Department of Political Science

Achieving Methodological Alignment When Combining QCA and Process tracing in Practice

Research output: Research - peer-reviewJournal article

DOI

This article explores the practical challenges one faces when combining Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and Process-tracing (PT) in a manner that is consistent with their underlying assumptions about the nature of causal relationships. While PT builds on a mechanism-based understanding of causation, QCA as a comparative method makes claims about counterfactual causal relationships. The consequence of this is that the analyst is forced to choose whether to be more in alignment with one or the other method. The article proceeds in four steps, exploring the challenges and opportunities resulting from two different understandings of causation underlying QCA and PT. The article first presents the research area used to explore the practical challenges of combining the two methods. I investigate the causes of congruence between what voters want and government positions in EU constitutional negotiations, part of the broader phenomenon of the representation of voter views in public policies. The section develops a range of potential causes for congruence from the existing literature. Second, using a QCA-first design I undertake a fsQCA analysis of sufficiency. Utilized in a theory-building fashion, I investigate whether the potential causes identified in the literature form conjunctions of conditions that are together sufficient to produce congruence between voter views and governmental positions. The article only finds one conjunction that is robust: the combination of PR systems and the EU being a highly salient issue in domestic politics (electoral connection).
Third, the article engages in a PT case study of two positive cases of the electoral connection conjunction. At the theoretical level, gaming through a causal mechanism for the conjunction suggests that one of the two terms should better be understood as a scope instead of causal condition, providing a better theoretical understanding of the found conjunction. Issues of case selection are then discussed, finding that a restrictive policy in alignment with QCA tenets results in some promising potential cases being rejected. The actual case studies find some evidence for the presence of the hypothesized mechanism, although when we select a case where another conjunction is also present (referendum), there is stronger evidence for the referendum than electoral connection conjunction.
Finally, the conclusion discusses the methodological lessons learned in practice, focusing on the need to justify case selection in terms of whether one is more in alignment with either QCA or PT, and the need to make conclusions that are consistent with the types of inferences made possible by PT case studies, i.e. a mechanism produced by a conjunction is either present or not in a case, with no claims made about its necessity or sufficiency.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Methods & Research
Volume47
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)64-99
Number of pages36
ISSN0049-1241
DOIs
StatePublished - 2018

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