Evidence for causal mechanisms in social science: recommendations from Woodward’s manipulability theory of causation

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Runhardt, Rosa W
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conference paper description
In a backlash against the prevalence of statistical methods, recently social scientists have focused more on studying causal mechanisms. They increasingly rely on a technique called process-tracing, which involves contrasting the observable implications of several alternative mechanisms. Problematically, process-tracers do not commit to a fundamental notion of causation, and therefore arguably they cannot discern between mere correlation between the links of their purported mechanisms and genuine causation. In this paper, I argue that committing to Woodward's interventionist notion of causation would solve this problem: process-tracers should take into account evidence for possible interventions on the mechanisms they study.