Difference Between Concept and Theme

Key Difference – Concept vs Theme

Concept and theme are two words that can often be confusing as some people consider concepts and themes as interchangeable. However, there is a key difference between a concept and a theme. A concept can simply be understood as an abstract idea. Concepts exist in all fields of study, although the visibility can differ from one field to another. On the other hand, a theme is a specific subject or idea that recurs in a particular piece of work. Themes can be seen in novels, dramas, research, essays, etc. The key difference is that while a theme captures a broader area, a concept does not. It limits itself to a particular idea. This is why under a single theme various concepts can emerge. This article attempts to clarify the difference between a concept and a theme.

What is a Concept?

A concept can be defined as an abstract idea. This can refer to a phenomenon that exists in the society, or it can even be an abstract idea that is mentally formed. Concepts can be seen in all disciplines. For an example, let us take sociology. In sociology, we speak of so many concepts under different institutions. Social solidarity, anomie, nuclear and extended family, social order, bureaucracy, commodification, hegemony, authority, ideology are some examples for various concepts. These concepts are used to speak of various social phenomena that can be observed in the society. Here it must be highlighted that while some concepts are physically visible such as nuclear and extended family, others are not. Most concepts such as hegemony, ideology are more abstract in nature. Now let us turn to themes.

Difference Between Concept and Theme

Concept of Nuclear family

What is a Theme?

A theme is a subject that is being discussed. In literature, students are often asked to identify the themes that can be visible in a particular piece of work such as a novel, films, drama or even in a short story. In such a situation, the students are asked to highlight the subjects that are recurrent in the work. For an example in the novel Jane Eyre, some of the major themes are love, gender relations, religion, and social class.

The term theme is also used in social sciences, especially in research. Most researches engage in a thematic analysis when compiling their research report. Here once again, the researcher identifies the various themes that emerge from his research. Some use these themes for chapterization as well. Under each theme, the researcher then presents his findings. This can even include various concepts. For example, a research on language commodification can have different themes such as language as a cultural commodity, the perception of the student, the role of the educator, the role of organizations, etc. Under each theme, there can be various concepts as well. For example, under the theme of the role of organizations, one can speak of the concept of the ‘new international crusade.’ This highlights that although concepts and themes are very much linked together there exists a clear difference between these two words. This can be summarized as follows.

Key Difference - Concept vs Theme

What is the difference between Concept and Theme?

Definitions of Concept and Theme:

Concept: A concept can be defined as an abstract idea.

Theme: A theme is a specific subject or idea that recurs in a particular piece of work.

Characteristics of Concept and Theme:


Concept: In a concept, the scope is limited.

Theme: A theme usually has a large scope.


Concept: A concept is specific.

Theme: A theme can include various ideas; hence it is not very specific.


Concept: A concept can appear under a theme.

Theme: A number of concepts can fall under a single theme.


Image Courtesy:

1. W.H. Shumard family, circa 1955 By Seattle Municipal Archives from Seattle, WA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

2. A kid drawing or writing By dotmatchbox at flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons