Short Course: Studying Causal Mechanisms Using In-Depth Case Studies (QMMR 3)

Studying Causal Mechanisms Using In-Depth Case Studies (QMMR 3)

Tasha Fairfield
Half Day, 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Palais des congrés de Montréal, 512G

The study of causal mechanisms is ubiquitous in the social sciences. Mechanism-focused research using in-depth case studies enables us to gain a better understanding of how things work and under what conditions using real-world cases instead of gaining knowledge about mean causal effects across cases based on experimentally manipulating treatments in controlled populations. However, the potential gains of mechanism-focused research have not been fully reaped in the social sciences because of the tendency to reduce mechanisms to counterfactuals which are then investigated using cross-case comparisons.

Inspired by recent developments in mechanism-focused research in medicine and policy evaluation (Clarke et al, 2014; Cartwright and Hardie, 2012), the first session of the course will discuss the standards developed in the natural sciences for what constitutes a ‘good’ mechanistic explanation (e.g. Craver and Darden, 2013), and how these can be translated into social science theorization. The second session will then present the developing standards in the natural sciences for what constitutes ‘good’ mechanistic evidence, and again how these can be translated into the social sciences. The final session discusses practical applications, including how mechanism-focused research can be used as an adjunct method to improve social science experiments in designing the experiment and interpreting the data.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*