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John Branch on Concepts

Greetings from Ann Arbor! My name is John Branch and I am a professor of marketing at the Ross School of Business, and a faculty associate at the Center for Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies, both at the University of Michigan. I am also in the midst of my second doctoral degree, and Ed.D. in educational leadership, also at the University of Michigan.

For several years I have been interested in concepts… the concepts which we use, how we articulate them, how we link them together. You see, concepts serve critical functions in science. First, they allow us to describe the cosmos. Indeed, concepts are the essence of reality, the basic unit of human knowledge. Second, concepts are the building-blocks of theory. We link them together in order to understand and predict phenomena. Consequently, scientists have an enormous stake vested in concepts.

Lessons Learned:

  • When concepts are undeveloped, therefore, science suffers. That is to say, when a concept is immature, its contribution to science, with respect to both its descriptive powers and its role as a building-block of theory, is limited. It is through concept development that scientists make progress in achieving their intellectual goals.
  • Many scientists, however, do not have a good handle on their concepts. They bandy them about with little concern for their development. Worse still, they often adopt their concepts blindly and uncritically, perpetuating this conceptual immaturity, and, in some cases, even allowing the concepts to calcify, thereby limiting unwittingly scientific progress.

Hot Tip:

  • Ask yourself how confident you are with the concepts with which you work. Have you simply adopted this concept from the others naively? Is the consensus on this specific concept actually a flashing warning light about the complacency in my discipline?


  • Both the frameworks and philosophical discussion will serve you well, as you evaluate the concepts with which you work, and subsequently endeavor to raise their level of maturity.

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