Department of Political Science

It’s all about mechanisms - what process-tracing case studies should be tracing

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It is widely agreed that the core of Process-tracing (PT) as a distinct case study methodology is that it involves tracing causal mechanisms that link causes (X) with their effects (i.e. outcomes) (Y). Yet when we look at the methodological literature on PT, there is considerable ambiguity and discord about what causal mechanisms actually are. The result of this ambiguity about what mechanisms are clearly maps onto existing applications of PT, with most PT case studies largely ignoring the underlying theoretical causal processes; i.e. it is black-boxed.This article attempts to provide a clear definition of causal mechanisms that provides scholars using PT with a framework for theorizing mechanisms in a fashion that is amenable to in-depth empirical analysis. I contend that PT needs to adopt an understanding of causal mechanisms where they are explicitly fleshed out by unpacking causal processes linking X and Y into a series of interlocking parties composed of entities engaging in activities that transmit causal forces from cause to outcome.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Political Economy
Pages (from-to)463-472
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • causal mechanisms, Process Tracing

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