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Concept Misformation in Comparative Politics

Author(s): Giovanni Sartori


Source: The American Political Science Review, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Dec., 1970), pp. 1033-1053
Published by: American Political Science Association
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Thne American
Political Science Review
VOL. LXIV DECEMBER, 1970 NO. 4

CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS*


GIOVANNI SARTORI
University of Florence

"To have mastered 'theory' and 'method' is to anything to share with the crucial concern of
have become a conscious thinker, a man at work "methodology," which is a concern with the log-
and aware of the assumptions and implications ical structure and procedure of scientific en-
of whatever he is about. To be mastered by quiry. In a very crucial sense there is no meth-
'method' or 'theory' is simply to be kept from odology without logos, without thinking about
working."1 The sentence applies nicely to the thinking. And if a firm distinction is drawn-as
present plight of political science. The profession it should be-between methodology and tech-
as a whole oscillates between two unsound ex- nique, the latter is no substitute for the former.
tremes. At the one end a large majority of polit- One may be a wonderful researcher and ma-
ical scientists qualify as pure and simple uncon- nipulator of data, and yet remain an uncon-
scious thinkers. At the other end a sophisticated scious thinker. The view presented in this article
minority qualify as overconscious thinkers, in is, then, that the profession as a whole is griev-
the sense that their standards of method and ously impaired by methodological unawareness.
theory are drawn from the physical, "paradig- The more we advance technically, the more we
matic" sciences. leave a vast, uncharted territory behind our
The wide gap between the unconscious and backs. And my underlying complaint is that po-
the overconscious thinker is concealed by the litical scientists eminently lack (with excep-
growing sophistication of statistical and research tions) a training in logic-indeed in elementary
techniques. Most of the literature introduced by logic.
the title "Methods" (in the social, behavioral or I stress "elementary" because I do not wish to
political sciences) actually deals with survey encourage in the least the overconscious thinker,
techniques and social statistics, and has little if the man who refuses to discuss heat unless he is
given a thermometer. My sympathy goes, in-
* An earlier draft, "Theory and Method in Com-
stead, to the "conscious thinker," the man who
parative Politics," was submitted as a working realizes the limitations of not having a ther-
paper to the IPSA Torino Round Table of Sep- mometer and still manages to say a great deal
tember, 1969. I wish to thank, in this connection, simply by saying hot and cold, warmer and
the Agnelli Foundation which provided the grant cooler. Indeed I call upon the conscious thinker
for the Torino panel. I am particularly indebted to steer a middle course between crude logical
to David Apter, Harry Eckstein, Carl J. Friedrich, mishandling on the one hand, and logical perfec-
Joseph LaPalombara, Felix Oppenheim and Fred tionism (and paralysis) on the other hand.
W. Riggs for their critical comments. I am also Whether we realize it or not, we are still swim-
very much obliged to the Concilium on Interna- ming in a sea of naivete. And the study of com-
tional and Area Studies at Yale University, of parative politics is particularly vulnerable to, and
which I was a fellow in 1966-67. This article is illustrative of, this unfelicitous state of affairs.
part of the work done under the auspices of the
Concilium. I. THE TRAVELLING PROBLEM
'C. Wright Mills, "On Intellectual Craftsman- Traditional, or the more traditional, type of
ship," in Llewellyn Gross (ed.), Symposium on political science inherited a vast array of con-
Sociological Theory (New York: Harper & Row, cepts which had been previously defined and re-
1959) p. 27 (My emphasis). fined-for better and for worse-by generations
1033
1034 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

of philosophers and political theorists. To some Aside from the expansion of politics, a more
extent, therefore, the traditional political scien- specific source of conceptual and methodological
tist could afford to be an "unconscious thinker" challenge for comparative politics is what Brai-
-the thinking had already been done for him. banti calls the "lengthening spectrum of political
This is even more the case with the country-by- systems."6 We are now engaged in world-wide,
country legalistic institutional approach, which cross-area comparisons. And while there is an
does not particularly require hard thinking.2 end to geographical size, there is apparently no
However, the new political science engages in re- end to the proliferation of political units. There
conceptualization. And this is even more the were about 80 States in 1946; it is no wild guess
case, necessarily, with the new comparative ex- that we may shortly arrive at 150. Still more
pansion of the discipline. There are many rea- important, the lengthening spectrum of political
sons for this renovatio ab imis. systems includes a variety of primitive, diffuse
One is the very "expansion on politics." To polities at very different stages of differentiation
some extent politics results objectively bigger on and consolidation.
account of the fact that the world is becoming Now, the wider the world under investigation,
more and more politicized (more participation, the more we need conceptual tools that are able
more mobilization, and in any case more state to travel. It is equally clear that the pre-1950
intervention in formerly non-governmental vocabulary of politics was not devised for world-
spheres). In no small measure, however, politics wide, cross-area travelling. On the other hand,
is subjectively bigger in that we have shifted the and in spite of bold attempts at drastic termino-
focus of attention both toward the periphery of logical innovations it is hard to see how West-
politics (vis-A-vis the governmental process), ern scholars could radically depart from the po-
and toward its input side. By now-as Macridis litical experience of the West, i.e., from the vo-
puts it-we study everything that is "potentially cabulary of politics which has been developed
political."4 While this latter aspect of the expan- over millennia on the basis of such experience.
sion of politics is disturbing-it ultimately leads Therefore, the first question is: how far, and
to the disappearance of politics-it is not a pe- how, can we travel with the help of the available
culiar concern for comparative politics, in the vocabulary of politics?
sense that other segments of political science are By and large, so far we have followed (more
equally and even more deeply affected.5 or less unwitingly) the line of least resistance:
2 This is by no means a criticism of a compara- broaden the meaning-and thereby the range of
application-of the conceptualizations at hand.
tive item by item analysis, and even less of the
That is to say, the larger the world, the more we
"institutional-functional" approach. On the latter
have resorted to conceptual stretching, or con-
see the judicious remarks of Ralph Braibanti,
ceptual straining, i.e., to vague, amorphous con-
"Comparative Political Analytics Reconsidered,"
ceptualizations. To be sure, there is more to it.
The Journal of Politics, 30 (February 1968), 44-49.
One may add, for instance, that conceptual
3For the various phases of the comparative ap-
stretching also represents a deliberate attempt
proach see Eckstein's perceptive "Introduction," in
to make our conceptualizations value free. An-
H. Eckstein and D. E. Apter (eds.), Comparative
other concurrent explication is that conceptual
Politics (Glencoe: Free Press, 1963).
straining is largely a "boomerang effect" of the
4"Comparative Politics and the Study of Gov-
developing areas, i.e., a feedback on the Western
ernment: The Search for Focus," Comparative
categories of the diffuse polities of the Third
Politics, (October 1968), p. 81.
'On the "fallacy of inputism" see again the re-
marks of Roy C. Macridis, loc. cit., pp. 84-87. In 6
"Comparative Political Analytics Reconsid-
his words, "The state of the discipline can be ered," loc. cit., pp. 36-37.
summed up in one phrase: the gradual disappear- 'The works of Fred W. Riggs are perhaps the
ance of the political." (p. 86). A cogent statement best instance of such bold attempts. For a recent
of the issue is Glenn D. Paige, "The Rediscovery presentation see "The Comparison of Whole Po-
of Politics," in J. D. Montgomery and W. I. Siffin litical Systems," in R. T. Holt and J. E. Turner
(eds.), Approaches to Development (New York: (eds.), The Methodology of Comparative Research
McGraw Hill, 1966), p. 49 ff. My essay "From the (New York: Free Press, 1970), esp. pp. 95-115.
Sociology of Politics to Political Sociology," in While Riggs' innovative strategy has undeniable
S. M. Lipset (ed.), Politics and the Social Sciences practical drawbacks, the criticism of Martin Lan-
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. dau ("A General Commentary," in Ralph Braib-
65-100, is also largely concerned with the fallacy anti (ed.), Political and Administrative Develop-
of inputism viewed as a sociological reduction of ment (Durham: Duke University Press, 1969), pp.
politics. 325-334.) appears somewhat unfair.
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS 1035

World.8 These considerations notwithstanding, type.10 But if comparative politics is conceived


conceptual stretching does represent, in compar- as a method of control, then its generalizations
ative politics, the line of least resistance. And have to be checked against "all cases," and
the net result of conceptual straining is that our therefore the enterprise must be-in principle--
gains in extensional coverage tend to be matched a global enterprise. So the reason for world-wide
by losses in connotative precision. It appears comparisons is not simply that we live in a
that we can cover more-in travelling terms- wider world; it is also a methodological reason.
only by saying less, and by saying less in a far If two or more items are identical, we do not
less precise manner. have a problem of comparability. On the other
A major drawback of the comparative expan- hand, if two or more items have nothing, or not
sion of the discipline is, then, that it has been enough in common, we rightly say that stones
conducive to indefiniteness, to undelimited and and rabbits cannot be compared. By and large,
largely undefined conceptualizations. We do then, we obtain comparability when two or more
need, ultimately, "universal" categories-con- items appear "similar enough," that is, neither
cepts which are applicable to any time and identical nor utterly different. But this assess-
place. But nothing is gained if our universals ment offers little positive guidance. The problem
turn out to be "no difference" categories leading is often outflanked by saying that we make
to pseudo-equivalences. And even though we things comparable. In this perspective to com-
need universals, they must be empirical univer- pare is "to assimilate," i.e., to discover deeper or
sals, that is, categories which somehow are fundamental similarities below the surface of
amenable, in spite of their all-embracing very secondary diversities. But this argument equally
abstract nature, to empirical testing. Instead we affords little mileage and conveys, moreover, the
seem to verge on the edge of philosophical uni- misleading suggestion that the trick resides in
versals, understood-as Croce defines them-as making the unlike look alike. Surely, then, we
concepts which are by definition supra-empiri- have here a major problem which cannot be dis-
cal.9 posed of with the argument that political theo-
That the comparative expansion of the disci- rists have performed decently with comparing
pline would encounter the aforementioned stum- since the time of Aristotle, and therefore that we
bling block was only to be expected. It was easy should not get bogged by the question "What is
to infer, that is, that conceptual stretching comparable?" any more than our predecessors.
would produce indefiniteness and elusiveness, This argument will not do on account of three
and that the more we climb toward high-flown differences.
universals, the more tenuous the link with the In the first place if our predecessors were cul-
empirical evidence. It is pertinent to wonder, ture bound this implied that they travelled only
therefore, why the problem has seldom been as far as their personal knowledge allowed them
squarely confronted. to travel. In the second place, our predecessors
Taking a step back, let us begin by asking hardly disposed of quantitive data and were not
whether it is really necessary to embark in haz- quantitatively oriented. Under both of these lim-
ardous world-wide comparisons. This question itations they enjoyed the distinct advantage of
hinges, in turn, on the prior question, Why com- having a substantive understanding of the
pare? The unconscious thinker does not ask things they were comparing. This is hardly pos-
himself why he is comparing; and this neglect sible on a world wide scale, and surely becomes
goes to explain why so much comparative work impossible with the computer revolution. A few
provides extensions of knowledge, but hardly a years ago Karl Deutsch predicted that by 1975
strategy for acquiring and validating new the informational requirements of political sci-
knowledge. It is not intuitively evident that to ence would be satisfied by some "fifty million
compare is to control, and that the novelty, dis- card-equivalents [of IBM standard cards] . . .
tinctiveness and importance of comparative poli- and a total annual growth rate of perhaps as
tics consists of a systematic testing, against as
"0
many cases as possible, of sets of hypotheses, For the comparative method as a "method of
generalizations and laws of the "if . . . then" control" see especially Arend Lijphart, Compara-
tive Politics and the Comparative Method, (mim-
8 On the boomerang effect of the developing eographed) paper presented at the Torino IPSA
areas more in the final section. Round Table, September, 1969. According to Lijp-
9More precisely in B. Croce, Logica come Sci- hart the comparative method is a "method of dis-
enza del Concetto Puro, (Bari: Laterza, 1942), covering empirical relationships among variables"
pp. 13-17, universals are defined ultrarappresenta- (p. 2); and I fully concur, except that this defini-
tivi, as being above and beyond any conceivable tion can be entered only at a later stage of the ar-
empirical representability. gument.
1036 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

much as five million."1 I find the estimate According to my previous analysis, a taxo-
frightening, for computer technology and facili- nomic unfolding represents a requisite condition
ties are bound to flood us with masses of data for comparability, and indeed a background
for which no human mind can have any sub- which becomes all the more important the less
stantive grasp. But even if one shares the enthu- we can rely on a substantive familiarity with
siasm of Deutsch, it cannot be denied that we what is being compared. According to the fore-
have here a gigantic, unprecedented problem. going argument, instead, quantification has no
In the third place, our predecessors were far ills of its own; rather, it provides a remedy for
from being as unguided as we are. They did not the ills and inadequacies of the per genus et dif-
leave the decision about what was homogenous ferentiam mode of analysis. My own view is that
-i.e., comparable-and what was heterogen- when we dismiss the so-called "old fashioned
ous-i.e., non-comparable-to each man's genial logic" we are plain wrong, and indeed the victims
insights. As indicated by the terminology, their of poor logic-a view that I must now attempt
comparisons applied to things belonging to "the to warrant.
same genus." That is to say, the background of
comparability was established by the per genus II. QUANTIFICATION AND CLASSIFICATION

et differentiam mode of analysis, i.e., by a taxo- What is very confusing in this matter is the
nomical treatment. In this context, comparable abuse of a quantitative idiom which is nothing
means something which belongs to the same ge- but an idiom. All too often, that is, we speak of
nus, species, or sub-species-in short to the same degrees and of measurement "not only without
class. Hence the class provides the "similarity el- any actual measurements having been per-
ement" of comparability, while the "differences" formed, but without any being projected, and
enter as the species of a genus, or the sub-spe- even without any apparent awareness of what
cies of a species-and so forth, depending on must be done before such measurements can be
how fine the analysis needs to be. However, and carried out."13 For instance, in most standard
here is the rub, the taxonomical requisites of textbooks one finds that nominal scales are spo-
comparability are currently neglected, if not dis- ken of as "scales of measurement."14But a nom-
owned. inal scale is nothing else than a qualitative clas-
We are now better equipped for a discussion sification, and I fail to understand what it is
of our initial query, namely, why the travelling that a nominal scale does, or can, measure. To
problem of comparative politics has been met be sure classes can be given numbers; but this is
with the poor remedy of "conceptual stretching" simply a coding device for identifying items and
instead of being squarely confronted. While has nothing to do with quantification. Likewise
there are many reasons for our neglect to attack the incessant use of "it is a matter of degree"
the problem frontally, a major reason is that we phraseology and of the "continuum" image leave
have been swayed by the suggestion that our us with qualitative-impressionistic statements
difficulties can be overcome by switching from which do not advance us by a hair's breadth to-
"what is" questions to "how much" questions. ward quantification. In a similar vein we speak
The argument runs, roughly, as follows. As long more and more of "variables" which are not
as concepts point to differences of kind, i.e., as variables in any proper sense, for they are not
long as we pursue the either-or mode of analysis, attributes permitting gradations and implying
we are in trouble; but if concepts are under-
Gross, Symposium on Sociological Theory, p. 87.
stood as a matter of more-or-less, i.e., as point-
Martindale aptly comments that "Hempel's judg-
ing to differences in degree, then our difficulties
ments are made from the standpoint of the natural
can be solved by measurement, and the real
sciences." But the vein is not dissimilar when the
problem is precisely how to measure. Meanwhile
statistically trained scholar argues that "whereas
-waiting for the measures-class concepts and
it is admittedly technically possible to think al-
taxonomies should be looked upon with suspi-
ways in terms of attributes and dichotomies, one
cion (if not rejected), since they represent "an
wonders how practical that is": Hubert M. Bla-
old fashioned logic of properties and attributes
lock, Jr., Causal Inferences in Nonexperimental
not well adapted to study quantities and rela-
Research (Chapel Hill: University of North Caro-
tions."S2
lina Press, 1964, p. 32).
U
"Recent Trends in Research Methods," in J. C. Abraham Kaplan, The Conduct of Inquiry
Charlesworth (ed.), A Design for Political Science: (San Francisco: Chandler, 1964), p. 213.
Scope, Objectives and Methods (Philadelphia: l"Eg., L. Festinger and D. Katz (eds.), Research
American Academy of Political and Social Science, Methods in the Behavioral Sciences (New York:
1966), p. 156. Dryden Press, 1953); and Selltiz, Jahoda et al.,
2 Carl F. Hempel, quoted in Don Martindale, Research Methods in Social Relations (rev. ed.,
"Sociological Theory and the Ideal Type," in New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1959).
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMNPARATIVE POLITICS 1037

measurability. NSoharm necessarily follows if it hard to meet.16 Indeed, a cross-examination of


pleases us to use the word variable as a syn- our statistical findings in terms of their theoreti-
onym for the word concept; but we are only de- cal significance-and/or of a "more relevant"
luding ourselves if we really believe that by say- political science-shows an impressive dispro-
ing variable we have a variable. portion between bravura and relevance. Unfor-
All in all, coquetting (if not cheating) with a tunately, what makes a statistical treatment
quantitative idiom grossly exaggerates the ex- theoretically significant has nothing to do with
tent to which political science is currently amen- statistics.
able to quantification, and, still worse, obfus- As for the ultimate stage of quantification-
cates the very notion of quantification. The di- formal mathematical treatment-it is a fact
viding line between the jargon and the substance that, so far, political science and mathematics
of quantification can be drawn very simply: have engaged only "in a sporadic conversa-
quantification begins with numbers, and when tion."17 It is equally a fact that we seldom, if
numbers are used in relation to their arithmeti- ever, obtain isomorphic correspondences between
cal properties. To understand, however, the mul- empirical relations among things and formal rela-
tifaceted complexities of the notion beyond this tions among numbers.'8 We may well disagree
dividing line is a far less simple matter. Never- about future prospects,'9 or as to whether it
theless one may usefully distinguish-in spite of " Otherwise the comparative method would
the close interconnections-among three broad
areas of meaning and application, that is, be- largely consist of the statistical method, for the
tween quantification as i) measurement, ii) sta- latter surely is a stronger technique of control than
tistical manipulation and, iii) formal mathemat- the former. The difference and the connections are
ical treatment. cogently discussed by Lijphart, "Comparative Pol-
In political science we generally refer to the itics and and the Comparative Method," op. cit.
1 Oliver Benson, "The Mathematical Approach
first meaning. That is to say, far more often
than not the quantification of political science to Political Science," in J. C. Charlesworth (ed.),
consists of (a) attaching numerical values to Contemporary Political Analysis (New York: Free
items (pure and simple measurement), (b) us- Press, 1967), p. 132. The chapter usefully reviews
ing numbers to indicate the rank order of items the literature. For an introductory treatment see
(ordinal scales) and (c) measuring differences Hayward R. Alker, Jr., Mathematics and Politics
( New York: Macmillan, 1965). An illuminating
or distances among items (interval scales).15
Beyond the stage of measurement we do own, discussion on how quantification enters the various
in addition, powerful statistical techniques not social sciences is in Daniel Lerner (ed.), Quantity
only for protecting ourselves against sampling and Quality (Glencoe: Free Press, 1961), passim.
18 A classic example is the (partial) mathematical
and measurement errors, but also for establish-
ing significant relationships among variables. translation of the theoretical system of The Hu-
However, statistical processing enters the scene man Group of George C. Homans by Herbert A.
only when sufficient numbers have been pinned Simon, Models of Man (New York: Wiley, 1967),
on sufficient items, and becomes central to the Chap. 7. No similar achievement exists in the po-
discipline only when we dispose of variables litical science field. To cite three significant in-
which measure things that are worth measuring. stances, political science issues are eminently lack-
Both conditions-and especially the latter-are ing in Kenneth J. Arrow, "Mathematical Models
in the Social Sciences," in D. Lerner and H. D.
"There is some question as to whether it can Lasswell (eds.), The Policy Sciences (Stanford:
really be held that ordinal scales are scales of Stanford University Press, 1951), Chap. 8; in the
measurement: most of our rank ordering occurs contributions collected in P. F. Lazarsfeld (ed.),
without having recourse to numerical values, and Mathematical Thinking in the Social Sciences
whenever we do assign numbers to our ordered (Glencoe: Free Press, 1954); in J. G. Kemeny and
categories, these numbers are arbitrary. However, J. L. Snell, Mathematical Models in the Social
there are good reasons for drawing the threshold Sciences (Boston: Ginn, 1962).
of quantification between nominal and ordinal 19 Perhaps the mathematical leap of the disci-
scales rather than between ordinal and interval pline is just around the corner waiting for non-
scales. (See Edward R. Tufte, "Improving Data quantitative developments. If one is to judge, how-
Analysis in Political Science," World Politics, 21 ever, from the "mathematics of man" issue of the
(July 1969), esp. p. 645.) On the other hand, even International Social Science Bulletin introduced
if the gap between ordinal scales and interval by Claude Levi-Strauss (IV, 1954), this literature
measurement is not as wide in practice as it is in is very deceiving. More interesting is John G.
theory, nonetheless from a mathematical point of Kemeny, "Mathematics without Numbers," in
view the interesting scales are the interval and Lerner, Quantity and Quality, pp. 35-51; and the
even more, of course, the cardinal scales. modal logic developed by the Bourbaki group,
1038 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

makes sense to construct formalized systems terms of some variable, we must form the con-
of quantitatively well defined relationships cept of that variable.'"21
(mathematical models) so long as we wander in The major premise is, then, that quantifica-
a mist of qualitatively ill-defined concepts. If we tion enters the scene after, and only after, hav-
are to learn, however, from the mathematical ing formed the concept. The minor premise is
development of economics, the evidence is that that the "stuff" of quantification-the things
it "always lagged behind its qualitative and con- underpinned by the numbers-cannot be pro-
ceptual improvement."20 And my point is, pre- vided by quantification itself. Hence the rules of
cisely, that this is not a casual sequence. It is for concept formation are independent of, and can-
a very good reason that the progress of quantifi- not be derived from, the rules which govern the
cation should lag-in whatever discipline-be- treatment of quantities and quantitative rela-
hind its qualitative and conceptual progress. tions. Let us elaborate on this conclusion.
In this messy controversy about quantifica- In the first place, if we never really have
tion and its bearing on standard logical rules we "how much" findings-in the sense that the prior
simply tend to forget that concept formation question always is how much in what, in what
stands prior to quantification. The process of conceptual container-it follows from this that
thinking inevitably begins with a qualitative how much quantitative findings are an internal
(natural) language, no matter at which shore we element of "what is" qualitative questions: the
shall subsequently land. Correlatively, there is claim that the latter should give way to the
no ultimate way of bypassing the fact that hu- former cannot be sustained. It equally follows,
man understanding the way in which our mind in the second place, that "categoric concepts" of
works-requires cut-off points which basically the either-or type cannot give way to "grada-
correspond (in spite of all subsequent refine- tion concepts" of the more-than-less-than type.
ments) to the slices into which a natural or What is usually lost sight of is that the either-
qualitative language happens to be divided. or type of logic is the very logic of classification
There is a fantastic lack of perspective in the building. Classes are required to be mutually ex-
argument that these cut-off points can be ob- clusive, i.e., class concepts represent characteris-
tained via statistical processing, i.e., by letting tics which the object under consideration must
the data themselves tell us where to draw them. either have or lack. Two items being compared
For this argument applies only within the frame must belong first to the same class, and either
of conceptual mappings which have to tell us first have or not have an attribute; and only if they
of what reality is composed. Let it be stressed, have it, the two items can be matched in terms
therefore, that long before having data which of which has it more or less. Hence the logic of
can speak for themselves the fundamental artic- gradation belongs to the logic of classification.
ulation of language and of thinking is obtained More precisely put, the switch from classifica-
logically-by cumulative conceptual refinement tion to gradation basically consists of replacing
and chains of coordinated definitions-not by the signs "same-different" with the signs "same-
measurement. Measurement of what? We cannot greater-lesser," i.e., consists of introducing a
measure unless we know first what it is that we quantitative differentiation within a qualitative
are measuring. Nor can the degrees of something sameness (of attributes). Clearly, then, the sign
tell us what a thing is. As Lazarsfeld and Barton "same" established by the logic of classification
neatly phrase it, "before we can investigate the is the requisite condition of introducing the
presence or absence of some attribute . . . or be- signs "plus-minus."
fore we can rank objects or measure them in The retort tends to be that this is true only as
long as we persist in thinking in terms of attri-
Elements de Mathematique, appearing periodi- butes and dichotomies. But this rejoinder misses
cally (Paris: Hermann). For a general treatment the point that-aside from classifying-we dis-
see J. G. Kemeny, J. L. Snell, G. L. Thompson, pose of no other unfolding technique. Indeed,
Introduction to Finite Mathematics (Englewood the taxonomical exercise "unpacks" concepts,
Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1957). and plays a non-replaceable role in the process
'Joseph J. Spengler, "Quantification in Eco- of thinking in that it decomposes mental com-
nomics: Its History," in Lerner, Quantity and pounds into orderly and manageable sets of
Quality, p. 176. Spengler equally points out that component units. Let it be added that at no
"the introduction of quantitative methods in stage of the methodological argument does the
economics did not result in striking discoveries" taxonomical unpacking lose weight and impor-
(ibid.). While formal economic theory is by now
highly isomorphic with algebra, mathematical 21 "Qualitative Measurement in the Social Sci-
economics has added little to the predictive power ences: Classifications, Typologies and Indices," in
of the discipline and one often has the impression D. Lerner and H. D. Lasswell (eds.), The Policy
that we are employing guns to kill mosquitos. Sciences, op. cit., p. 155 (my emphasis).
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS 1039

tance. As a matter of fact, the more we enter the idiom is largely responsible not only for the fact
stage of quantification, the more we need unidi- that much of our theorizing is muddled, but also
mensional scales and continua; and dichotomous for the fact that much of our research is trivial
categorizations serve precisely the purpose of es- and wasteful.
tablishing the ends, and thereby the uni-dimen- Graduate students are being sent all over the
sionality, of each continuum. world-as LaPalombara vividly puts it-on "in-
Having disposed of the fuzziness brought discriminate fishing expeditions for data."23
about by the abuse of a quantitative idiom, at- These fishing expeditions are "indiscriminate"
tention should immediately be called to the fact- in that they lack taxonomical backing; which is
finding side of the coin. For my emphasis on the same as saying that they are fishing expedi-
concept formation should not be misunderstood tions without adequate nets. The researcher sets
to imply that my concern is more theoretical out with a "checklist" which is, at best, an im-
than empirical. This is not so, because the con- perfect net of his own. This may be an expedient
cepts of any social science are not only the ele- way of handling his private research problems,
ments of a theoretical system; they are equally, but remains a very inconvenient strategy from
and just as much, data containers. Indeed data the angle of the additivity and the comparabil-
is information which is distributed in, and pro- ity of his findings. As a result, the joint enter-
cessed by, "conceptual containers." And since the prise of comparative politics is menaced by a
non-experimental sciences basically depend on growing potpourri of disparate, non-cumulative
fact-finding, i.e., on reports about external (not and-in the aggregate-misleading morass of
laboratory) observables, the empirical question information.
becomes what turns a concept into a valuable, All in all, and regardless of whether we rely
indeed a valid, fact finding container. on quantitative data or on more qualitative in-
The reply need not be far-fetched: the lower formation, in any case the problem is the same,
the discriminating power of a conceptual con- namely, to construct fact-finding categories that
tainer, the more the facts are misgathered, i.e., own sufficient discriminating power.24 If our
the greater the misinformation. Conversely, the data containers are blurred, we never know to
higher the discriminating power of a category, what extent and on what grounds the "unlike" is
the better the information. Admittedly, in and made "alike." If so, quantitative analysis may
by itself this reply is not very illuminating, for well provide more misinformation than qualita-
it only conveys the suggestion that for fact-find- tive analysis, especially on account of the aggra-
ing purposes it is more profitable to exaggerate vating circumstance that quantitative misinfor-
in over-differentiation than in over-assimilation. mation can be used without any substantive
The point is, however, that what establishes, or knowledge of the phenomena under consider-
helps establish, the discriminating power of a ation.
category is the taxonomical infolding. Since the To recapitulate and conclude, I have argued
logical requirement of a classification is that its that the logic of either-or cannot be replaced
classes should be mutually exclusive and jointly by the logic of more-and-less. Actually the two
exhaustive, it follows from this that the taxo- logics are complementary, and each has a legiti-
nomical exercise supplies an orderly series of mate field of application. Correlatively, polar
well sharpened categories, and thereby the basis oppositions and dichotomous confrontations
for collecting adequately precise information. cannot be dismissed: they are a necessary step
And this is indeed how we know whether, and to in the process of concept formation. Equally,
what extent, a concept has a fact-gathering va- impatience with classification is totally unjusti-
lidity. fied. Rather, we often confuse a mere enumera-
Once again, then, it appears that we have
3 "Macrotheories and Microapplications in Com-
started to run before having learned how to
parative Politics," Comparative Politics, (October
walk. Numbers must be attached-for our pur-
1968), p. 66.
poses-to "things," to facts. How are these ' It hardly needs to be emphasized that census
things, or facts, identified and collected? Our
ultimate ambition may well be to pass from a data-and for that matter most of the data pro-
science "of species" to a science of "functional vided by external agencies-are gathered by con-
co-relations."22 The question is whether we are ceptual containers which hopelessly lack discrimi-
not repudiating a science of species in exchange nation. The question with our standard variables
for nothing. And it seems to me that premature on literacy, urbanization, occupation, industrializa-
haste combined with the abuse of a quantitative tion, and the like, is whether they really measure
common underlying phenomena. It is pretty ob-
H
Harold D. Lasswell and Abraham Kaplan, vious that, across the world, they do not; and this
Power and Society (New Haven: Yale University quite aside from the reliability of the data gather-
Press, 1950), pp. XVI-XVII. ing agencies.
1040 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

tion (or checklist) with a classification, and night in which all the cows look black (and
many so called classifications fail to meet the eventually the milkman is taken for a cow),
minimal requirements for what they claim to be. then the issue must be joined from its very be-
The overconscious thinker takes the view that ginning, that is, on the grounds of concept for-
if the study of politics has to be a "science," mation.
then it has to be Newton (or from Newton all A few preliminary cautions should be entered.
the way up to Hempel). But the experimental Things conceived or meaningfully perceived, i.e.,
method is hardly within the reach of political concepts, are the central elements of proposi-
science (beyond the format of small group ex- tions, and-depending on how they are named-
perimentation) and the very extent to which we provide in and by themselves guidelines of inter-
are systematically turning to the comparative pretation and observation. It should be under-
method of verification points to the extent to stood, therefore, that I shall implicitly refer to
which no stronger method-including the statis- the conceptual element problems which in a
tical method-is available. If so, our distinctive more extended treatment actually and properly
and major problems begin where the lesson of belong to the rubric "propositions." By saying
the more exact sciences leaves off. This is tanta- concept formation I implicitly point to a propo-
mount to saying that a wholesale acceptance of sition-forming and problem-solving activity. It
the logic and methodology of physics may well should also be understood, in the second place,
be self-defeating, and is surely of little use for that my focus will be on those concepts which
our distinctive needs. In particular, and what- are crucial to the discipline, that is, the concepts
ever their limits, classifications remain the req- which Bendix describes as "generalizations in
uisite, if preliminary, condition for any scientific disguise."26In the third place, I propose to con-
discourse. As Hempel himself concedes, classifi- centrate on the vertical members of a conceptual
catory concepts do lend themselves to the de- structure, that is, on 1) observational terms, and
scription of observational findings and to the 2) the vertical disposition of such terms along a
formulation of initial, if crude, empirical gener- ladder of abstraction.
alizations.25 Moreover, a classificatory activity While the notion of abstraction ladder is re-
remains the basic instrument for introducing an- lated to the problem of the levels of analysis, the
alytical clarity in whatever we are discussing, two things do not coincide. A highly abstract
and leads us to discuss one thing at a time and level of analysis may not result from "ladder
different things at different times. Finally, and climbing. Indeed a number of universal concep-
especially, we need taxonomical networks for tualizations are not abstracted from observa-
solving our fact-finding and fact-storing prob- bles: they are "theoretical terms" defined by
lems. No comparative science of politics is plaus- their systemic meaning.27 For instance the
ible-on a global scale--unless we can draw on meaning of isomorphism, homeostasis, feedback,
extensive information which is sufficiently pre- entrophy, etc., is basically defined by the part
cise to be meaningfully compared. The requisite that each concept plays in the whole theory. In
condition for this is an adequate, relatively sta- other instances, however, we deal with "observa-
ble and, thereby, additive filing system. Such a tional terms," that is, we arrive at highly ab-
filing system no longer is a wild dream, thanks " Reinhard
to computer technology and facilities-except Bendix, "Concepts and Generaliza-
for the paradoxical fact that the more we enter tions in Comparative Sociological Studies," Ameri-
the computer age, the less our fact-finding and can Sociological Review, 28 (1963), p. 533.
27 See Abraham Kaplan, The Conduct of Inquiry,
fact-storing methods abide by any logically
standardized criterion. Therefore, my concern pp. 56-57, 63-65. According to Hempel theoretical
with taxonomies is also a concern with 1) the terms "usually purport to not directly observable
data side of the question, and 2) our failure to entities and their characteristics. . . . They func-
provide a filing system for computer exploita- tion . . . in scientific theories intended to explain
tion. We have entered the computer age-but generalizations": "The Theoretician's Dilemma,"
with feet of clay. in Feigl, Scriven and Maxwell (eds.), Minnesota
Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Minneap-
III. THE LADDER OF ABSTRACTION olis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958), vol.
If quantification cannot solve our problems, in II, p. 42. While it is admittedly difficult to draw
that we cannot measure before conceptualizing, a neat division between theoretical and observa-
and if, on the other hand, "conceptual stretch- tional terms, it is widely recognized that the for-
ing" is dangerously conducive to the Hegelian mer cannot be reduced to, nor derived from, the
latter. For a recent assessment of the controversy,
Fundamentals of Concept Formation in Em- see A. Meotti, "L'Eliminazione dei Termini
pirical Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Teorici," in Rivista di Filosofia, 2 (1969), pp. 119-
Press, 1952), p. 54. 134.
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS 1041

stract levels of conceptualization via ladder tension without diminishing the intension: the
climbing, via abstractive inferences from observ- denotation is extended by obfuscating the con-
ables. For instance, terms such as group, com- notation. As a result we do not obtain a more
munication, conflict, and decision can either be general concept, but its counterfeit, a mere gen-
used in a very abstract or in a very concrete erality (where the pejorative "mere" is meant to
meaning, either in some very distant relation to restore the distinction between correct and in-
observables or with reference to direct observa- correct ways of subsuming a term under a
tions. In this case we have, then, "empirical con- broader genus.) While a general concept can be
cepts" which can be located at, and moved said to represent a collection of specifics, a mere
along, very different points of a ladder of ab- generality cannot be underpinned, out of its in-
straction. If so, we have the problem of assessing definiteness, by specifics. And while a general
the level of abstraction at which observational concept is conducive to scientific "generaliza-
or (in this sense) empirical concepts are located, tions," mere generalities are conducive only to
and the rules of transformation thus resulting. vagueness and conceptual obscurity.
And this seems to be the pertinent focus for the The rules for climbing and descending along a
issue under consideration, for our fundamental ladder of abstraction are thus very simple rules
problem is how to make extensional gains (by -in principle. We make a concept more abstract
climbing the abstraction ladder) without having and more general by lessening its properties or
to suffer unnecessary losses in precision and em- attributes. Conversely, a concept is specified by
pirical testability. the addition (or unfolding) of qualifications, i.e.,
The problem can be neatly underpinned with by augmenting its attributes or properties. If so,
reference to the distinction, and relation, be- let us pass on to consider a ladder of abstraction
tween the extension (denotation) and intension as such. It is self-evident that along the abstrac-
(connotation) of a term. A standard definition is tion ladder one obtains very different degrees of
as follows: "The extension of a word is the class inclusiveness and, conversely, specificity. These
of things to which the word applies; the inten- differences can be usefully underpinned-for the
sion of a word is the collection of properties purposes of comparative politics-by distin-
which determine the things to which the word guishing three levels of abstraction, labeled, in
applies."28 Likewise, the denotation of a word is shorthand, HL (high level), ML (medium
the totality of objects indicated by that word; level), and LL (low level).
and the connotation is the totality of character- High level categorizations obtain universal
istics anything must possess to be in the denota- conceptualizations: whatever connotation is sac-
tion of that word.29 rificed to the requirement of global denotation-
Now, there are apparently two ways of climb- either in space, time, or even both.30 HL con-
ing a ladder of abstraction. One is to broaden cepts can also be visualized as the ultimate ge-
the extension of a concept by diminishing its at- nus which cancels all its species. Descending a
tributes or properties, i.e., by reducing its con- step, medium level categorizations fall short of
notation. In this case a more "general," or more universality and thus can be said to obtain gen-
inclusive, concept can be obtained without any eral classes: at this level not all differentiae are
loss of precision. The larger the class, the lesser sacrificed to extensional requirements. Nonethe-
its differentiae; but those differentiae that re- less, ML concepts are intended to stress similari-
main, remain precise. Moreover, following this ties at the expense of uniqueness, for at this
procedure we obtain conceptualizations which, level of abstraction we are typically dealing with
no matter how all-embracing, still bear a trace- generalizations. Finally, low level categories ob-
able relation to a collection of specifics, and-out tain specific, indeed configurative conceptualiza-
of being amenable to identifiable sets of specifics tions: here denotation is sacrificed to accuracy
-lend themselves to empirical testing. of connotation. One may equally say that with
On the other hand, this is hardly the proce- LL categories the differentiae of individual set-
dure implied by "conceptual stretching," which tings are stressed above their similarities: so
adds up to being an attempt to augment the ex- much so that at this level definitions are often
' I quote from Wesley C. Salmon, contextual.
Logic (Engle- A couple of examples may be usefully entered.
wood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1963), pp. 90-91. The In a perceptive essay which runs parallel to my
distinction is more or less the same in any text-
book of logic. ' The space and time dimensions of concepts
2"Connotation" is also applied, more broadly, are often associated with the geography versus
to the associations, or associated conceptions history debate. I would rather see it as the "when
brought to mind by the use of a word. As indi- goes with when?" question, that is, as a calendar
cated by the text, I intend here the narrower time versus historical time dilemma. But this line
meaning. of development cannot be pursued here.
1042 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

line of thinking Neil J. Smelser makes the point into which the ladder is divided largely depends
that, for purposes of comparability, "staff is on how fine one's analysis needs to be. Three
more satisfactory than administration . . ., and slices are sufficient,however,for the purposesof
administration is more satifactory than civil ser- logical analysis. And my major concern is, in
vice.' '31 This is so, according to Smelser, because this connection,with what goes on at the upper
the concept of civil service "is literally useless in end of the ladder, at the crucial juncture at
connection with societies without a formal state whichwe crossthe borderbetweenmediumlevel
or governmental apparatus." In this respect "the general concepts and high level universals.The
concept of administration is somewhat superior issue may be formulatedas follows: how far up
. . . but even this term is quite culture-bound." can an observationalterm be pushed without
Hence the more helpful term is "Weber's con- self-denyingresults?
cept of staff . . since it can encompass without In principlethe extensionof a conceptshould
embarassment various political arrangements not be broadenedbeyond the point at which at
. . ."32 In my own terms the argument would be least one relatively precise connotation (prop-
rephrased as follows. In the field of so-called erty or attribute) is retained.In practice,how-
comparative public administration, "staff" is ever, the requirementof positive identification
the high level universal category. "Administra- may be too exacting. But even if no minimal
tion" is still a good travelling category, but falls positive identificationcan be afforded,I do not
short of universal applicability in that it retains see how we can renounce the requirementof
some of the attributes associated with the more negative identification.The crucial distinction
specific notion of "bureaucracy." Descending the would thus be between 1) concepts definedby
ladder of abstraction further we then find "civil negationor ex adverso,i.e., by saying what they
service," which is qualified by its associations are not, and 2) concepts without negation, i.e.,
with the modern State. Finally, and to pursue no-oppositeconcepts,conceptionswithout speci-
the argument all the way down to the low level fied terminationor boundaries.The logical prin-
of abstraction, a comparative study of, say, ciple involved in this distinctionis omnis deter-
French and English state employees will dis- minatio est negationthat is, any determination
cover their unique and distinguishing traits and involves a negation. Accordingto this principle
would thus provide contextual definitions. the former concepts are, no matter how broad,
The example suggested by Smelser is fortu- determinate; whereas the latter are indetermi-
nate in that we are offered a choice of terms, so nate, literally without termination.
that (whatever the choice) a different level of If this principle is applied to the climbing
abstraction can be identified by a different de- process along a ladder of abstraction,and pre-
nomination. The next example is illustrative, in- cisely to the point at which ML categoriesare
stead, of the far less fortunate situation in which turned into HL universals,in the first instance
we may have to perform across the whole ladder we obtain empirical universals,whereas in the
of abstraction with one and same term. In illus- second instancewe obtain universalswhich lack
trating his caution that many concepts are "gen- empiricalvalue-pseudo-universalsfor an empir-
eralizations in disguise," Bendix comes across ical science.The reasonfor this is that a concept
such a simple concept as "village." Yet he notes qualified by a negation may, or may not, be
that the term village may be misleading when found to apply to the real world; whereas a
applied to Indian society, where "the minimum non-boundedconcept always applies by defini-
degree of cohesion commonly associated with tion: havingno specifiedtermination,there is no
this term is absent."33 Even in such a simple way of ascertainingwhether it applies to the
case, then, a scholar is required to place the var- real world or not. An empiricaluniversalis such
ious associations of "village" along an abstrac- because it still points to something; whereasa
tion ladder in accord with the travelling exten- non-empiricaluniversal indiscriminatelypoints
sion afforded by each connotation. to everything (as any researcheron the field
Clearly, there is no hard and fast dividing line soon discovers).
between levels of abstraction. Borders can only The group concept lends itself nicely as an il-
be drawn very loosely; and the number of slices lustrationof the foregoing (other exampleswill
be discussedin greater detail later), and is very
"Notes on the Methodology of Comparative much to the point in that it representsthe first
Analysis of Economic Activity," Transactions of large scale attempt to meet the travellingprob-
the Sixth World Congress of Sociology, 1967, Inter- lem of comparativepolitics. In the group theory
national Sociological Association, vol. II, p. 103. of politics (Bentley, David Truman, and Earl
'2 Ibid. Lathan being the obvious references)it is clear
' Bendix,
"Concepts and Generalizations....," enough that "group"becomes an all-embracing
p. 536. category:not only an analyticalconstruct(as the
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS 1043

queer and unclear terminology of the discipline distinguish such object from all the other species
would have it), but definitely a universal con- of the same genus. When Apter complains that
struct. However, we are never really told what our "analytical categories are too general when
group is not. Not only "group" applies every- they are theoretical, and too descriptive where
where, as any universal should; it equally ap- they are not,"35 I understand this complaint to
plies to everything, that is, never and nowhere apply to our disorderly leaps from observational
shall we encounter non-groups.84 If so, how is it findings all the way up to universal categories-
that the group theory of politics has been fol- and vice versa-by-passing as it were the stage
lowed-in the fifties-by a great deal of empiri- of definition by analysis. Apter is quite right in
cal research? The reply is that the research was pleading for "better intermediate analytical cat-
not guided by the universal construct but by in- egories." But these intermediate categories can-
tuitive concrete conceptualizations. Hence the not be constructed, I fear, as long as our con-
"indefinite group" of the theory, and the "con- tempt for the taxonomical exercise leaves us
crete groups" of the research, fall wide apart. with an atrophied medium level of abstraction.
The unfortunate consequences are not only that The low level of abstraction may appear unin-
the research lacks theoretical backing (for want teresting to the comparative scholar. He would
of medium level categories, and especially of a be wrong, however, on two counts. First, when
taxonomic framework), but that the vagueness the comparative scholar is engaged in field work,
of the theory has no fit for the specificity of the the more his fact-finding categories are brought
findings. We are thus left with a body of litera- down to this level, the better his research. Sec-
ture that gives the frustrating feeling of disman- ond, it is the evidence obtained nation-by-nation,
tling theoretically whatever it discovers empiri- or region-by-region (or whatever the unit of an-
cally. alysis may be) that helps us decide which classi-
There is, then, a break-off point in the search fication works, or which new criterion of classifi-
for universal inclusiveness beyond which we cation should be developed.
have, theoretically, a "nullification of the prob- While classifying must abide by logical rules,
lem" and, empirically, what may be called an logic has nothing to do with the usefulness of a
"empirical vaporization." This is the point at classificatory system. Botanists, mineralogists
which a concept is not even determined ex ad- and zoologists have not created their taxonomi-
verso. By saying that no-opposite universals are cal trees as a matter of mere logical unfolding;
of no empirical use I do not imply that they are that is, they have not imposed their "classes"
utterly useless. But I do wish to say that when- upon their animals, any more than their animals
ever notions such as groups or-as in my subse- (flowers or minerals) have imposed themselves
quent examples-pluralism, integration, partici- upon their classifiers. Let it be added that the
pation, and mobilization, obtain no termination, information requirements of such an unsettled
i.e., remain indeterminate, they provide only science as a science of politics can hardly be sat-
tags, chapter headings, i.e., the main entries of a isfied by single-purpose classifications (not to
filing system. From an empirical point of view mention single-purpose checklists). As I have
pseudo-universals are only funnels of approach stressed, we desperately need standard fact-find-
and can only perform, so to speak, an allusive ing and fact-storing containers (concepts). But
function. this standardization is only possible and fruitful
Turning to the middle slice-the fat slice of on the basis of "multi-purpose" and, at the
the medium level categories-it will suffice to limit, all-purpose classifications. Now, whether a
note that at this level we are required to per- classification may serve multiple purposes, and
form the whole set of operations that some au- which classification fits this requirement best,
thors call "definition by analysis," that is, the this is something we discover inductively, that
process of defining a term by finding the genus is, starting from the bottom of the ladder of ab-
to which the object designated by the word be- straction.
longs, and then specifying the attributes which The overall discussion is recapitulated in Ta-
ble 1 with respect to its bearing on the problems
34 This criticism is perhaps unfair to David Tru- of comparative politics. A few additional com-
man's The Governmental Process (New York: ments are in order. In the first place, reference
Knopf, 1951). However, in spite of its penetrating to three levels of abstraction brings out the in-
anatomy the pace of the enquiry is set by the sen- adequacy of merely distinguishing between
tence that "an excessive preoccupation with defini-
tion will only prove a handicap" (p. 23). For a '3 David E. Apter, "Political Studies and the
development of this line of criticism see G. Sartori, Search for a Framework," (pp. 15-16 mns.) to be
"Gruppi di Pressione o Gruppi di Interesse?," I1 published in C. Allen, W. Johnson (eds.), African
Mulino, 1959, pp. 7-42. Perspectives, Cambridge University Press.
1044 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

TABLE 1. LADDER OF ABSTRACTION

Levels of Abstraction Major Comparative Scope and Logical and Empirical


Purpose Properties of Concepts

HL: High Level Categories Cross-area comparisons among Maximal extension


Universal conceptualiza- heterogeneous contexts (global Minimal intention
tions theory) Definition by negation

ML: Mlediumn Level Categories Intra-area comparisons among Balance of denotation with con-
General conceptualiza- relatively homogeneous con- notation
tions and taxonomies texts (middle range theory) Definition by analysis, i.e. per
genus et differentiam
LL: Low Level Categories Country by country analysis Maximal intension
Configurative concep- (narrow-gauge theory) Minimal extension
tualizations Contextual definition

"broad" and "narrow" meanings of a term.30 degree, but a matter of establishing the level of
For this does not clarify, whenever this is neces- abstraction. Hence it is only after having set-
sary, whether we distinguish, 1) between HL tled at a given level of abstraction that consider-
universal and ML general conceptualizations, or ations of more-and-less correctly apply. And the
2) between ML genuses and species or, 3) be- rule of thumb seems to be that the higher the
tween ML and LL categories, or even 4) be- level of abstraction, the less a degree language
tween HL universal and LL configurative con- applies (as anything but a metaphor); whereas
ceptualizations. the lower level of abstraction, the more a degree
In the second place, and more important, ref- optics correctly and necessarily applies, and the
erence to the ladder of abstraction forcibly high- more we profit from graduation concepts.
lights the drastic loss of logical articulation, in- In the third place, and equally important, ref-
deed the gigantic leap, implied by the argument erence to the ladder of abstraction casts many
that all differences are "a matter of degree." doubts on the optimistic view-largely shared
This cannot be conceded, to begin with, at the by the methodological literature-that "The
level of universal categories. But all differences more universal a proposition, i.e., the greater the
cannot be considered a matter of more-or-less at number of events a proposition accounts for, the
the medium level either. At the top we inevita- more potential falsifiers can be found, and the
bly begin with opposite pairs, with polar oppo- more informative is the proposition."37 The sen-
sites, and this is tantamount to saying that the tence suggests a simultaneous and somewhat nat-
top ML categories definitely and only establish ural progression of universality, falsifiers and in-
differences in kind. From here downwards defi- formative content. It seems to me, instead, that
nitions are obtained via the logic of classifica- reference to the correct technique of ladder
tion, and this implies that a logic of gradation climbing (and descending) confronts us at all
cannot be applied as long as we establish differ- points with choosing between range of explana-
ences between species. Differences in degree ob- tion (thereby including the explanation of the
tain only after having established that two or relationships among the items under investiga-
more objects have the same attributes or prop- tion), and accuracy of description (or informa-
erties, i.e., belong to the same species. Indeed, it tive accuracy). By saying that the "informative
is only within the same class that we are entitled content" of a proposition grows by climbing the
-and indeed required-to ask which object has abstraction ladder, we should not be misled into
more or less of an attribute or property. understanding that we are supplying more de-
In principle, then, it is a fallacy to apply the scriptive information. Hence it is dubious
logic of gradation whenever ladder climbing (or whether we are really supplying more potential
descending) is involved. If we are reminded that falsifiers (let alone the danger of "overly univer-
along the ladder we augment the extension by sal" propositions of no informative value for
diminishing the denotation (and vice versa), which falsifiers cannot be found).
what is at stake here is the presence or absence Before concluding it should not pass unno-
of a given property; and this is not a matter of
3 I quote Erik Allardt, "The Merger of Ameri-
" The same caution applies to the distinctions can and European Traditions of Sociological Re-
between micro and macro, or between molecular search: Contextual Analysis," Social Science In-
and molar. These distinctions are insufficient for formation, 1 (1968), p. 165. But the sentence is
the purpose of underpinning the level of analysis. illustrative of a current mood.
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMAlATION IN COMPARATIVE, POLITICS 1045

ticed that in this section I have never used the The contention often is that definition of
word "variable," nor mentioned operational de- meaning represents a pre-scientific age of defini-
finitions, nor invoked indicators. Equally, my tion, which should be superseded in scientific
reference to gradation concepts and to consider- discourse by operational definitions. However,
ations of more-or-less has been, so far, entirely this contention can hardly meet the problems of
pre-quantitative. What is noteworthy, then, is concept formation, and indeed appears to ignore
the length that has been travelled before enter- them. As the ladder of abstraction scheme helps
ing the problems which seem to monopolize our to underline, among the many possible ways and
methodological awareness. There is nothing procedures of defining the ex adverse definitions
wrong, to be sure, in taking up an argument at and taxonomic unfoldings (or definition by anal-
whichever point we feel that we have something ysis) some correspond to different levels of anal-
to say-except that the tail of the inethodologi- ysis and play, at each level, a non-replaceable
cal argument should not be mistaken for its be- role. Moreover operational definitions generally
ginning. Since I have taken up the issue at an entail a drastic curtailment of meaning for they
early stage, I cannot possibly carry it through to can only maintain those meanings that comply
its end. It behooves me, nonetheless, to indicate with the operationist requirement. Now, we are
how I would plug what I have said into what surely required to reduce ambiguity by cutting
shall have to remain unsaid.38 down the range of meanings of concepts. But the
For one thing, it should be understood that by operational criterion of reducing ambiguity en-
considering concepts-the genus-I have not ex- tails drastic losses in conceptual richness and in
cluded the consideration of variables, which are explanatory power. Take, for instance, the sug-
a species. That is, a variable is still a concept; gestion that "social class' should be dismissed
but a concept is not necessarily a variable. If all and replaced by a set of operational statements
concepts could be turned into variables, the dif- relating to income, occupation, educational level,
ference could be considered provisional. Unfor- etc. If the suggestion were adopted wholesale,
tunately, as a scholar well versed in quantitative the loss of conceptual substance would be not
analysis puts it, "all the most interesting vari- only considerable, but unjustified. The same ap-
ables are nominal."3 Which is the same as say- plies, to cite another instance, to "power." To be
ing that all the most interesting concepts are not concerned with the measurement of power does
variables in the proper, strict sense of implying not imply that the meaning of the concept
"the possibility of measurement in the most ex- should be reduced to what can be measured
act sense of the word."40 about power-the latter view would make hu-
A closely linked and similar argument applies man behavior in whatever collective sphere al-
to the operationist requirement. Just as concepts most inexplicable.
are not necessarily variables, definitions are not It should be understood, therefore, that oper-
necessarily operational. The definitional require- ational definitions implement, but do not re-
ment for a concept is that its meaning is de- place, definitions of meaning. Indeed there must
clared, while operational definitions are required be a conceptualization before we engage in oper-
to state the conditions, indeed the operations, by ationalization. As Hempel recommends, opera-
means of which a concept can be verified and, tional definitions should not be "emphasized to
ultimately, measured. Accordingly we may use- the neglect of the requirement of systematic im-
fully distinguish between definition of meaning port."41 This is also to say that definitions of
and operational definition. And while it is obvi- meaning of theoretical import, hardly opera-
ous that an operational definition still is a decla- tional definitions, account for the dynamics of
ration of meaning, the reverse is not true. intellectual discovery and stimulation. Finally, it
should be understood that empirical testing oc-
"' In this latter connection an excellent reader
curs before, and also without, operational defini-
still is P. 1T.Lazarsfeld and M. Rosenberg (eds.),
tions. Testing is any method of checking corre-
The Language of Social Research (Glencoe: The
spondence with reality by the use of pertinent ob-
Free Press, 1955). See also its largely revised and
servations; hence the decisive difference brought
updated revision, R. Boudon and P. F. Lazarsfeld,
Methodes de la Sociologie, 2 Vols. (Paris and La 41Fundamentals of Concept Formation in Em-
Haye: Mouton, 1965-1966). pirical Science, p. 60. At p. 47 Hempel writes: "it
3 Richard Rose, "Social Measure and Public is precisely the discovery of concepts with theoret-
Policy in Britain-The Empiricizing Process," mns. ical import which advances scientific understand-
p. 8. ing; and such discovery requires scientific inven-
' Lazarsfeld and Barton in
Lerner and Lasswell, tiveness and cannot be replaced by the-certainly
The Policy Sciences, p. 170. This notably excludes, indispensable, but also definitely insufficient-
for the authors, the application of "variable" to operationist or empiricist requirement of empirical
items that can be ranked but not measured. import alone."
1046 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

about by operationalization is verification, or done is to separate political function from politi-


falsification, by measurement.42 cal structure."44 This separation is indeed cru-
Speaking of testing, indicators are indeed pre- cial. But ten years have gone by and the assign-
cious "testing helpers." As a matter of fact it is ment remains largely unfulfilled. Indeed the
difficult to see how theoretical terms could be structural-functional school of thought is still
empiricized and tested otherwise, that is, with- grappling-with clear symptoms of frustration-
out having recourse to indicators. Indicators are with the preliminary difficulty of defining "func-
also expedient shortcuts for the empirical check- tion"-both taken by itself and in its relation to
ing of observational terms. Yet the question re- "structure."45
mains: Indicators of what? If we have fuzzy Whether function can be simply conceived as
concepts, the fuzziness will remain as it is. That an "activity" performed by structures; or
is to say that indicators cannot, in and by them- whether it is more proper to construe function
selves, sharpen our concepts and relieve us from as an "effect";46 or whether function should be
composing and decomposing them along a ladder conceived only as a "relation" among structures47
of abstraction. -this controversy turns out to be largely im-
material in the light of our substantive perfor-
IV. COMPARATIVE FALLACIES: AN ILLUSTRATION mance. That is to say, if our attention turns to
the functional vocabulary in actual use, a pe-
We may now confront in more detail how the
rusal of the literature quickly reveals two
ladder of abstraction scheme brings out the
snares and the faults of our current way of han-
dling the travelling problem of comparative poli- 4 Gabriel A. Almond and James S. Coleman,
ties. For we may now settle at a less rarified The Politics of the Developing Areas (Princeton:
level of discussion and proceed on the basis of Princeton University Press, 1960), p. 59.
examples. It is pretty obvious that my line of 4' It should be understood that by now the struc-
analysis largely cuts across the various theories tural-functional label applies to a widely scattered
and schools that propose themselves for adop- group operating on premises which are largely at
tion in comparative politics, for my basic preoc- variance.
cupation is with the ongoing work of the "nor- ' This focus was
suggested by R. K. Merton,
mal science," i.e., with the common conceptual whose concern was to separate function-defined as
problems of the discipline. Nonetheless it will be an "observable objective consequence"-from "sub-
useful to enter here a somewhat self-contained jective disposition," i.e., aims, motives and purposes
illustration which bears not only on discrete (Social Theory and Social Structure, Glencoe: The
concepts, but equally on a theoretical frame- Free Press, rev. ed., 1957, p. 24 and, passim, pp. 19-
work. I have thus selected for my first detailed 84.) In attempting to meet the difficulties raised
discussion the categories of "structure" and by the Mertonian focus, Robert T. Holt construes
"function," and this precisely on account of functions as "sub-types" of effects, and precisely
their crucial role in establishing the structural- as the "system-relevant effects of structures";
functional approach in the political science set- understanding system-relevance as the "system-
ting.43 requiredness" which is determined, in turn, by the
In introducing his pioneering comparative vol- "functional requisites" of a given system. ("A Pro-
ume, Almond boldly asserts: "What we have posed Structural-Functional Framework," in
Charlesworth, Contemporary Political Analysis,
'This is not to say that operationalization al- pp. 88-90). My own position is that Merton over-
lows co ipso for quantitative measurements, but stated his case thereby creating for his followers
to suggest that either operational definitions are unnecessary and unsettled complications.
ultimately conducive to measurement, or may not 4 This is the mathematical meaning of function.
be worthwhile. E.G. according to Fred W. Riggs in systems theory
43I specify political science setting to avoid the function refers to "a relation between struc-
unnecessary regression to Malinowski and Radeliff- tures." ("Some Problems with Systems Theory-
Brown. This is also to explain why I set aside the The Importance of Structure," mimeographed p.
contributions of Talcott Parsons and of Marion J. 8. A redrafted version is scheduled for publication
Levy. Flanigan and Fogelman distinguish between in Michael Haas and Henry Kariel (eds.), Ap-
three major streams, labeled 1) eclectic function- proaches to the Study of Political Science, (Chand-
alism, 2) empirical functionalism (Merton), and ler Publishing Co.) There are problems, however,
3) structural-functional analysis. ("Functional also with this definition. In particular, while the
Analysis," in Charlesworth, Contemporary Political mathematical meaning of function is suited for
Analysis, pp. 72-79). My discussion exclusively ap- whole systems analysis, it hardly suits the needs
plies to part of the latter. of segmented systems analysis.
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS 1047

things: a tantalizing anarchy (on this more ascribed or actually served purpose.51 Con-
later), and, second, that the functional terminol- versely, dis-function,non-functionality,and the
ogy employed most of the time by most practi- like, indicate-from different angles-that the
tioners definitely carries a purposive or teleologi- assignedpurposeis not served by a given struc-
cal connotation. Skillful verbal camouflage may ture. And this currentusage of function goes a
well push the teleological implication in the long way to explain,in turn, our difficultieswith
background. Yet it is hard to find a functional structure.
argumentation which really escapes, in the final The majorproblemwith "structure"is, in fact,
analysis, Zweckrationalitdt, what Max Weber that political bodies and institutions largely
called rationality of ends.48 We may well quarrel bear, if not a functional denomination,a func-
about the definition;49 yet the substance of the tional definition.Either underthe sheer force of
matter remains that the definitional controversy names-which is in itself a tremendousforce-
has little bearing on our subsequent proceedings. or for the sake of brevity, political structures
If so, it suits my purposes to settle for the way are seldom adequately defined on their own
in which most people use "function" in practice terms-qua structures,.That is to say, on the
(regardless of how they theorize about it), and one hand, that we dispose of a functional (pur-
thereby to settle for the common sense, unso- posive) vocabulary, whereas we badly lack a
phisticated meaning. structural (descriptive) vocabulary; and that,
When we say, somewhat naively, that struc- on the other hand, even when we deliberately
tures "have functions," we are interested in the ask "whatis," we are invariablypromptedto re-
reason for being of structures: we are implying, ply in terms of "what for." What is an election?
that is, that structures exist for some end, pur- A means (a structure) for electingofficeholders.
pose, destination or assignments This is tanta- What is a legislature?An arrangementfor pro-
mount to saying that "function" points to a ducinglegislation.What is a government?A set-
means-end relationship (which becomes, from a up for governing.The structureis almostinvari-
systemic viewpoint, also a part-whole relation- ably perceivedand qualifiedby its salient func-
ship), i.e., that function is the activity per- tion.52This makes a great deal of sense in prac-
formed by a structure-the means-vis-A-vis its tical politics, but representsa serious handicap
for the understandingof politics.
48Rationality of ends should not be confused
The plain fact is, then, that the structural-
with Wertrationalitdt, value rationality, among
functionalanalyst is a lame scholar. He claims
other reasons because in the former perspective all
to walk on two feet, but actually stands on one
conceivable ends can be hypothesized as being foot-and a bad foot at that. He cannot really
equally valid. Hence in the Zweckrationalitdt per-
visualize the interplay between "structure"and
spective there is little point in unmasking func- "function"becausethe two terms are seldom,if
tions as "eu-functions" or, conversely, as "caco- ever, neatly disjoined: the structure remains
functions." Whether the good goals of one man
throughouta twin brother of its imputed func-
are the bad goals of the next man becomes rele-
vant only if we enter a normative, Wertrationalitdt 51"Unintended functions"-the fact that struc-
discussion. tures may serve ends and obtain results which
4 For the many additional intricacies of the sub- were neither forseen nor desired by the structure
ject that I must neglect, a recent, interesting builders-can be entered, for the economy of my
reader largely focussed on the "debate over func- argument, into the list of the purposes actually
tionalism" is N. J. Demerath and R. A. Peterson served. Likewise "latent functions" are immaterial
(eds.), System, Change and Conflict (New York: to my point.
Free Press, 1967). For a critical statement of the 52 Riggs makes the same point, namely, that "cur-

inherent limitations of functionalism see W. C. rent terminology quite confusingly links structural
Runciman, Social and Political Theory (Cam- and functional meanings" from the opposite angle
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), pp. that expressions such as "legislature and public ad-
109-123. Hempel equally takes a critical view of ministrator . . . are normally defined structurally,
"the logic of functional analysis" (in Gross, Sym- the first as an elected assembly, the second as a
posium on Sociological Theory, pp. 271-307), but bureaucratic office"; but then goes on to say that
his standpoint is often far removed from our prob- "the words . . . also imply functions" (p. 23 of the
lems. paper cit. supra, note 47). It should be understood,
" This is not to fall prey to the
subjectivistic therefore, that my "structuraldefinition" calls for
fallacy on which Merton builds his case (supra, a thorough structural description. If the argument
note 46). Purpose may be a "motivation" of the were left at defining a legislature as an elected
actor, but may equally be-as it is in teleological assembly, then it can be made either way, as Riggs
analysis-an "imputation" of the observer. does.
1048 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

tional purposes. And here we enter a somewhat cation function. And if the problem is left at
vicious whirl which leads the approach to con- that, it easily follows that the authorities and
clusions which, if true, would be self-denying. the citizens "communicate," in some sense, in
Whatever else the structural-functional any polity, i.e., even when no party system ex-
scholar may have failed to discover, he feels ists. Hence party systems have structural alter-
pretty sure about three points: first, no struc- natives-quod erat demonstrandum. But the
ture is unifunctional, i.e., performs only one problem cannot be left at that, i.e., with an un-
function; second, the same structure can be bounded, no-difference notion of communication
multifunctional, i.e., can perform across different which nullifies the problem. And the underpin-
countries widely different functions; third, and ning of communication brings out, first, that
therefore, the same function has structural al- there is an essential difference between up-going
ternatives, i.e., can be performed by very differ- and descending communication, and, second,
ent structures. Now, to some extent these points that it is equally important to distinguish be-
are undeniable-but only to the extent sensed at tween "communication-information" and "com-
any time by any perceptive comparative scholar. munication-pressure." If so, to define a party
My quarrel is with the emphasis, which is un- system as an instrument for "communicating"
warranted and positively misleading. demands and conveying "information" to the
Is it really the same structure that functions authorities, is to miss the point. A party system
differently? Or is the functional performance is, in reality, a mechanism for sustaining de-
different because the structure is not the same? mands-and pressing demands-all the way
The thesis generally lacks adequate evidence on through to policy implementation. What is at
the structural side. For instance, "elections" are stake, then, is the passage from a two-way (re-
multifunctional (they may well serve the pur- versible) communication-information to a pre-
pose of legitimizing a despot), but "free valence of up-going communication-pressure.
elections" are not.53 That is to say, as soon as And for this latter purpose we have not devised,
the electoral process obtains a structural under- so far, any structural alternative. A party system
pinning-the minute and multiple structural turns out to be, therefore, a non-replaceable,
conditions that make for free voting-electoral unique structure as soon as we spell out its dis-
multifunctionality rapidly comes to an end. If tinctive, crucial reason for being.
the voter is offered alternatives, if the candi- A more careful scrutiny goes to show, then,
dates are free to compete, if fraudulent counting that the multi-functional, multi-structural argu-
is impossible, then free elections do serve-ev- ment has been pushed far too far, indeed to the
erywhere-the purpose of allowing an electorate point of becoming erroneous. Aside from the er-
to select and dismiss office holders. In view of ror, the irony of the situation is that, as it
this primary, fundamental purpose the same stands, the thesis appears self-defeating. If the
electoral structure (same in providing all the same structure performs utterly different func-
necessary safeties) either approaches uni-func- tions in different countries, and if we can always
tionality, or leaves us with non-functionality, find structural alternatives for whatever func-
e.g., with the finding that illiterate voters are tion, what is the use of structural-functional
unable to use electoral mechanisms which pre- analysis?
suppose literacy. Pulling the threads together, I need not spend
While the most serious problem and default is much time in arguing that the stalemate and the
that the structures are inadequately pinpointed mishandlings of the structural-functional ap-
and described, let me hasten to add that we are proach have a lot to do with the ladder of ab-
not performing much better from the functional straction.
end of the argument. For our functional catego- On the functional side of the coin we are en-
ries also generally lack adequate underpinning. cumbered by a wealth of haphazard functional
Surprisingly enough-if one considers the far categories which are merely enumerated (hardly
greater ease with which the functional side of classified according to some criterion, and even
the problem can be attacked-our functions less according to the logical requirements of a
tend to be as unhelpful as our structures. taxonomical tree-type unfolding), and definitely
For instance, if one asks, "Why a party sys- provide no clues as to the level and type of anal-
tem?" the least challengeable and most inclusive ysis (e.g., total versus partial systems analysis)
reply might be that parties perform a communi- to which they apply.54 As a result the global
"I cite the title of W. J. M. MacKenzie's book "A sheer list of the functional denominations,
Free Elections, (London: Allen & Unwin, 1958) roles or attributions scattered throughout the
to imply that a real structural underpinning may literature on political parties suffices to illustrate
well presuppose a hundred-page description. the point, and would be as follows: participation,
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS 1049

functional argument developed by a number of stitutions and statutes are not the "real struc-
structural-functionalists remains suspended in ture. Nonetheless behavior under written rules is
mid-air-for lack of a coordinated medium level easier to pin down than behavior under diffuse
taxonomic support-and is left to play with ov- roles, and excessive anti-formalism leads us to
erstretched, if not contentless, functional univer- neglect organizational theory and the extent to
sals. which legally enforced regulations do mold
On the structural side of the coin we are behavior.
confronted, instead, with little more than noth- In summing up, not only has the structural-
ing. Structures qualified on their own right functional scholar ignored the ladder of abstrac-
hardly exist-at least in the Almond line of tion, but he has inadvertently destroyed, during
thinking.55 This is all the more regrettable in his reckless climbing, his own ladder.56 So much
view of the fact that while functions are meant so that the approach encounters exactly the
to be (at least in global comparative politics) same perplexity as, say, general systems theory,
broad explanatory categories which do not re- namely, "Why has no scholar succeeded in pre-
quire a low level specification, structures bear, senting a structural-functional formulation which
instead, a closer relation to observables, and def- meets the requirements of empirical analysis."57
initely need under-pinning all the way down the Now, it is hardly surprising that the general sys-
ladder. With structures understood as organiza- tems theorist should encounter great difficulties
tional structures we are required, in fact, to de- in deriving testable propositions about politics,
scend the ladder all the way down to low level since he is required to proceed deductively on
configurative-descriptive accounts. the basis of theoretical primitives.58 But this is
Starting from the top, one can identify-with not the case with the structural-functional ap-
the help of minor terminological devices-at proach, which is not necessarily committed to
least four different levels of analysis: 1) struc- whole systems analysis and enjoys the distinc-
tural principles (e.g., pluralism), 2) structural tive empirical advantage of leaning extensively-
conditions (e.g., the class or the economic struc- especially with segmented systems analysis-on
ture), 3) organizational patterns (with relation observational terms.59 So, why should the struc-
to membership systems), 4) specific organiza-
'" This complaint is ad hoc, but could be ex-
tional structures (e.g. constitutions). By saying
panded at length. On the general lack of logical
"structural principles" I mean that as an HL
and methodological status of the approach two
category the notion of structure can only point
strong critical statements are: R. E. Dowse, "A
to the principles according to which the compo-
Functionalist's Logic," 11orld Politics, (July 1966),
nent part of polities, or of societies, are related
607-622; and A. L. Kalleberg, "The Logic of Com-
to each other. With reference, instead, to the low
parison," World Politics, 18 (October 1966), 69-82.
level of abstraction it should be clear that con-
While the two authors are overconscious thinkers,
I would certainly agree with Dowse's concluding
electioneering, mobilization, extraction, regulation, sentence, namely, that "to ignore trivial logical
control, integration, cohesive function, moderating points is to risk being not even trivially true" (p.
function, consensus maintenance, simplification of 622).
alternatives, reconciliation, adaptation, aggrega- " Flanigan and Fogelman in Charlesworth, Con-
tion, mediation, conflict resolution, brokerage, re- temporary Political Analysi pp. 82-83.
cruitment, policy making, expression, communica- " On general systems theory one may
usefully
tion, linkage, channelment, conversion, legitimizing consult Oran R. Young, Systems of Political Sci-
function, democratization, labelling function. ence (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968),
' I make specific reference to
Almond because I Chap. 2. See also Giuliano Urbani, "General Sys-
believe that his very conception of structure is tems Theory: Un Nuovo Strumento per l'Analisi
largely responsible for this outcome. For instance, dei Sistemi Politici?," I Politico, 4 (1968), 795-
"By structure we mean the observable activities 819.
which make up the political system. To refer to 69 While there is some controversy on the respec-
these activities as having a structure simply im- tive merits and shortcomings of the two strategies,
plies that there is a certain regularity to them." the structural-functional approach is not inher-
(Almond and Powell, Comparative Politics: A De- ently tied to either one. For the partial versus
velopmental Approach, Boston: Little, Brown, 1966, whole systems controversy the two stances are well
p. 21). In the subsequent paragraph one reads: represented by J. LaPalombara, who favors the
"We refer to particular sets of roles which are re- segmented approach. (cf. esp. "Parsimony and
lated to one another as structures." Under such Empiricism in Comparative Politics: An Anti-
porous and excessively sociological criteria, "strtuc- Scholastic View," in R. T. Holt and J. E. Turner
ture" becomes evanescent. (eds.), The Methodology of Comparative Re-
1050 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

tural-functiona.lscholar remain tied to "a level that dissent,not unanimity,representsthe basis


of analysis which [does] not permit empirical of civility. Pluralismis indeed-as alreadynoted
testing?"60Accordingto my diagnosisthere is -a highly abstractstructuralprinciple.Yet the
no intrinsic reason for this. Quite to the con- term points to a particularsocietal structure-
trary, we may expect very rewardingreturns, not merelyto a developedstage of differentiation
and the empiricalpromise (and distinctiveness) and specialization-and does retain a wealth of
of the approachmay well near fulfillment,if we characterizingconnotationswheneverwe discuss,
only learn how to maneuveralong a ladder of in the Westerndemocracies,our internalpolicies
abstraction. and problems.
Let us now pass on to a more loose discussion "Integration"can be conceived as an end-
-the secondpart of this illustration-for which state, as a process, or as a function performed
I have selected a somewhat differentfamily of by integratingagencies (parties,interest groups,
categories: pluralism,integration,participation etc.). In any case, in the Western polities inte-
and mobilization. While one may think of gration is not appliedto whateverkind of "put-
many other examplesthat would suit my pur- ting together,"to whatever state of amalgama-
posesjust as well, the four categoriesin question tion. For instance,when Americanscholarsdis-
are representativein that they are used for sig- cuss their own domestic problems, they have
nificanttheoreticaldevelopmentsnot only under definite ideas of what is, and what is not, inte-
a variety of different frameworks,but also by gration. They would deny that integration has
the non-affiliatedscholar,thereby including-in anything to do with "enforcing uniformity."
the case of participationand mobilization-the They are likely to assume,instead,that integra-
scholar who happens to be interested only in tion both presupposesand generatesa pluralistic
statisticalmanipulations. society (as qualifiedabove). And, surely,an inte-
Given the fact that pluralism, integration, grative agency is requiredto obtain a maximum
participationand mobilizationare culture-bound of coalescenceand solidaritywith a minimumof
conceptswhich may reflect-as far as we know coercion.2
at the outset-a distinctiveWesternexperience, Similar points can be made with regard to
the methodologicalcaveat here is that the refer- participation and mobilization. Regardless of
ence area should make for the starting point of whether"participation"is used normatively (as
the investigation.So to speak,we are requiredto pointing to a basic tenet of the democratic
elaborateour culture-boundconcepts in a "we- ideal) or descriptively (as reflecting a demo-
they" clockwisedirection.It is proper,therefore, cratic experience),in either case in our domes-
to start with the question: How do we under- tic discussionsparticipationis not any such kind
stand pluralism, integration, participation and of "takingpart."Thus the advocatesof a partici-
mobilizationin their domestic,originalcontext? patory democracy are hardly satisfied by any
At home"pluralism"does not apply to societal kind of involvementin politics.To them partici-
and/or political structure,nor to interplay be- pation means self-motion; it does not mean be-
tween a pluralityof actors.Pluralismcameto be ing manipulated or coerced into motion. And
used,in the Westernliterature,to conveythe idea surely the originaldefinitemeaning of the term
that a pluralisticsociety is a society whosestruc- conveys the idea of a free citizen who acts and
tural configurationis shaped by pluralisticbe- intervenes-if he so wishes-according to his
liefs, namely, that all kinds of autonomoussub- best judgement. So conceived, participation is
units should develop at all levels, that interests the very opposite,or the very reverse,of mobili-
are recognizedin their legitimate diversity, and zation. Mobilizationdoes not convey the idea of
individualself-motion,but the idea of a mallea-
ble, passive collectivity which is being put into
search, op. cit., pp. 125-149); and, for the contrary
motion at the whim of persuasive-and more
view, Fred W. Riggs (cf. especially his forthcom-
than persuasive-authorities. We say that indi-
ing essay in Haas and Kariel, Approaches to the
Study of Political Science.) v Since we are discussing here macro-problems
6?Flanigan and Fogelman, op. cit. and macro-theory I need not follow the concepts
6' The relevant "family difference' is that struc- under investigation all the way down the ladder of
ture and function are not culture-bound concepts, abstraction. I should not let pass unnoticed, how-
while the four other categories are. This is also ever, that "integration"also belongs to the vocab-
to note that the travelling problem of comparative ulary of sociology and psychology, thereby lending
politics cannot be reduced to the construction of itself to very fine lower level distinctions. See e.g.,
"non-culture bound" conceptualizations. How to W. S. Landecker, "Types of Integration and their
use those conceptualizations which cannot help Measurements," in The Language of Social Re-
being culture bound is equally a problem. search, op. cit., pp. 19-27.
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS 1051

