Causal Mechanisms in the Social Sciences

Posted: 14 Oct 2010

See all articles by Peter Hedstrom

Peter Hedstrom

University of Oxford - Nuffield College

Petri Ylikoski

Tampere University

Date Written: August 2010


During the past decade, social mechanisms and mechanism-based explanations have received considerable attention in the social sciences as well as in the philosophy of science. This article critically reviews the most important philosophical and social science contributions to the mechanism approach. The first part discusses the idea of mechanism-based explanation from the point of view of philosophy of science and relates it to causation and to the covering-law account of explanation. The second part focuses on how the idea of mechanisms has been used in the social sciences. The final part discusses recent developments in analytical sociology, covering the nature of sociological explananda, the role of theory of action in mechanism-based explanations, Merton's idea of middle-range theory, and the role of agent-based simulations in the development of mechanism-based explanations.

Suggested Citation

Hedstrom, Peter and Ylikoski, Petri, Causal Mechanisms in the Social Sciences (August 2010). Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 36, pp. 49-67, 2010, Available at SSRN: or

Peter Hedstrom (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Nuffield College ( email )

Manor Road
Manor Road
Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

Petri Ylikoski

Tampere University ( email )

Tampere, FIN-33101

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics