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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

Session 1: Theorizing Mechanisms


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

Session 2: Mechanisms of Social Policy Dynamics – Comparative Approaches

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

Session 3: Mechanisms of Social Policy Dynamics – Transnational Interdependencies

Day 2
Session 4: Mechanisms of Social Policy Dynamics – Single Case Studies

Plenary Session: Could we hope to compile a list of basic causal mechanisms?
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

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