viduals "participate,"but we cannot say about call African societies pluralistic, and the unfor-
the same individualsthat they "mobilize"-they tunate implication may well be that we expect
are mobilized. Africans to solve their problems as if they had
It is quite clear,then, that pluralism,integra- to deal with Western-type societies.63
tion, participationand mobilizationall have spe- "Mobilization" is also a worthwhile example in
cific connotationswhich can be pinned down, that it confronts us with a problem that has
and are in fact retained-no matter how implic- only been mentioned, so far, in passing. While
itly-in our Westernenquiriesand controversies. pluralism, integration and participation are de-
However, in the context of global comparative rived from our experience with democracy-i.e.,
politics the specificityof these notions gets lost: from the context of the democratic polities-we
there is no end to pluralism; integrationis ap- also dispose of a limited set of terms which orig-
plied indifferentlyto pluralisticand non-plural- inate from a totalitarian context. This is the
istic settings; and participation and mobiliza- case of the term mobilization, which derives
tion are turned into largely overlappingnotions. from military terminology-especially the Ger-
There is no end to pluralism,for we are never man total mobilization of World War 1-and
told what is non-pluralism.Since pluralismex- enters the vocabulary of politics via the militia
ists somewhere,the assumption appears to be type of party (as Duverger calls it), and specifi-
that "to a different degree" pluralismwill be cally via the experience of fascism and of naz-
found to exist everywhere.However,a different ism.64 Nonetheless the term is currently applied
degree of what? This is indeed the irony of us- also to the democratic polities-and this means
ing a degreelanguage-intended when used ap- that we have drawn a "reversed extrapolation"
propriatelyto convey precision-for conveying (i.e., a counter-clockwise extrapolation). And
elusiveness.Likewisethe meaningof integration since we often complain that our terminology is
changes,and eventuallyevaporates,en route.Fi- democracy-centered, my first complaint is that
nally, and similarly,the distinctionbetweenpar- we fail to take advantage of the fact that we do
ticipation and mobilizationonly holds at home. have terms which escape the democratic bias.
With most comparativeorientedscholarsmobili- However, the inconvenience resulting from re-
zation comes to mean whateverprocessof social versed extrapolations are seen best on a broader
activation; and participationis currentlyapplied scale, and with particular reference to what I
by the disciplineat largeboth to democraticand call the "boomerang effect" of the developing
mobilizationaltechniquesof political activation. areas.65
At this stage of the argumentI need not labor Western scholars travelling across Africa or
at explainingwhy and how we obtainthese dras- South-East Asia discover that our categories
tic losses of specifity. They result, as we know, hardly apply, which is hardly surprising. From
from conceptual stretching, which results, in this they conclude-and this is the boomerang
turn, from incorrectladderclimbing:the clumsy effect-that the Western categories also should
attempt to arrive at "travellinguniversals"at not be applied to the West. But this is a strange
the expense of precision,instead of at the ex- inference. Granted that global comparative poli-
pense of connotation(i.e., by reducingthe num-
ber of qualifyingattributes). What remains to 'The point could be extended at great length.
be highlightedare the consequencesof this state E.g., I would assume that only in a truly pluralis-
of affairs. tic society (i.e., qualified by the characteristics
Take, for instance, the formidableerrors in conveyed by the Western use of term) may differ-
interpretation and prediction which are sug- entiation result in, and join forces with, integra-
gested by the universal,unspecifiedapplication tion. But much of the literature on political de-
of "pluralism"and "integration."If we say that velopment seems to miss this essential condition.
African societies are not pluralisticbut "tribal- 64Shils and Deutsch relate the notion also to
istic," the argumentis likely to be that a situa- Mannheim's "fundamental democratization" (see
tion of tribalisticfragmentationhardly provides esp. K. W. Deutsch "Social Mobilization and Po-
the structural basis not only for integrative litical Development," this REVIEW, 55, Sep-
processes to occur, but also for bringing in- tember 1961, p. 494). But while Mannheim may well
tegrative agenciesto the fore. Indeed my argu- have provided the bridge across which "mobiliza-
ment would be that the functional needs, or tion" entered the vocabulary of democracy, the fact
feedbacks,of a fragmentedsociety are at odds remains that the term was commonly used in the
with the functionalfeedbacks,or needs, of a plu- early thirties, in Italy and in Germany, as reflect-
ralistic society. In Europe, for instance, medi- ing a distinctly totalitarian experience.
eval fragmentationgeneratedmonarchicalabso- ' The boomerang effect is
also responsible, in
lutism. However, if pluralismis vaporized into part, for the disappearance of politics (supra, note
an empty generality,then we are authorizedto 5).
1052 THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW VOL. 64

tics requires minimal common denominators, it levels, confusion of meaning and destruction of
does not follow that we should escape Western the sharpness of our concepts. We do lack
parochialism by masquerading in non-Western words. But conceptual stretching and poor logic
clothes. For one thing, it may well be that a have largely impoverished the analytical articu-
number of ancient civilizations appear diffuse lation and the discriminating power of the words
and amorphous to the Western observer pre- that we do have. And my feeling is that only too
cisely because he lacks the categories for coping often major differences are being cancelled on
with devious, overly sedimented, "non-rational" the thin basis of secondary, trivial similarities.
structural patterns. On the other hand, and as- It would hardly make sense to say that men and
suming that underdeveloped political societies fishes are alike in that both classes share a
may be far less structured than others, this is no "swimming capability." Yet much of what we are
reas n for feeding back shapelessness where saying in global comparative politics may not
structural differentiation does exist. Hence, re- make much more sense.
versed extrapolations are a fallacy, and the Let me stress, to conclude, that according to
problem of establishing a minimal common de- my scheme of analysis all of this is unnecessary.
nominator does not authorize us to feed primi- Awareness of the ladder of abstraction shows
tivism and formlessness into non-primitive set- that the need for highly abstract, all-embracing
tings. categories does not require us to inflate, indeed
If I may generalize from the foregoing, it ap- to evaporate, the observational, empirically-
pears that much of the ongoing work of the dis- linkable, categories that we do have. Moreover,
cipline is plagued by "meaningless togetherness," if we know how to climb and descend along a
and thereby by dangerous equivocations and ladder of abstraction-and thereby know where
distortions. In particular, and especially impor- we stand in relation to the "property space" of
tant, under these conditions we are dangerously the analysis that we are pursuing-not only con-
exposed to "begging the question," i.e., to as- ceptual stretching is ruled out, but also faulty
suming what we should be proving: the petitio analogies and the begging-the-question fallacy
principii fallacy. For instance, if "mobilization" can be disposed of.
is applied to a democratic polity the suggestion
is that democracies mobilize more or less as to- V. SUMMARY
talitarian regimes do. Conversely, if "participa- Especially during the last decade comparative
tion" is applied to a totalitarian system the sug- politics as a substantive field has been rapidly
gestion is that democratic participation also oc- expanding. The scale, if not the scope, of this
curs, to some extent at least, in nondemocratic expansion raises thorny and unprecedented
settings. Now this may well be the case. But problems of method. But we seem to embark
the case cannot be proven by transferring the more and more in comparative endeavors with-
same denomination from one context to another.
out comparative method, i.e., with inadequate
For this amounts to pure and simple terminologi-
methodological awareness and less than ade-
cal camouflage: things are declared alike by mak-
quate logical skills. That is to say, we seem to be
ing them verbally identical.
particularly naive vis-h-vis the logical require-
All in all, then, it can hardly be held that our
ments of a world-wide comparative treatment of
"losses of specificity" are compensated by gains
in inclusiveness. I would rather say that our political science issues.
My focus is conceptual-about concepts-un-
gains in travelling capacity, or in universal in-
der the assumption that concepts are not only
clusiveness, are verbal (and deceptive) while
elements of a theoretical system, but equally
our "gains in obfuscation" are very substantial.
tools for fact-gathering, data containers. The
I cannot discuss this further. As LaPalombara
vividly puts it, "so many of our generalizations empirical problem is that we badly need infor-
mation which is sufficiently precise to be mean-
about the political process move with apparent
randomness from the micro to the macroanalytic ingfully comparable. Hence we need a filing sys-
tem provided by discriminating, i.e., taxonomic,
levels"-the result being "messiness caused by
conceptual containers. If these are not provided,
confusion as to the level of analysis.",6 Follow-
data misgathering is inevitable; and statistical,
ing this line of complaint I have argued that
computerized sophistication is no remedy for
confusion as to the level of analysis brings about
misinformation. The theoretical problem can be
these unfortunate results: 1) at the higher levels,
macroscopic errors of interpretation, explanation stated, in turn, as follows: we grievously lack a
and prediction; 2) at the lower levels, a great disciplined use of terms and procedures of com-
deal of wasteful data misgathering; 3) at all parison. This discipline can be provided, I sug-
gest, by awareness of the ladder of abstraction,
' Comparative Politics (October 1968), p. 72. of the logical properties that are implied, and of
1970 CONCEPT MISFORMATION IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS 1053

the rules of composition and decomposition thus testing. To be sure, no level of analysis can be
resulting. If no such discipline is obtained, con- exactly translated and converted into the next
ceptual mishandling and, ultimately, conceptual level. In this sense, something is always lost
misformation is inevitable (and joins forces with (and gained) along the ladder. But a disciplined
data misgathering). use of terms and procedures of comparison gen-
Thus far the discipline has largely followed erates, at each level, sets of propositions which
the line of least resistance, namely, "conceptual either reinforce or contradict the propositions of
stretching." In order to obtain a world-wide ap- the neighboring levels.
plicability the extension of our concepts has The suggestion has recently been put forward
been broadened by obfuscating their connota- that "political scientists turn to mathematics for
tion. As a result the very purpose of comparing [the] rules of logic" required "to introduce the
-control-is defeated, and we are left to swim necessary deductive power into a paradigm."67I
in a sea of empirical and theoretical messiness. have taken the more sober, and indeed counter-
Intolerably blunted conceptual tools are condu- perfectionistic view that we should not encour-
cive, on the one hand, to wasteful if not mislead- age the "overconscious thinker" paralyzed by
ing research, and, on the other hand, to a mean- overly ambitious standards. But surely we can-
ingless togetherness based on pseudo-equiva- not expect an unconscious thinker lacking ele-
lences. mentary logical training and discipline to meet
The remedy resides-I submit-in our com- the intricate new problems arising from global
bined ability 1) to develop the discipline along a comparisons.
medium level of abstraction with better interme-
diate categories, and 2) to maneuver, both up- 67 Holt and Richardson, "Competing Paradigms
wards and downwards, along a ladder of ab- in Comparative Politics," in Holt and Turner, The
straction in such a way as to bring together as- Methodology of Comparative Research, cit., p. 70.
similation and differentiation, a relatively high The chapter is perhaps perfectionistic, but surely
explanatory power and a relatively precise de- a very intelligent and stimulating "stock taking"
scriptive content, macro-theory and empirical overview.