Using Process Tracing to Evaluate Formal Models

37 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2014 Last revised: 18 Oct 2015

Peter L. Lorentzen

University of San Francisco

M. Taylor Fravel

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Jack Paine

University of Rochester

Date Written: September 23, 2015

Abstract

Political scientists frequently use qualitative evidence to support or evaluate the empirical applicability of formal models. Despite this widespread practice in international relations and comparative politics, neither the qualitative methods literature nor research on empirically evaluating formal models systematically address the topic. This paper offers three contributions to bridge this gap. First, it demonstrates that formal models and qualitative evidence are frequently combined in current research. Second, it argues that process tracing is a valuable tool for empirically assessing models because they share a common focus on understanding causal mechanisms. The third and main contribution is to provide new guidelines for using process tracing that focus on issues specific to the modeling enterprise, illustrated with numerous examples from international relations and comparative politics. These standards establish new common ground to help political scientists use qualitative evidence more effectively to evaluate formal models.

Keywords: qualitative methods, process tracing, formal models

Suggested Citation

Lorentzen, Peter L. and Fravel, M. Taylor and Paine, Jack, Using Process Tracing to Evaluate Formal Models (September 23, 2015). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2014-3. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2407629 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2407629

Peter L. Lorentzen (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117-1080
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.peterlorentzen.com

M. Taylor Fravel

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

Jack Paine

University of Rochester ( email )

300 Crittenden Blvd.
Rochester, NY 14627
United States

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