Dissertation -- So it begins
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/
I’ve been working on developing my dissertation prospectus. At the moment everything is very much a work in progress, but I’m hoping to  go in a somewhat controversial direction.  I’ve found a lot of my own work to be somewhat disappointing and increasingly I’ve had the sensation that the field’s obsession with causal inference is causing us to miss the forest for the trees.
I am writing a three-paper dissertation. My first paper is a methodological defense of descriptive inference in the face of the increasing, and, I argue, misguided emphasis on causal inference in political science. Drawing on Clarke and Primo (2012), I contend that causal inference seeks to mirror an experimental model de- rived from the “hard” sciences, but our use of this framework deviates from a scientific model in three important ways: 1) Measurement difficulties mean that our actual “treatments” are divorced from what we wish to study; 2) The particularities of social and political context make our “experiments” irreplicable; 3) We rarely, if ever, have the statistical control to study the most captivating parts of social systems, such as mechanisms or feedback loops. Rather than barriers to be overcome to get to a brighter, more scientific future, these problems with causal inference indicate that we are missing the point. It is, to borrow the language of Thomas Kuhn, time for a paradigm shift.
Thursday, October 31, 2013