates with any
group interested in related methodologies that can help scholars understand each other. For
demonstration purposes, it also promotes the cooperative analysis of key terms, like
"globalization," whose growing popularity is accompanied by conceptual confusion. Such
projects contribute to the development of COCTA methodology and theory.
2. PUZZLES. Three words used in the first sentence of the COCTA blurb as given above are
"terms," "concepts" and "theories." Like most of the important words used by political scientists,
each of these words has several meanings. Multiple meanings of a word are not a problem unless,
in context, one is not clear about which of these meanings is intended. All three of these words
can be ambiguous, and when COCTA was launched, we ourselves were not very clear about what
we wanted to do. However, as we progressed it became clear that our goal is to support the
development of useful theories in Political Science by helping scholars find ways to say exactly
what they mean. To do that, they need to be able to describe as simply as possible the important
concepts they want to use, and to find words that represent them as unambiguously as possible.
That sounds simple, but it's actually not easy to do. For example, many people make no clear
distinction between a term and a concept. To put the point rather starkly, terms have meanings
but concepts do not. A concept is the meaning of a term, and cannot have another meaning.
Concepts need to be described by a text (definition). Terms are the short-hand words or phrases
used to point to such a concept. However, concepts are important or not depending on their use
in propositions or theories. Theories are statements involving concepts that are related to each
other. Thus a theory is a package linking concepts each of which is represented by one or more
terms. There have been many arguments among COCTA members over these terms and we find
that having a clear understanding of what they mean is critical for our work -- and, we think, for
the work of all political scientists.
To illustrate this point, consider that to identify any concept we need a statement that establishes its necessary characteristics. Variables that may or many not be included in a concept can, however, be linked to it by theoretical propositions. Thus if one asserts that political parties must, by definition, be in competition with other parties, then an organization like the Communist Party in China is not a party, by definition. However, if having competition is not included in the definition of party, then we can identify this Party as a party. Having a broader definition of party enables us to develop theories about what happens when parties compete with each other as compared with what happens when there is only one party in a given polity. No definition of party is correct or incorrect in the abstract, but in context we need to be clear about the defined characteristics of a party in order to make theoretical statements that can be assessed as true or false. Reversing the familiar semantic paradigm, COCTA has pioneered a kind of "reverse dictionary" methodology in which one first describes concepts that are needed and then suggests one or more terms that can be used unambiguously to represent them. We call that the onomantic approach.
3. GENESIS. The origins of a research group help us understand the theoretical contexts
prevailing in Political Science at the time, and subsequent changes in orientation of such groups
also give us some glimpses into the future. Imagine, for example, that we have a research group
focusing on political parties and that its understanding of parties makes competition between
parties a necessary characteristic of the concept. Now assume that a national association for
Political Science in China, Vietnam or Cuba joins IPSA and wants to join that group, only to
discover that the only Party they know is not accepted as a party. To resolve this problem, they
might propose a new group to focus on single-party systems, or demand that the existing group
re-define its notion of a party.
The existence of many hybrid groups in IPSA reveals something else. When Political Science
emerged as a discipline, it presupposed that one could analyze political phenomena independently
of topics studied by economists, sociologists, psychologists, historians or geographers.
Increasingly, however, looking at the real world, political scientists have discovered that efforts to
be inward-looking without considering economic, social, psychological, historical and geographic
constraints was self-defeating. Accordingly, they opened themselves to cross-disciplinary
research as political-economists, political-sociologists, political-psychologists, political historians
and political geographers. When did this happen, and what cross-disciplinary communications did
it involve? Did specialists in other disciplines come to work with political scientists, or did IPSA
members join other association in order to cultivate the cross-disciplinary insights they needed?
In such exercises, did they run into communication problems. For example, we speak of
"political-economy," but do economists share this concept with us, or speak instead of
"economic-politics" or perhaps of "externalities" affecting economic behavior? Getting answers
to such questions would help us understand how our concepts have evolved in relation to those
needed in other disciplines.
Another kind of genetic question involves the relation between Political Scientists in particular
countries (like the United States) and those in other countries. Most American political scientists,
working parochially in the context of the APSA, tend to identify parties, legislatures, elections, or
public opinion with phenomena they are familiar with in the U.S. When political scientists from
other countries joined IPSA, they needed to be able to look at political phenomena found in their
own countries. Because so many terms and concepts evolved in the American context had
already entered into the vocabulary of political scientists in other countries, they needed to find
ways to talk about political phenomena that would not be constrained by the American
vocabulary. This tension became even more striking when members from new states of the
"Third World" joined IPSA and found that many concepts in general use presupposed conditions
found throughout the Western world. They needed new concepts to help them focus on the
different phenomena or problems of their own countries.
Perhaps these are just guesses, and mistaken impressions. In order to learn the truth and to expand our capacity to look objectively and without ethnocentrism as politics around the world, we think information about the thoughts of pioneers involved in established new IPSA research groups will prove helpful. This is why we raise the third question about the genesis of these groups and seek to establish contact with their founders.
See linked pages:  POLITICAL SCIENCE CONCEPTS || COCTA BLURB || COCTA || Onomantics 
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