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8.30 am - 5.00 pm
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Recent theoretical and methodological developments in the social sciences converge into the approach of "mechanism-based explanation". Originating from different disciplines such as analytical sociology, political sociology, comparative historical analysis and qualitative research in political science, mechanism-based approaches stress that phenomena cannot fully be explained by correlations between variables: Causal mechanisms are the "cogs and wheels" that scholars come across when opening the "black box" of correlations.

Despite the expanding literature on this topic, two deficits have not been resolved so far:

  1. There is no convincing compilation of mechanisms that drive social and political processes. Previous proposals for a comprehensive list of mechanisms collect elements of very different scales and levels. There is no shared understanding on what level (micro, meso, macro) mechanisms should be allocated and what elements a mechanism should have to count as a mechanism.
  2. There is also a lack of systematic applications of mechanism-based approaches to an entire policy field. So far, mechanism-based approaches have primarily been used in single case studies or comparative case studies with a limited scope and range. Adopting a mechanism-based approach for studying the transnational dynamics of an entire policy field might be a decisive test for the fruitfulness of mechanism-based approaches.

This conference aims to stimulate discussion on the characteristics of causal mechanisms, and to establish a closer link between these concepts and the study of social policy dynamics.


Day 1

Registration and welcome coffee

Gary Goertz, University of Notre Dame
The veil of ignorance – causal mechanism – process tracing methodology

Coffee break

Session 1: Theorizing Mechanisms (Chair: Johanna Kuhlmann)

  1. Holger Straßheim, University of Bielefeld
    Transforming social policy (research): the mechanisms of micro-focusing (Discussant: Hubert Heinelt)
  2. Johannes Schmitt, Martin Noltze, German Institute for Development Evaluation Causal mechanisms in evaluation: conceptual confusion, practical application and the way forward (Discussant: Heinz Rothgang)
  3. Sebastian Haunss, University of Bremen
    Network mechanism driving the development of social policies (Discussant: Sarah Berens)


Renate Mayntz, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies
Promise and limits of mechanism-based explanation

Coffee break

Session 2: Mechanisms of Social Policy Dynamics – Single Case Studies (Chair: Heiko Pleines)

  1. Olivier Burtin, LMU München/Princeton University
    Mechanisms of veterans’ policy in the United States: A comparative overview (Discussant: Teresa Huhle)
  2. Ellen van Reuler, Leiden University
    English hospices and palliative care policies as a model for the Netherlands? (Discussant: Anna Safuta)
  3. Tobias ten Brink1, Armin Müller1, Tao Liu2, 1Jacobs University Bremen, 2University Duisburg-Essen
    Policy experimentation and elite cooperation: Causal mechanisms in the making of China’s social insurance system (Discussant: Osmany Porto de Oliveira)
  4. Sarah Berens, Franziska Deeg, University of Cologne
    Moving North and coming back. Migration and social policy preferences in Mexico (Discussant: Cecilia Rossel/Florencia Antía)

Coffee break

James Mahoney, Northwestern University
Causal mechanisms and theories of causality: Three approaches

Coffee break

Session 3: Mechanisms of Social Policy Dynamics – Comparative Approaches (Chair: Klaus Schlichte)

  1. Traute Meyer, University of Southampton
    Industrialism revisited - Changing kinship systems and pension reform in China and Europe (Discussant: Tao Liu)
  2. Robert van Niekerk1, Reynaldo Jiménez Guethón2, 1University of Witwatersrand, 2University de La Habana
    Cultures of social solidarity and the public good: A reflection on South Africa and Cuba (Discussant: Armin Müller)
  3. Heinz Rothgang, Karin Gottschall, Anna Safuta, Kristin Noack, Marlene Seiffarth, Greta-Marleen Storath, University of Bremen
    Migrantization of long-term care in Europe. On search of causal mechanisms (Discussant: Friederike Römer)

Conference Dinner at Ratskeller

Day 2
Session 4: Mechanisms of Social Policy Dynamics – Transnational Interdependencies (Chair: Frank Nullmeier)

  1. Andreas Heinrich1, Gulnaz Isabekova1, Armin Müller2, Heiko Pleines1, Tobias ten Brink2, 1University of Bremen, 2Jacobs University Bremen
    Types of international policy-related knowledge transfer. From conditionality to elaborated autonomous policy learning (Discussant: Lutz Leisering)
  2. Monika Ewa Kaminska, Ertila Druga, Ante Malinar, Liva Stupele, University of Bremen
    Reforms from within or reforms from without? Defying international organizations’ agenda in healthcare reforms in Central Eastern Europe: in search of causal mechanisms (Discussant: Andreas Heinrich)
  3. Friederike Römer, Jakob Henninger, University of Bremen
    Democracy and immigrant rights - Conflicting mechanisms at play (Discussant: Sebastian Haunss)

Coffee break

Plenary Session: Could we hope to compile a list of basic causal mechanisms? (Chair: Karin Gottschall)

Peter Starke, University of Southern Denmark
Delia González de Reufels, Johanna Kuhlmann, Frank Nullmeier, Klaus Schlichte, University of Bremen


Session 5: Mechanisms of Social Policy Dynamics in Latin America (Chair: Delia González de Reufels)

  1. Osmany Porto de Oliveira, Federal University of São Paulo
    Mechanisms for social policy diffusion: theory and evidences from the Brazilian case (Discussant: Tobias ten Brink)
  2. Cecilia Rossel1, Florencia Antía2, 1Universidad Católica del Uruguay, 2Universidad de la República
    The politics of sanctioning the poor: Revealing causal mechanisms in Uruguay’s CCT programs (Discussant: Reynaldo Jiménez Guethón)
  3. Sebastian Sirén, Stockholm University
    The Struggle over universalisation. Actors and institutions in the process towards health care reform in Bolivia (Discussant: Monika Ewa Kaminska)

Coffee break

Armando Barrientos, University of Manchester
The rise and fall of Bismarckian social policy in Latin America

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