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This workshop invites early-career researchers located in Europe to exchange ideas across disciplines that help better understand how concepts and measurement interact with each other. The two-day workshop is organized by Jolien Francken, affiliated to IAS and Radboud University, and Riet van Bork from the University of Amsterdam.
Event details of Exploring the interaction between conceptualization and measurement across the sciences
Start date
10 June 2024
End date
11 June 2024

What is a mental disorder? How do we define electrical charge? And what is the difference between democratic and undemocratic countries? Often, the answer to such questions both affects and is affected by how we measure the concepts of mental disorder, electrical charge and democracy. 

This workshop aims to explore commonalities and differences between academic disciplines (from the whole range of natural sciences, social sciences and humanities) in the way conceptualization and measurement inform each other, with the goal of improving measurement practices within these fields. A better understanding of what a property or object is, can drive novel or improved measurement instruments or procedures, while at the same time improvements in measurement procedures often lead to theoretical progress in understanding of the property or object. For example, changes in the definition of ‘duration of time in seconds’, and improvements in clocks (e.g., development of the atomic clock; Tal, 2011) mutually revise each other. Similarly, the introduction of neuroimaging techniques allowed for better differentiation in diagnosis of patients who are assumed to be in a vegetative state (Owen et al., 2006) and as a consequence, might affect how we conceptualize (un)conscious states.

Our focus on this interaction between conceptualization and measurement is inspired by the work of Hasok Chang (2004) on the history of temperature measurement, in which Chang describes the back-and-forth of developments in the concept of temperature and measurement procedures for this concept – a process he refers to as ‘epistemic iteration’. Tal (2013; see also Van Fraassen, 2008) describes this iterative process as one in which the questions “What counts as a measurement of quantity X? ” and “What is quantity X?”, although not answerable independently of each other, cán be answered together through mutual iterative refinement. 

In psychology, for example, there has been a shift in conceptualizing mental disorders as networks or complex systems instead of unobservable properties that cause symptoms. This opens up an interesting question of how this shift in conceptualization will change how severity of mental disorders is being measured. An interaction between conceptualization and measurement is also visible when different measures are developed for different purposes. For example, there exist a large variety of pain scales, each measuring pain in slightly different ways, e.g., by self-report, physiological responses, and behavioral observation (Katz & Melzack, 1999). Depending on the intended use, in this case ranging from diagnosis, to prognosis and treatment, one might choose or design a different measurement method. In this workshop, we will explore examples of the interaction between conceptualization and measurement from the full breadth of scientific disciplines.

There are two main goals for this workshop:

  • To exchange ideas across disciplines that help better understand how concepts and measurement interact with each other. Like the case of temperature measurement is insightful for measurement in other disciplines (for example in psychology; Bringmann & Eronen, 2016; Kendler & Parnas, 2012), we think there is a lot to learn from other cases across different disciplines and this might eventually improve measurement practices within these disciplines. 

  • To build a European network of academics who study measurement across different scientific fields. Having a group of people who are located not too far apart in space will make it easier to organize future meetings and collaborations.

Workshop format

Participants are not expected to prepare a talk before the workshop, they will only bring 1 or 2 slides in which they introduce themselves as well as a measurement case that can contribute to the workshop. This could be an example of a concept that is measured in the participant’s discipline, or a concept that the participant studies as a historian or philosopher of science and that could shine light on how measurement procedures for this concept, and conceptualization of this concept interact. 

During the workshop, there will both be plenary discussions as well as time allocated for working in smaller groups to look for differences and/or commonalities between the different cases and to summarize these insights in a presentation. At the end of the second day, groups will present their findings to the other participants and there will be a plenary discussion to synthesize the insights from the different presentations.

Please note that this workshop format requires participants to be present during both days of the workshop.

Submission and selection

We welcome submissions from early-career researchers (indication: up to 10 years of their PhD, but there is no strict limit) located in Europe from the whole range of natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. 

We will select participants based on their expression of interest, in which they can state their motivation and expected contribution to the workshop in response to the following questions:

  • Why would you be interested in participating in the workshop and how would you contribute? (max. 200 words)

  • What measurement case could you bring to the workshop? This could be an example of a concept that is measured in your discipline, or a concept that you study as a historian or philosopher of science and that could shine light on how measurement procedures for this concept, and conceptualization of this concept interact (max. 200 words).

Since the aim of the workshop is a cross-disciplinary exploration of the interaction between conceptualization and measurement, we will take into account the diversity of academic disciplines in the selection process. 

  • Deadline for submission expression of interest: April 14
  • Notification of acceptance: April 22


The workshop will be free of charge and will include a dinner on Monday evening, and lunch, snacks, tea and coffee during the workshop. We cannot cover travel or accommodation expenses.


The workshop will be held on Monday, June 10 - Tuesday, June 11 (full days). 

All inquiries concerning the workshop should be sent to


  • Bringmann, L. F., & Eronen, M. I. (2016). Heating up the measurement debate: What psychologists can learn from the history of physics. Theory & Psychology, 26(1), 27-43.
  • Chang, H. (2004). Inventing temperature: Measurement and scientific progress. Oxford University Press.
  • Katz, J., & Melzack, R. (1999). Measurement of pain. Surgical Clinics of North America, 79(2), 231-252.
  • Kendler, K. S., & Parnas, J. (2012). Epistemic iteration as a historical model for psychiatric nosology: Promises and limitations. Philosophical issues in psychiatry II: Nosology, 305-322.
  • Owen, A. M., Coleman, M. R., Boly, M., Davis, M. H., Laureys, S., & Pickard, J. D. (2006). Detecting awareness in the vegetative state. science, 313(5792), 1402-1402.
  • Tal, E. (2011). How accurate is the standard second?. Philosophy of Science, 78(5), 1082-1096.
  • Tal, E. (2013). Old and new problems in philosophy of measurement. Philosophy Compass, 8(12), 1159-1173.
  • Van Fraassen, B.C. (2008). Scientific representation: Paradoxes of perspective. Oxford University Press.