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Europeanized public spheres affect politics. This broad claim is accepted by all of the contributors to this book, even while they disagree on other issues: the precise extent of Europeanization in this area (a little or a lot); the way to measure public spheres (claims, frame, or discourse analysis); where precisely to look for such spheres (among elites and the quality media or a more bottom-up, civil-society view); and – finally – the politics being affected by them (party-political cleavages or identity politics). My purpose here is not to adjudicate among these disputes; the book’s opening chapter does an excellent job of highlighting and justifying them while persuasively demonstrating the common ground shared by all (see Chapter 1). Thus, the collection is a state-of-the-art treatment of the subject matter – European public spheres – in the best sense of that phrase: telling the reader what we have learned but also where our knowledge is incomplete or disputed.
My chapter continues with this last point, making three arguments about these loose ends. First, the workings of public spheres are ultimately claims about the ability of language and communication to shape politics. Elsewhere, however, such linguistic approaches have been supplemented by analysts arguing that institutions, power, and practice are important as well; a similar move seems absent in work on public spheres (see Chapter 8). The result is incomplete arguments – for example, on the relationship of public spheres to changes in European identity.
Why did the Cold War end peacefully, without a shot being fired? Why did some European democracies survive the interwar period while others were replaced by fascist dictatorships? In the post-Cold War world, civil conflicts have replaced interstate war as the dominant form of organized political violence, with rebel groups – instead of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) – as a key focus of both policy and scholarship. Yet what makes such groups tick? Why do some engage in wanton killing and sexual violence while others do not? The European Union is a unique experiment in governance “beyond the nation state,” but how are its supranational governance structures being crafted and with what effect on the ordinary citizens of Europe?
Contemporary political science has converged on the view that these puzzles, and many more on the scholarly and policy agendas, demand answers that combine social and institutional structure and context with individual agency and decision-making. This view, together with recent developments in the philosophy of science, has led to an increasing emphasis on causal explanation via reference to hypothesized causal mechanisms. Yet this development begs the questions of how to define such mechanisms, how to measure them in action, and how to test competing explanations that invoke different mechanisms.
When the editors of the Strategies for Social Inquiry Series at Cambridge University Press first approached us to write a book on process tracing, our response was “yes, but …” That is, we absolutely agreed there was a need for such a book, but, at the same time, we were leery – hence that “but” – of writing a standard methods text. Of course, process tracing is a method, so there was no getting around writing a methodology book.
Yet, from our own experience – be it working with Ph.D. students, reviewing manuscripts and journal articles, or giving seminars – we sensed a need, indeed a hunger, for a slightly different book, one that showed, in a grounded, operational way, how to do process tracing well. After discussions (and negotiations!) with the series editors, the result is the volume before you. We view it as an applied methods book, where the aim is to show how process tracing works in practice, using and critiquing prominent research examples from several subfields and research programs within political science. If the last fifteen years have seen the publication of key texts setting the state of the art for case studies, then our volume is a logical follow-on, providing clear guidance for what is perhaps the central within-case method – process tracing.
In this concluding chapter, we make three arguments. First, there is a strong consensus among this volume’s contributors on the need for a clear understanding of what counts as “an instance of good process tracing.” We document this fact by assessing the fit between the ten criteria advanced in Chapter 1 and their subsequent application by the contributors, arguing that future work utilizing process-tracing techniques must explicitly address all ten of these best practices.
Second, proponents of process tracing need to remember that method is not an end in itself; rather, it is a tool helping us to build and test theory. The development of cumulable social science theory and the theoretical explanation of individual cases are – or, rather, should be – the central goals of process tracing. We advance several design and theory specification suggestions to maximize the likelihood that the process tracing/theory relation is marked by cumulative theoretical progress.
Finally, process tracing is only one way to capture mechanisms in action. Quantitative and experimental methods clearly have roles to play, as do other techniques that can contribute to assessingmechanisms, their scope conditions, and their effects.We make this argument in a final section that highlights three additional challenges for the continuing development and use of process tracing: determining the proper degree of formalization in particular applications of it; raising and implementing standards of transparency; and keeping its application open to the inductive discovery of new theoretical connections, as well as the deductive testing of extant theories and explanations.
In an agenda-setting essay first published in 2002, Lisa Martin and Beth Simmons argued that the study of international organizations (IOs) and institutions (IIs) had reached an important threshold, focusing less on why they exist and more on “whether and how they significantly impact governmental behavior and international outcomes” (Martin and Simmons 2002: 192). Put differently, the past decade has seen a sustained move by students of international institutions and organizations to viewing their subject matter as independent variables affecting state interests and policy. Conceptually, this has put a premium on identifying the mechanisms connecting institutions to states; methodologically, there has been a growing concern with measuring process.
In this chapter, I assess several studies that make claims about international institutions influencing state-level action through various processes and mechanisms. The move to process and to the method of process tracing has been salutary, I argue, producing rich and analytically rigorous studies that demonstrate the multiple roles – good and bad – played by institutions in global politics.
Advances in qualitative methods and recent developments in the philosophy of science have led to an emphasis on explanation via reference to causal mechanisms. This book argues that the method known as process tracing is particularly well suited to developing and assessing theories about such mechanisms. The editors begin by establishing a philosophical basis for process tracing - one that captures mainstream uses while simultaneously being open to applications by interpretive scholars. Equally important, they go on to establish best practices for individual process-tracing accounts - how micro to go, when to start (and stop), and how to deal with the problem of equifinality. The contributors then explore the application of process tracing across a range of subfields and theories in political science. This is an applied methods book which seeks to shrink the gap between the broad assertion that 'process tracing is good' and the precise claim 'this is an instance of good process tracing'.