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Re-conceptualizing Abstract Conceptualization in Social Theory: The Case of the “Structure” Concept



I this paper, I draw on recent research on the radically embodied and perceptual bases of conceptualization in linguistics and cognitive science to develop a new way of reading and evaluating abstract concepts in social theory. I call this approach Sociological Idea Analysis. I argue that, in contrast to the traditional view of abstract concepts, which conceives them as amodal “presuppositions” removed from experience, abstract concepts are irreducibly grounded in experience and partake of non-negotiable perceptual-symbolic features from which a non-propositional “logic” naturally follows. This implies that uncovering the imagistic bases of allegedly abstract notions should be a key part of theoretical evaluation of concepts in social theory. I provide a case study of the general category of “structure” in the social and human sciences to demonstrate the analytic utility of the approach.