Introduction to Process Tracing

Derek Beach, University of Aarhus, Denmark

The aim of this course is to give participants a working understanding of process-tracing. Process-tracing is a research method for empirically tracing how processes play out within single cases, providing a very useful complement to in-depth comparative historical analyses. Process-tracing can be used both for gaining a greater understanding of the causal dynamics that produced the outcome of a particular historical case, and to shed light on generalizable causal mechanisms linking causes and outcomes within a population of historical cases.

This course is designed for students in the early to mid-stages of a research project, where you have already defined your research question and are interested in learning about what process-tracing and related case study methods can be used for. The course will be particularly useful for participants who have completed the first course offered in Comparative Historical Analysis in Week 1 of the IPSA-USP Summer School. The core of the readings will be a 2019 book on process tracing co-authored by the instructor.

The course will start on day 1 with an introduction to case-based methodology and different methods therein, including historical analysis and comparisons. On days 2 and 3 we turn to the question of what types of causal claims can be built and tested using process tracing and related case study methods. On day 4 we discuss how we discuss what constitutes evidence in process tracing, and how we can collect and evaluate it. On day 5 we discuss case selection and tools for generalizing process-based claims.

The course will contain lectures and discussions in the morning sessions, followed by structured group exercises in afternoon sessions. Students should come prepared with their own research as many of the exercises will based on student research projects.