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CSS colloquium: Sharon Crasnow, London School of Economics

Counterfactual Narratives and Causal Mechanisms in Political Science

Info about event


Wednesday 27 March 2019,  at 14:15 - 15:45



Counterfactuals play a role in both variance-based and case-based research in political science. Variance-based (large-N observational and experimental) research is often described as counterfactual, because it is understood through the potential outcomes framework. Case-based research often probes causality through counterfactual reasoning in addition to process-tracing. Recent accounts of multimethod research propose that it be understood through a research triad consisting of theory, variance-based evidence, and evidence for causal mechanism, the last of these deriving from case-based research (Goertz 2016). I argue that we can better understand how counterfactuals function to provide evidence for causal mechanisms by understanding that cases are narratives. Using John Beatty’s recent work on narrative in science (Beatty 2016, 2017), I consider how counterfactuals aid in arguing for or against the role of different hypothesized causal mechanisms using an example of counterfactual thinking from political science to illustrate. I conclude that counterfactual reasoning in the context of the narrative structure of cases provides evidence for causal mechanisms but functions quite differently from the counterfactual basis of variance-based methods and consider the ramifications for Goertz’s research triad.

Sharon Crasnow
Distinguished Professor Emerita, Norco College
Visiting Professor (Lent Term)
Department of Gender Studies
London School of Economics

Coffee/tea, cake and fruit will be served at 2 pm.