Two papers and one book on process tracing methods

Posted on 27 March, 2014 – 5:26 PM
  • Understanding Process Tracing, David Collier, University of California, Berkeley. PS: Political Science and Politics 44, No.4 (2011):823-30. 7 pages.
    • Abstract: “Process tracing is a fundamental tool of qualitative analysis. This method is often invoked by scholars who carry out within-case analysis based on qualitative data, yet frequently it is neither adequately understood nor rigorously applied. This deficit motivates this article, which offers a new framework for carrying out process tracing. The reformulation integrates discussions of process tracing and causal-process observations, gives greater attention to description as a key contribution, and emphasizes the causal sequence in which process-tracing observations can be situated. In the current period of major innovation in quantitative tools for causal inference, this reformulation is part of a wider, parallel effort to achieve greater systematization of qualitative methods. A key point here is that these methods can add inferential leverage that is often lacking in quantitative analysis. This article is accompanied by online teaching exercises, focused on four examples from American politics, two from comparative politics, three from international relations, and one from public health/epidemiology”
      • Great explanation of the difference between straw-in-the-wind tests, hoop tests, smoking-gun tests and doubly-decisive tests, using Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze”
  • Case selection techniques in Process-tracing and the implications of taking the study of causal mechanisms seriously, Derek Beach, Rasmus Brun, 2012, 33 pages
    • Abstract: “This paper develops guidelines for each of the three variants of Process-tracing (PT): explaining outcome PT, theory-testing, and theory-building PT. Case selection strategies are not relevant when we are engaging in explaining outcome PT due to the broader conceptualization of outcomes that is a product of the different understandings of case study research (and science itself) underlying this variant of PT. Here we simply select historically important cases because they are for instance the First World War, not a ‘case of’ failed deterrence or crisis decision-making. Within the two theorycentric variants of PT, typical case selection strategies are most applicable. A typical case is one that is a member of the set of X, Y and the relevant scope conditions for the mechanism. We put forward that pathway cases, where scores on other causes are controlled for, are less relevant when we take the study of mechanisms seriously in PT, given that we are focusing our attention on how a mechanism contributes to produce Y, not on the causal effects of an X upon values of Y. We also discuss the role that deviant cases play in theory-building PT, suggesting that PT cannot stand alone, but needs to be complemented with comparative analysis of the deviant case with typical cases”
  • Process-Tracing Methods: Foundations and Guidelines, Derek Beach, Rasmus Brun Pedersen,  The University of Michigan Press (15 Dec 2012), 248 pages.
    • Description: “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 and Rasmus Brun Pedersen introduce a refined definition of process-tracing, differentiating it into three distinct variants and explaining the applications and limitations of each. The authors develop the underlying logic of process-tracing, including how one should understand causal mechanisms and how Bayesian logic enables strong within-case inferences. They provide instructions for identifying the variant of process-tracing most appropriate for the research question at hand and a set of guidelines for each stage of the research process.” View the Table of Contents here:

PS 2014 03 28: I would also recommend a paper and book chapters by Mahoney on process tracing. Mahoney is referred to in Collier’s paper above.

  • Mahoney, James. 2012. “Mahoney, J. (2012). The Logic of Process Tracing Tests in the Social Sciences.  1-28.” Sociological Methods & Research XX(X) (March): 1–28. doi:10.1177/0049124112437709.
    • Abstract: This article discusses process tracing as a methodology for testing hypotheses in the social sciences. With process tracing tests, the analyst combines preexisting generalizations with specific observations from within a single case to make causal inferences about that case. Process tracing tests can be used to help establish that (1) an initial event or process took place, (2) a subsequent outcome also occurred, and (3) the former was a cause of the latter. The article focuses on the logic of different process tracing tests, including hoop tests, smoking gun tests, and straw in the wind tests. New criteria for judging the strength of these tests are developed using ideas concerning the relative importance of necessary and sufficient conditions. Similarities and differences between process tracing and the deductive-nomological model of explanation are explored.
  • Goertz, Gary, and James Mahoney. 2012. A Tale of Two Cultures: Qualitative and Quantitative Research in the Social Sciences. Princeton University Press. See chapter 8 on causal mechanisms and process tracing, and the sorrounding chapters 7 and 9 which make up a section on within-case analysis

PS 2014 04 03: See also

PS 2014 10 07. See also this new paper

  • Schneider, C.Q., Rohlfing, I., 2013. Combining QCA and Process Tracing in Set-Theoretic Multi-Method Research. Sociological Methods & Research 42, 559–597. doi:10.1177/0049124113481341
    • Abstract:  Set-theoretic methods and Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) in particular are case-based methods. There are, however, only few guidelines on how to combine them with qualitative case studies. Contributing to the literature on multi-method research (MMR), we offer the first comprehensive elaboration of principles for the integration of QCA and case studies with a special focus on case selection. We show that QCA’s reliance on set-relational causation in terms of necessity and sufficiency has important consequences for the choice of cases. Using real world data for both crisp-set and fuzzy-set QCA, we show what typical and deviant cases are in QCA-based MMR. In addition, we demonstrate how to select cases for comparative case studies aiming to discern causal mechanisms and address the puzzles behind deviant cases. Finally, we detail the implications of modifying the set-theoretic cross-case model in the light of case-study evidence. Following the principles developed in this article should increase the inferential leverage of set-theoretic MMR.”
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