Out now & open access: Process Tracing: An Analyticist Approach

I develop process tracing (PT) for actor-centered and interpretivist studies in a way that allows agency and contingency. For the full chapter, see here.

In the social sciences, cases are generally unique: people’s interpretations, (mis)calculations, understandings, assessments, meaning-making, emotions, creativity, and spontaneity matter for outcomes and so does the socio-institutional context within which agents act.

But that cases and processes, when studied holistically, are unique does not mean we cannot learn broader lessons from them. The question is just: how can we?  In this chapter, I suggest to treat mechanisms as akin to Weberian ideal types: abstract constructs that are adduced from multiple concrete, contextually embedded, and largely idiosyncratic instantiations.

In this conception, an instance or instantiation—the occurrence of a mechanism in empirical reality—is always rich, contextually embedded, and case and actor specific. The mechanism itself, then, is our (scholarly) abstraction. It is an analytical construct that defines, in abstract terms, how a given set-up or entity transfers motion in identical or closely similar ways over a variety of situations (partially adopted from McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly, p.24).

So: whilst cases are always unique and actor and context specific, mechanisms, as ideal types or analytical constructs, are not! How this works in detail, and how actor-centered and interpretivist research may benefit from rethinking what mechanisms are and how they inform our understanding of processes and outcomes? See here.

EISA – Athens

After Thessaloniki–which was my first ever visit to Greece (I know!)–Athens comes quickly after. A very valuable conference and great opportunity to see new and familiar faces. Much looking forward to this!

EWIS – Thessaloniki

Off to Thessaloniki for my first in person conference/workshop since ISA 2018. I am not even sure I remember the etiquette…

… short update afterwards: It was amazing. Completely different experience than a regular conference. We had time to just have conceptual conversations and discussion. I needed this.

MethodsNET first #3SRM

June 20-25 was the first MethodsNET Summer School in Social Research Methods (3SRM) organised at Radboud University, Nijmegen. We had a fully-booked, wonderful course on Process Tracing with a very enthusiastic and engaged group of participants.

You can definitely expect me there again next year!

Video now available

Click here for the video recording of the short online introduction to Process Tracing Methods that I offered together with Derek Beach (@Beach_MethodMan) on Feb 24, 2022.

Considering I discuss it in detail, I recommend you have a look at Winward (2021)* before you watch the video. But you can find other reading suggestions at the bottom of the video explainer still. Enjoy!

* Winward, M. (2021). Intelligence capacity and mass violence: Evidence from Indonesia. Comparative Political Studies, 54(3-4), 553-584.

Free Online Course on Process Tracing

To the attention of all Process Tracing enthusiasts: Derek Beach (@beach_methodman) and I will offer a *free* short online course: “A short introduction to Process Tracing Methods”, Feb 24, online 14:00-15:30 CET.

For registration, simply send a short message to derek@ps.au.dk and we will send you the zoom-link. All information about this event can also be found at the MethodsNET website.

The aim of this short introductory session is to provide participants with an understanding of the core elements of Process tracing methods and how they can be used in practical research. Process tracing is a research method designed to learn how things work in real-world cases. Increasingly used across the social sciences and in applied policy evaluation, process tracing involves unpacking causal processes as they play out within cases and tracing them empirically, enabling within-case causal inferences about the processes that link causes and outcomes together.

The session begins with an introduction of the theory-side of what we are actually tracing, followed by a discussion of what types of empirical evidence can be used to trace causal processes (aka mechanisms). We will use the example of the article by Winward (2020) to illustrate what Process tracing can look like in practice. The final part of the session introduces principles of case selection and generalization. After this, there will be plenty of time for questions from participants.

Suggested readings:

• Beach (forthcoming) Process Tracing Methods in Social Science. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Revised edition.

• Winward M. 2020. Intelligence Capacity and Mass Violence: Evidence From Indonesia. Comparative Political Studies, 54(3-4):553-584.

MethodsNET Summer School in Social Research Methods

I am happy to announce I will be part of MethodsNet ‘s first Summer School in Social Research Methods! In June, in person, in Nijmegen. I teach “Introduction to Process Tracing“, a course designed for those interested in qualitative case studies and studying “causal mechanisms”.

Over the course of five days we will discuss what causal mechanisms are, how they advance our understanding of (social) phenomena, what it means to study them, and what conclusions can be drawn on the basis of a PT. The course takes a ‘hands-on’ approach and encourages participants to apply theoretical insights to their own research projects. It provides all the basic skills to set-up and follow through an independent PT-study.

Venue: Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Regular course fee: €575
Early bird fee: €518 or €431
Application deadline: 1 May 2022
Course dates: 20-24 June 2022
More information and registration: here!

*Pro-tip*–combines well (very well) with @Beach_MethodMan ‘s course “Process Tracing Methods in Practice” offered in the 2nd week, June 27 – July 1. 

Out now: “International bureaucrats in the UN Security Council debates: A speaker-topic network analysis”. 

With Stefan Eckhard (@S_eckhard), Ronny Patz (@ronpatz), and Mirco Schönfeld (@TWlyY29).


Drawn from this database, we look specifically at the UNSC debates on the situation in Afghanistan between 1995-2017 and conduct a speaker-topic network analysis to see who spoke when and about what.

Our focus is on the UN bureaucrats. We show that the UN secretariat and other representatives play an active role even in a venue were bureaucratic agency seems unlikely—the UNSC. The paper has both a quantitative and qualitative component.

In the quantitative component we combine Structural Topic Modeling and Network Analysis techniques to observe ‘speaker position’, ‘topic introduction’, and ‘topic evolution’. We observe the UN bureaucracy, at times, acts as an autonomous speechmaker introducing and pushing its own topics.

In the qualitative component we explore the concrete contributions the Secretariat made in relation to the topic ‘security and reform’. We show officials tabled a controversial policy option—expanding int. troops beyond Kabul—that was eventually accepted by the UNSC.

Overall, we find that bureaucrats—even in the UNSC—are able to (co-)shape what is considered relevant, how particular problems are understood, and, ultimately, what solutions are under consideration.

For those interested: Here is an online tool with which you can study and organize the data yourselves: https://dmwg.shinyapps.io/lingopac/.

EISA Pan-European Conference 2021

To really wake up from my COVID-hybernation, I’ll join the European International Studies Association Pan-European Conference this week. I will be on two panels actively (see below) and hopefully many more in the audience.

I’ll be joining pandemic-style, though. Just as my husband is away for a real live workshop, my 22-month-old decided now is a good time to fall ill…

Paper presentation: