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epistemology concepts micro-macro causation and explanation keynote

Causation and Explanation in the Social Sciences

Undoubtedly, causation lies at the heart of explanations for social phenomena. The most fundamental question is, however, still heavily debated: when are we confident enough to claim that a relationship between the explanans and the explananum is really causal? There is a variety of different approaches to find answers to this question. The most influential dividing line can (still) be drawn between Humean and Non-Humean approaches to causation. While the former refers to the regularity with which B has to follow A and an overarching theory as the “causality-maker”, the latter view accepts a relationship as causal only when being able to uncover the causal mechanism connecting A and B.

A different route is taken by advocates of counterfactual analyses who build upon the idea of the comparison of two most similar worlds that differ only in the existence of the identified cause. While this allows for counterfactual thought experiments, social scientists have long abstained from what is routinely regarded as the gold standard of causation: experiments. This manipulative view on causation makes the isolation of cause and effect possible and provides arguably with the highest causal leverage.

Again, another route is taken by the interpretivist tradition of social explanation. It stresses that social behavior can only be explaned by refering to the meaning actors give to their actions. To what extent are positivit and interpretivist approaches compatible? Can they complement each other?

This module explores the conditions under which researchers can claim to have identified a causal relationship. Rather than strengthening notions of a ‘quantitative-qualitative chasm’ between social scientists, this module seeks to address substantial questions of causation and explanation that relate to both quantitative and qualitative methods of inquiry. It tries to take up and advance the lively debate about the link between methodology, causal inference, and social explanation.