This workshop on Process Tracing aims to give the participant an understanding of the foundations of Process Tracing methods, but most importantly, the aim is to enable the participant to utilize Process Tracing methods in their own research by providing a set of practical research tools.
In comparison to other research methods, process-tracing as a distinct method involves research where, ‘The cause-effect link that connects independent variable and outcome is unwrapped and divided into smaller steps; then the investigator looks for observable evidence of each step.’ (Van Evera 1997:64).
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 an independent variable (or set of variables) and an outcome, allowing us to open up the ‘black box’ of causality itself.. Within political science methodology, Process Tracing is arguably the only method that allows us to study causal mechanisms, allowing us to understand how an X (or set of X’s) produces Y instead of simply studying correlations and associations, and therefore is an ‘…invaluable method that should be included in every researcher’s repertoire.’ (George and Bennett 2005:224).
The course starts by differentiating Process Tracing from other methods; including both large-n quantitative, frequentist methods, but also other small-n methods such as analytical narratives, comparative case studies, congruence etc. Here we define Process Tracing by the interest in studying causal mechanisms in single case studies. We discuss the three overall variants of Process Tracing designs: theory-testing, theory-building, and explaining outcome PT and provides examples of the use of the different methods.
The course provides insights into the recent debate of the role of causal mechanism in political science. Topics include how we should understand causal mechanisms (as intervening variables or systems) and how they can be conceptualized.
Conceptualization deals with translating a causal theory into a theorized causal mechanism that can explain how X produce Y. We then turn our attention to how we would focus on the questions of case selection and mixed-methods research. In what research situations can Process Tracing methods be fruitfully employed? When it is inappropriate to use Process Tracing? How can Process Tracing studies be combined in mixed-methods research designs?