Causality in Sociological Research (Synthese Library)

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  1. Event Information
  2. Finding pathways : mixed-method research for studying causal mechanisms in SearchWorks catalog
  3. Download Causality In Sociological Research (Synthese Library) (Volume 212) Page
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  5. Causal and Constitutive Explanation Compared

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Narratives allow reconstructing sequential order of actions, which otherwise would look like discrete elements, into a coherent whole that gives meaning to and explains each element STONE, Narratives allow a form of sequential causation, because in each narrative a beginning, intervening actions, and an end descend from the beginning or the intervening actions.

This temporal ordering can allow for explanations of events, because when an action is linked to past or subsequent actions in a narrative, one can understand what caused it and its consequences GRIFFIN, However, GRIFFIN argued that the internal explanatory logic of narratives is fraught with methodological problems caused by reliance on temporal order and connectedness of social actions. He pointed out that this reliance tends to assume explicitly that antecedents of an action can be determinants of that action, even though chronological order does not necessarily suggest causal relationship.

The difference between an antecedent and a causal action can be unclear in a narrative. This "unpacking" process implies that specific events must be abstracted from the concrete structure of narratives and analyzed GRIFFIN, Explicitness and specificity allow analysts to understand and debate another analyst's decisions. In particular, GRIFFIN maintained that causal interpretations can be built by answering factual and counterfactual questions about sequences of specific events. Counterfactual questions examine what would happen concretely if a different concrete circumstance occurred.

Additionally, when plausible counterfactual questions are asked, other questions are implied or asked. For example, responding to the question, "Suppose Event A does not occur. Can Event B occur anyway? What has been the actor's consistent pattern of action? If the absence or modification of a concrete circumstance has changed the course of an event, the circumstance is deemed essential to the particular configuration as it actually happened, and a cause of what happened GRIFFIN, This type of questioning can help us transcend temporality of events and understand why they unfold in certain ways, building explanations that can be comparative and generalized GRIFFIN, Questions fostering an explicit deployment of temporal order, connectedness, and unfolding of events can be viewed as a launching pad to uncover implicit causality in narratives without the need of external explanatory frameworks.

This approach helps analysts tap into the potential of narratives to be simultaneously descriptive and explanatory. ANT aims at collapsing dualities. For example, between social and technological, and between object and subject within entities—both people and objects are unfixed and do not have significance in and of themselves, but achieve significance by creating relations with each other LAW, ANT is not a stable and unified theory, because its founders have frequently revised elements of this approach.

Therefore, rather than treating ANT as a reified set of concepts LAW, , it is advisable to use it as a range of practices to examine empirically in detail how relations among people, things, institutions, and ideas are created, maintained, and changed over time. For the purpose of this article and for those who are unfamiliar with ANT, it is helpful to accompany the term ANT with a few "core" concepts that have remained relatively stable; I have used these concepts in the analysis mentioned in the second part of this article see Sections 6, 7.

Event Information

An "actor" is a semiotic definition, which means that it can be literally anything, as long as it is a source of action and influences other entities LATOUR, , Actors can be small or big, single or multiple, individual or collective, or human or nonhuman. For example, the interactions in a school involve people, subject matters, concepts, tools, and technical equipment. This assemblage of heterogeneous actors forms a network. He explained, in ANT, "network" is a definition used to claim that modern society has a thread-like character that cannot be captured by the notions of levels, structures, or systems.

Actors, both human and nonhuman, are stakeholders and bring interests with them. When different interests align, a network tends to stabilize and work smoothly. However, alignment of interests does not entail that actors have the same interests. Hence, social order is an effect arising from a demonstrated alignment of interests achieved by actors in a network.

ANT is concerned with the ways in which actors achieve and sustain a stable order and it is interested in understanding how the different interests of all the relevant actors in a network can be aligned. Actors align their different interests and sort conflicts amongst themselves through a process of "translation.

During this process, actors establish roles and identities and define conditions for mutual relationships. CALLON identified four processes of translation in the creation of a network: problematization, interessement , enrollment, and mobilization. During the process of problematization , actors define a relevant problem and identify the critical actors.

During interessement , the critical actors try to persuade others to invest in or follow their program. During enrollment , the critical actors bestow qualities and motivations to actors and establish roles During mobilization , the formed network gains wider acceptance by making durable and potentially irreversible translations. Irreversibility takes place when it becomes impossible to go back to a point where alternative possibilities exist CALLON, For example, a technology reaches a state of irreversibility when it becomes an essential part of human life, e.

Translation involves constant negotiations among human actors and delegates of nonhuman actors to establish a common set of definitions and meanings, and to allow dialogue and understanding of the network phenomenon.

Finding pathways : mixed-method research for studying causal mechanisms in SearchWorks catalog

The process of negotiation is marked by the presence of an actor who is functionally indispensable to the construction and performance of a network. This actor is the obligatory point of passage through which all the other actors have to move through e. The outcome of successful negotiations is an actor-network characterized by aligned interests. The extent of this alignment describes the extent of agreement achieved by the actors, and thus the extent of convergence of a network.

