This course is a more practical, hands-on course in using Process Tracing (PT) methods in one’s own research, complementing the more theoretical PT I ECPR Summer School course held in the first week, which focuses on the research design aspects of the method. The course requires that one has already had some form of introduction to PT, either by taking the week 1 course, the course at the ECPR Winter School, or another introductory course on PT.
In comparison to other research methods such as large-N correlation-based analysis and comparative 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.
The first day introduces the Bayesian logic of inference, followed by hands-on exercises for how we can develop and improve empirical tests in ways that enable strong causal inferences to be made, using an example from a Sherlock Holmes story.
Day 2 introduces recent developments in empirical testing in PT, focusing on the Bayesian underpinnings of two dimensions of test strength (certainty and uniqueness). We utilize Tannenwald’s well-known article to illustrate Bayesian logic and empirical tests.
Day 3 introduces source criticism and the practical challenges in working with empirical evidence in PT. We focus upon archival material, elite interviews and secondary historical sources. This includes questions such as how we should evaluate bias, what a ‘good’ source is, and how we deal with bias in secondary historical material. We will utilize a set of materials from the Cuban Missile Crisis to discuss the challenges relating to evidence in PT.
Day 4 turns to a discussion of how we can use empirical material to build theorized causal mechanisms, using Janis’ study of Groupthink as an example.
The course concludes with a discussion of practical challenges in using PT, drawing on the exercises participants will be drafting during the week.