Understanding Process Tracing
PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 44, No. 4, pp. 823-830, October 2011
9 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2011 Last revised: 7 Mar 2019
Date Written: June 1, 2011
Process tracing is a fundamental method of qualitative analysis. While it is often invoked by scholars as they examine qualitative data, too frequently this tool is neither adequately understood nor rigorously applied. This deficit motivates the present article, which offers a new framework for carrying out process tracing. This reformulation integrates discussions of process tracing and causal-process observations, gives greater attention to description as a key contribution, and emphasizes the causal sequence in which process-tracing observations can be situated. In the current period of major innovation in quantitative tools for causal inference, this reformulation is part of a wider, parallel effort to achieve greater systematization of qualitative methods. A key point here is that these methods can add inferential leverage too often lacking in quantitative analysis. The presentation is accompanied by teaching exercises, which focus on three examples from international relations, one from American politics, two from comparative politics, and one from public health/epidemiology.
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