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Process-Tracing Methods

Foundations and Guidelines

Derek Beach

Publication Year: 2013

Process-tracing in social science is a method for studying causal mechanisms linking causes with outcomes. This enables the researcher to make strong inferences about how a cause (or set of causes) contributes to producing an outcome. Derek Beach an

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 4-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Chapter 1. Process-Tracing in the Social Sciences

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pp. 1-8

The essence of process-tracing research is that scholars want to go beyond merely identifying correlations between independent variables (Xs) and outcomes (Ys). For example, a strong statistical correlation has been found between democracy and peace (Oneal, Russett, and Berbaum 2004). Yet how do we know that mutual democracy was the cause of peace between two nations? How does democracy produce more peaceful relations? Answering these questions requires that we unpack the causal relationship between...

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Chapter 2. The Three Different Variants of Process-Tracing and Their Uses

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pp. 9-22

This chapter develops the argument that there are three different research situations in which process-tracing methods can be used, resulting in three distinct variants of process-tracing. In contrast, the state of the art treats process-tracing as a singular method, resulting in murky methodological guidelines. Whereas most case studies that use process-tracing employ a case-centric variant that we term the explaining-outcome process-tracing, most methodological works prescribe a theory-centric version of process-tracing...

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Chapter 3. What Are Causal Mechanisms?

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pp. 23-44

This chapter focuses on debates about the nature of causality and the understanding of causal mechanisms that form the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of all three process-tracing variants. This chapter introduces the reader to the ontological debates within the philosophy of science that deal with the nature of causality itself to understand how the mechanismic understanding of causality used in process-tracing analysis differs from the other understandings of causality that are prevalent in social science, particularly...

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Chapter 4. Working with Theories of Causal Mechanisms

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pp. 45-67

Theoretical concepts are not self-explanatory. Nor are causal mechanisms self-evident from causal theorization of relationships between X and Y. Instead, causal theories need to be transformed so they offer a clear hypothesized mechanism describing how a type of outcome is produced. Therefore, theoretical concepts and causal mechanisms need to be carefully defined before they can be employed in process-tracing analysis. While there are numerous methodological texts relating to conceptualization techniques in political science, existing guidelines are not always applicable when we are...

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Chapter 5. Causal Inference and Process-Tracing Methods

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pp. 68-94

Social scientists use theories in the same manner that we use maps—to simplify an immensely complex reality. Yet whereas cartographers engage in descriptive inference when they make maps, social scientists are also interested in going a step beyond describing what happens to study causal relationships, explaining how and why social phenomena occur. Theories of causal mechanisms are, for example, simplifications of reality that predict what causal forces are important in explaining the occurrence of a phenomenon. Yet social scientists are not interested in theories as purely hypothetical...

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Chapter 6. Developing Empirical Tests of Causal Mechanisms

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pp. 95-119

Chapter 4 dealt with how we should develop theories, where a causal theory (X → Y) should be reconceptualized into a theorized causal mechanism composed of a set of parts, each of which can be thought of as a hypothesis (h) about which we have expectations of the prior probability of its existence (p(h)). In the Bayesian inferential logic described in chapter 5, the purpose of empirical tests is to update our degree of confidence in a hypothesis in light of the empirical evidence that has been found. Our ability to update the posterior probability of a hypothesis is contingent on the probability of...

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Chapter 7. Turning Observations into Evidence

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pp. 120-143

Empirical material needs to be evaluated before it can be admitted as evidence on which to base causal inferences. But how can we know that what we have observed is the evidence that our theory tests had predicted? How can we assess the inferential value of individual pieces of evidence? This chapter deals with the evaluation process, where raw empirical observations are assessed for their content, accuracy and probability, enabling us to use them as evidence to update our degree of confidence in the presence of the...

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Chapter 8. Case Selection and Nesting Process-Tracing Studies in Mixed-Method Designs

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pp. 144-162

Explaining-outcome process-tracing studies are almost by definition stand-alone single-case studies. In contrast, single-case studies using either theory-building or theory-testing variants are not intended to stand alone; instead, they seek to contribute with their specific comparative advantages to what we know about a broader social phenomenon. A case study of two democracies that did not go to war despite severe conflicts of interest updates our...

Appendix: A Checklist for Process-Tracing Analysis

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pp. 163-170


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pp. 171-174


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pp. 175-182


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pp. 183-194


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pp. 195-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028856
E-ISBN-10: 0472028855
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051892
Print-ISBN-10: 0472071890

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 9 tables, 21 figures
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 828247055
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Process-Tracing Methods

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Subject Headings

  • Social sciences -- Methodology.
  • Social sciences -- Research -- Methodology.
  • Social sciences -- Case studies.
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