Short Course: Process Tracing: The Logic and Best Practices of Process Tracing (QMMR 3)

Process Tracing: The Logic and Best Practices of Process Tracing (QMMR 3)

Colin Ellman
Half Day, 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Washington State Convention Center, Room 607

This short course will cover the underlying logic and best practices of process tracing, which is a within-case method of developing and testing causal explanations of individual cases.

We will briefly summarize the philosophy of science behind explanation via reference to hypothesized causal mechanisms and then outline the logic of process tracing, which entails asking whether the evidence we find in a case would be more or less plausible if a given explanation of that case is true as compared to a rival explanation. Throughout the session we will emphasize best practices and applications to exemplars of process tracing research. The examples we use will be primarily in international relations and comparative politics, but the methods we discuss are applicable to all the subfields of political science, to sociology, economics, history, business studies, public policy, and many other fields. Students will practice applying process tracing reasoning in small group exercises. As time allows, and depending on the numbers, students will discuss how they plan to use process tracing in their current research so the instructors and fellow students can offer constructive advice on how best to carry it out.

The course will also introduce the logic of Bayesian inference that underlies process tracing and overview key conceptual insights that can help us better evaluate the inferential import of qualitative evidence. Students interested in learning more about the Bayesian approach are encouraged to also take the ‘Bayesian Process Tracing’ short course led by Tasha Fairfield, which will be held in the afternoon of the same day as the present course. Students can benefit by taking either or both courses; we have designed the two short courses so that they complement each other.