Mechanisms as miracle makers? The rise and inconsistencies of the "mechanismic approach" in social science and history
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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History and Theory 44 (3):348–372 (2005)
In the increasing body of metatheoretical literature on "causal mechanisms," definitions of "mechanism" proliferate, and these increasingly divergent definitions reproduce older theoretical and methodological oppositions. The reason for this proliferation is the incompatibility of the various metatheoretical expectations directed to them: (1) to serve as an alternative to the scientific theory of individual behavior (for some social theorists, most notably Jon Elster); (2) to provide solutions for causal inference problems in the quantitative social sciences, in social history, and in the (3) qualitative research context; and (4) to serve as an alternative for narratives (Charles Tilly). Mechanisms can do (1) only as under-specified law-like regularities, deliver (2) as robust generative processes represented by models, and accomplish (3) as fragile generative processes (stories), but these are not all compatible. (edited)
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