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Advanced Process-tracing Workshop

Course Dates and Times

Monday 25 February – Friday 1 March, 09:00–12:30 and 14:00–16:30 (ending slightly earlier on Friday)
25 hours over 5 days

Derek Beach

Aarhus Universitet

See 'Prerequisite Knowledge' section, above

Tasks for ECTS Credits

2 credits (pass/fail grade) Attend 90% of course hours, participate fully in in-class activities, and carry out the necessary reading and/or other work prior to, and after, classes.

4 credits (to be graded) As above, and be an active participant, doing the readings, submitting the presentation material (theory of a causal mechanism + an observable of a part of the mechanism) at least two weeks in advance of the course, and doing the in-class presentations.

An additional 2 credits for completion of daily after-class assignments.

An additional 2 credits on submission of a 7–10 page take-home paper, in which you revise your theorised mechanism and observable manifestation, and discuss case selection.

Instructor Bio

Derek Beach is a professor of Political Science at Aarhus University.

He has authored articles, chapters, and books on case study research methodology, international negotiations, referendums, and European integration, and co-authored Process-tracing Methods: Foundations and Guidelines (University of Michigan Press).

Derek has taught qualitative case study methods at ECPR, IPSA and ICPSR summer and winter schools, and numerous workshops and seminars on qualitative methods throughout the world. He is an academic co-convenor of the ECPR Methods School.


This hands-on course gives you the methodological tools to refine your use of process-tracing methods in your own substantive research. It will also enable you to embed process-tracing case studies in mixed-methods research design. The course requires very active participation.

Morning sessions will involve lectures and discussions about key methodological issues. In the afternoons, we will discuss aspects of participants' projects, including theories of causal mechanisms and how we can develop testable predictions about evidence that the activities associated with parts of mechanisms might leave in a given case.

The promise of process tracing as a methodological tool is that it enables the researcher to study more-or-less directly the causal mechanism(s) linking a cause (or set of causes) and an outcome, allowing us to open up the ‘black box’ of causality itself. By unpacking causal mechanisms into their constituent parts, composed of entities engaging in activities, and then tracing the empirical manifestations these activities leave in actual cases, we are able to collect what has been termed mechanistic evidence upon which we can make causal inferences about how causal mechanisms actually work (Craver and Darden, 2013; Machamer, Darden and Craver, 2000; Machamer, 2004). Strong causal inferences about the effect a cause has on an outcome are naturally only possible when we use evidence of difference-making that is produced through experimental manipulation across cases (Woodward, 2003). However, when we use mechanistic evidence to make causal inferences, we are using observational, within-case evidence to make causal inferences about the actual operation of mechanisms in real world cases (Russo and Williamson, 2007; Illari, 2011; Waskan, 2011). In other words, instead of studying causal effects we are studying how things work.

In the first morning session, we discuss how to differentiate proces tracing from other methods; including large-n quantitative methods, but also other small-n methods such as analytical narratives and comparative case studies. Here we define process tracing by the interest in studying causal mechanisms within single cases in ways that enable within-case causal inferences to be made. We discuss the four variants of process tracing: theory-testing, theory-building, theoretical revision, and explaining outcome process tracing. This is followed by an in-depth discussion of the ontological underpinnings of process tracing in the second session of Day 1, and the full session of Day 2, focusing on how to understand causal mechanisms and how they differ from other types of causal theorisation.

On the morning of Day 3, we discuss how inferences can be made using mechanistic evidence, focusing on how to operationalise theories of mechanisms using informal Bayesian logic. On Day 4 we discuss challenges relating to the evaluation of evidence in a joint session with the Historical Methods course. The final session on day 5 turns to questions of case selection and mixed/multi-methods.

The afternoons of Days 1 & 2 will be devoted to presentation and discussion of theories of causal mechanisms prepared by each participant. In the afternoon sessions on Days 3 & 4, we turn to presentation and discussion of observable manifestations of the activities of parts of mechanisms of each participant, followed on Day 5 by a discussion of why participants chose particular cases.


You must be using in-depth case study methods in your current research project (PhD, postdoc or other), and be advanced enough in your research that you have clear theoretical conjectures and ideas about potential empirical observations that we can work with during the course.

You must be familiar with the recent literature on case study methods (post 2010), and I assume familiarity with basic concepts related to process tracing. In particular, you should have basic knowledge about debates about causal mechanisms and empirical tests and how they are used in case studies.

I require submission before the course of a theorised causal mechanism and empirical proposition. I will provide information about this well in advance.

Each course includes pre-course assignments, including readings and pre-recorded videos, as well as daily live lectures totalling at least three hours. The instructor will conduct live Q&A sessions and offer designated office hours for one-to-one consultations.

Please check your course format before registering.

Online courses

Live classes will be held daily for three hours on a video meeting platform, allowing you to interact with both the instructor and other participants in real-time. To avoid online fatigue, the course employs a pedagogy that includes small-group work, short and focused tasks, as well as troubleshooting exercises that utilise a variety of online applications to facilitate collaboration and engagement with the course content.

In-person courses

In-person courses will consist of daily three-hour classroom sessions, featuring a range of interactive in-class activities including short lectures, peer feedback, group exercises, and presentations.


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc.). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.

Day Topic Details
1 Morning: what is process tracing? Afternoon: presentations of mechanisms

Morning session 9:00 – 12:30

Afternoon session 14:00 – 16:30

2 Morning: what are causal mechanisms? Afternoon: presentations of mechanisms

First session 9:00 – 10:30

Second session 11:00 – 12:30

3 Morning: operationalisation Afternoon: presentation of empirical tests

First session 9:00 – 10:30

Second session 11:00 – 12:30

4 Morning: evaluating evidence Afternoon: presentation of empirical tests

First session 9:00 – 10:30

Second session 11:00 – 12:30

5 Morning: case selection Afternoon: presentation of case selection

First session 9:00 – 10:30

Second session 11:00 – 12:30

Day Readings

Morning session (9:00–12:30) – Introduction

  • Beach and Pedersen (2018) Process-tracing methods. 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Chapter 1 on causation, Chapters 8–10 on process tracing.
  • Mahoney, James. 2008. Toward a Unified Theory of Causality. Comparative Political Studies 41(4/5): 412–436.
  • Russo, F. and Williamson. 2011. Generic versus single-case causality: the case of autopsy. European Journal of the Philosophy of Science, 1(1): 47–69.

Morning session (9:00–12:30) – Conceptualising causal mechanisms

  • Beach and Pedersen (2018) Process-tracing methods. 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Chapters 2 and 3.
  • Hedström and Ylikoski (2010) ‘Causal Mechanisms in the Social Sciences.’, Annual Review of Sociology, 36: 49–67.
  • Machamer, Peter. 2004. Activities and Causation: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Mechanisms. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 18(1): 27–39.
  • Illari, Phyllis and Jon Williamson. 2013. In Defense of Activities. Journal for General Philosophy of Science 44 (1): 69–83.

Morning session (9:00–12:30) – Operationalisation – basic principles

  • Beach and Pedersen (2018) Process-tracing methods. 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Chapter 5.

Morning session (9:00–12:30) – Evaluating evidence

  • Beach and Pedersen (2018) Process-tracing methods. 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Chapter 6.
  • Course packet on Cuban Missile Crisis (to be provided)

Morning session (9:00–12:30) – Mixed methods?

  • Beach and Rohlfing (2018) 'Integrating Cross-case Analyses and Process Tracing in Set-Theoretic Research', Sociological Methods and Research. 47(1): 3–36.
  • Beach and Pedersen (2018) Process-tracing methods. 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Chapter 4.
  • Beach (forthcoming) 'Multi-method research in the social sciences – A review of recent frameworks and a way forward.' Accepted for publication in Government and Opposition.


See daily schedule.


Brady, Henry E. and David Collier (eds) (2010)
Rethinking Social Inquiry: Diverse Tools Shared Standards
2nd Edition. Lanham MD: Rowman Littlefield

Bunge, Mario (2004)
How Does It Work? The Search for Explanatory Mechanisms
Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34(2): 182–210

Cartwright, Nancy (2007)
Hunting Causes and Using Them: Approaches in Philosophy and Economics
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Central Intelligence Agency (1968)
Intelligence Report – Bayes’ Theorem in the Korean War
July 1968, No. 0605/68. (approved for release date April 2005)

Doyle, A. Conan (1975)
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
London: George Newnes

Fairfield, Tasha and Andrew E. Charman (2017)
Explicit Bayesian Analysis for Process Tracing: Guidelines, Opportunities, and Caveats
Political Analysis, 25: 363–380

Gerring, John (2006)
Single-Outcome Studies: A Methodological Primer
International Sociology Vol. 21(5): 707–734

Gerring, John (2007)
Case Study Research
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Glennan, Stuart S. (2002)
Rethinking mechanistic explanation
Philosophy of Science 69: 342–353

Groff, Ruth (2011)
Getting past Hume in the philosophy of social science
In Causality in the Sciences, edited by Phyllis McKay Illari, Federica Russo and Jon Williamson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 296–316

Gross, Neil (2009)
A Pragmatist Theory of Social Mechanisms
American Sociological Review 74 (3): 358–79

Grzymala-Busse, Anna (2011)
Time Will Tell? Temporality and the Analysis of Causal Mechanisms and Processes
Comparative Political Studies 44 (9): 1267–97

Hedström, Peter and Richard, Swedberg (ed). (1998)
Social Mechanisms an Analytical Approach to Social Theory
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Illari, Phyllis and Federica Russo (2014)
Causality: Philosophical Theory meets Scientific Practice
Oxford: Oxford University Press

King, Keohane and Verba (1994)
Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research
Princeton: Princeton University Press

Mayntz, Renate (2004)
Mechanisms in the Analysis of Social Macro-Phenomena
Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34(2): 237–259.

Pieson, Paul (2003)
Big, Slow-Moving, and…Invisible: Macrosocial Processes in the Study of Comparative Politics
In Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences. Ed. Mahoney, James and D. Rueschemayer, 177–207. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Roberts, Clayton (1996)
The Logic of Historical Explanation
University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press

Rueschmeyer, Dietrich (2003)
Can One or a Few Cases Yield Theoretical Gains?
In Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences. Ed. Mahoney, James and D. Rueschemayer, 305–337. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Recommended Courses to Cover Before this One

Summer School

Process-tracing Methodology I - an introduction (week 1)

Case Study Research : Method and Practice

Winter School

Introduction to the Philosophy of Science

Comparative Research Designs

Introduction to Process-tracing

Recommended Courses to Cover After this One

Summer School

Qualitative Comparative Analysis and Fuzzy Sets

Master course in multi-method research