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ESA deploys temporal order, connectedness, and unfolding of events in a narrative; it helps infer causal links among actions constituting events, and identifies their contingencies and consequences GRIFFIN, To do so, ESA helps researchers "unpack" and recompose events, to construct a causal interpretation of what happened and why. To engage in this process of "unpacking" and reconstitution, ESA consists of two types of analysis. One is compositional analysis, which helps describe how events in a narrative associate people, things, and actions.

The second is linking analysis, which helps identify the type of linkages between events. The two types of are independent. Events can be linked without decomposing them, although decomposition may clarify each event and help link them. Ethno diagrams help identify the events that are pivotal in a certain process. After entering a chronological list of events in the software, the researcher is prompted to link the events in causal chains.

Could Event B occur anyway? After the events are entered and linked into the software, Ethno produces a diagram that represents the causal connections among the sequences of events. The diagram helps the researcher focus on causal relationships and critical points in the narrative, which would be difficult to identify just from the temporal sequence of events.

It is important to keep in mind that Ethno does not produce the causal connections that make up the diagram, because ESA relies on the interpretation of data. This method tries to combine the researchers' interpretation of causal relations and formal logic in a way that allows replication of the analysis and comparison across contexts. Researchers decide which events to enter into the software and how they are causally linked. Ethno can only probe the analyst for deductions about the causality between events, thus the program depends on the analyst to have knowledge about the relations among events and to make the decisions that will produce the diagram of causal connections.

In ANT a network is also a process, in which an actor is associated to another one by an action performed under certain circumstances. Therefore, an event can be conceptualized as a network. This assumption fits an ANT-informed study of phenomena, such as organizational change and collaboration, specifically when the aim is to examine how actors translate their interests during the process. The analysis of how interests are translated i.

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And even when a relatively small number of actors form a network, their associations develop into a dense web of relationships. My approach to understanding this complex entanglement of relationships suggests the analysis of translation as a social process. ESA helps view each translation phase as a sequential series of events.

Given that a network is a process in which actors are associated to one another by what they do to each other, an event can be conceptualized as a network of actors involved in translation. Decomposing a complex translation in a manageable number of events equates to breaking events down into subplots and identifying basic relationships among a more restricted number of actors. Dealing with events means dealing with occurances that can be significant in understanding the translation phase. Events may be causally linked to each other, and parallel series of events may occur simultaneously.

Some events may be critical turning points in the process of translation. Some events lead to multiple streams of events, and events may converge on a significant event. I assume that an analysis of the events embedded in problematization, interessement , enrollment, and mobilization can lead to a better understanding of the translation of interests that occur throughout a process. For example, a process such as collaboration is a set of relations following a contingent development path—from members gaining entry, to sustaining and recognizing benefits of working together.

Therefore, creating a diagram of how these events link to each other can provide insights into how interests are translated. Translation: Social process of construction of a social order through transformation of one order into an emergent one. An event consists of functional linkages between people and entities involved in a happening.

Causal and Constitutive Explanation Compared

These functional linkages influence the interrelations between events and eventually the process of translation. Each phase problematization, interessement , etc. To analyze events, inspired by grammarians who elaborated syntactic-semantic representations of sentences, HEISE and DURIG suggested that events in a narrative are represented by meaningful sentences, thus the analysis of these sentences provide a formal basis for describing events.

The authority of the event frame derives from the fact that people use the included categories to construct sentences describing events, and languages have syntactic rules defining how these categories link within a sentence 2. The event frame is compatible with the ethos of ANT. For example, both the event frame and the sociotechnical graph are inspired by sociological and linguistic traditions.

Furthermore, phenomena of interest are identified through sentences in their syntagmatic dimension, which means the combination of components in a meaningful syntactic-semantic relation. In this case study, I used ANT to conceptualize collaboration as a heterogeneous actor-network held together by both human and nonhuman actors, and to examine the strategies that actors used to seek and enroll allies and resources into a network through negotiations of interests, which are processes of translation. The methodological position adopted in this study is informed by ANT and supports the idea that collaboration is best studied by tracing how sociotechnical aspects interplayed with ways in which actors negotiated their interests to initiate, sustain, and conclude collaboration.

The sociotechnical aspects examined in this study were identified by a review of scholarly literature on inter-organizational research collaboration in academia and between academia and community-based organizations PONTI, a. This section began with a narrative summary of the project and the identification of the interests of human and nonhuman actors.

This summary is an abridgment of a long and detailed narrative produced in the case study—based on semi-structured interviews with project participants and analysis of texts concerning the project e. This structure allowed highlighting the influence of sociotechnical aspects on how different actors joined their efforts to achieve a common goal across the stages of collaboration. For brevity, I do not use this structure to present the summary but list the chronological sequence of events entered in Ethno for the analysis Table 2.

Semantic Opac SemOP1 is a distributed and collaborative project that was conducted in Italy from to Human actors included a core group of project coordinators consisting of three information professionals and one LIS professor, each working at different institutions and in different geographical locations.

Other human actors included 13 LIS master's program students and several external library professionals, all of whom were research assistants on SemOP1. Nonhuman actors included an LIS graduate course in electronic documentation, a sample of Italian open public access catalogs OPACs , subject indexing, an evaluation checklist, a computer lab, and project inscriptions e.

An OPAC is a specialized software package designed to allow any library user to search the library's catalog database for items, to find items' location, to research if the catalog is linked to the circulation system, and to research whether items can borrowed or not TEDD, Subject indexing refers to the act of describing or identifying a document in terms of its subject content by using controlled vocabularies, including classification schemes and thesauri, as defined by LIS professionals.

I identified those nonhuman entities as actors because they played an active role in the project—either at the start or during the development of collaboration, or at the completion of collaboration by involving potentially interested volunteers for a follow-on project. SemOP1 was initiated because the project coordinators thought it was important to evaluate subject access and search functionality in Web OPAC interfaces. The project coordinators believed that the use of subject-based search features in Italian OPAC interfaces was inadequate; they also believed that it was time to rethink how Italian OPACs were built and managed.

They recommended minimum requirements to add to online catalogs search features which accommodate subject indexes. During the interessement and enrollment processes of translation, the coordinators persuaded other actors to participate and agree on goals of the projects. During those processes, not only did actors negotiate their existing interests, but they also developed new interests through negotiation. The checklist was the obligatory point of passage CALLON, for the master's students, as well as for the other actors, in the project.

The required checklist was an artifact inscribing principles of subject indexing and classification, which were applied during each evaluation. The checklist embedded rules about what a good OPAC interface should be, and its correct application was crucial in order for it to act as a point of alignment of the actors' interests. Together, all the actors, both human and nonhuman, were expected to form and sustain a network to evaluate a non-random sample of 25 percent of all OPACs registered in Italy 4.

Data collected by the students were entered in a spreadsheet and sent to a coordinator in charge of data processing and analysis. The long and detailed narrative produced in the case study was reduced to short sequences of single events, which occurred during each process of translation and stage of research collaboration. In listing the events, I built a record of 33 happenings Table 2 that, based on the data, were likely to have contributed causally, or have influenced the stages of foundation, formulation, development, and conclusion of collaboration within each process.

Although based on the long narratives, the list of events is a different project inscription. It includes only the events that appear to be potentially causally important to the creation of the actor-network in SemOP1. The following categories of events were included in the temporal sequence:. Those that aimed to sustain possibilities for further collaboration after the completion of the project.

For each event, I also identified key sociotechnical aspects of work affecting the "actors" activities and choices in each event. The next step in the analysis was entering the list of events into the Ethno software. I responded to questions—mainly counterfactual 5 —asked by Ethno to link all the events. An example of counterfactual reasoning is within Ethno's analysis. Here, I argued that cumbersome university funding mechanisms that discourage the LIS professor from applying for project grants were linked to the decision of setting up an unfunded and unaffiliated project, with the project coordinators joining forces.

This claim was based on the data collected through interviews with the LIS professor, which elicited the following counterfactual argument—had mechanisms for university funding been less bureaucratically cumbersome, labor-intensive, and costly for applicants; the LIS professor would have applied and SemOP1 might have been affiliated and organized differently.

After linking all the events, Ethno produced a diagram of the event structure, which Figure 1 is based.

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As noted earlier, the causal connections among events are not generated by Ethno , but represent my interpretation of a configuration of events, through a process of inference-making that relies on my understanding of the data and knowledge of the phenomenon under study. In fact, Ethno relies on the understanding of either a native member of a specific culture, or verstehen of outside researchers HEISE, Two library professionals exchange views by e-mail about the lack of proper subject indexing in Web-based OPACs interfaces.

The two library professionals lack financial and human resources for conducting the evaluation. A LIS professor looks for a topic for his electronic documentation course in the graduate program in library and information science. The LIS professor wants to provide a research experience to his 13 master's students.

Lack of resources and institutional commitment— Changing traditional educational practices. The LIS professor e-mails one of the two library professionals asking for a topic. Email or Customer ID. Forgot password? Old Password. New Password. Password Changed Successfully Your password has been changed. Returning user. Request Username Can't sign in? Forgot your username? On doing better science: From thrill of discovery to policy implications John Antonakis. References Publications referenced by this paper.

Challenges to existing strategy theory in a postindustrial society Bente R. Counterfactuals and causal inference: methods and principles for social research Erik Weber , Bert Leuridan. Unmaking the West: "What-If? Construct measurement in strategic management research: Illusion or reality? Brian K. Boyd , Steve Gove , Michael A. By clicking accept or continuing to use the site, you agree to the terms outlined in our Privacy Policy , Terms of Service , and Dataset License.