Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Chapter 6. Social causation


To explain an outcome is to demonstrate what conditions combined to bring it about—what caused the outcome in the circumstances, or caused it to be more likely to occur. The most fundamental aspect of an explanation is a hypothesis about what caused the circumstance we want to explain. So, social explanation requires that we provide accounts of the social causes of social outcomes. Consequently, we need to raise two sorts of questions: First, what kind of thing is a social cause—how do social circumstances cause other social circumstances? And, second, what kind of social research can allow us to identify the causes of a social outcome or pattern?

The idea of social causation is a difficult one, as we dig more deeply into it. What does it mean to say that “poor education causes increased risk of delinquency” or “population growth causes technology change” or “the existence of paramilitary organizations contributed to the rise of German fascism”? What sorts of things can function as “social causes”—events, structures, actions, forces, and social opinions? What social interactions extend over time in the social world to establish the links between cause and effect? What kinds of evidence are available to support the claim that “social factor X causes a change in social factor Y”? Social scientists often have a variety of things in mind when they make claims like these. For example: “X is a necessary and/or sufficient condition for Y”; “if X varies, Y can be expected to vary”; “controlling for other factors, more X contributes to more Y.” (See Little 1991, chapter 2, for a more extensive discussion of these variations in causal thinking.) However, none of these approaches is sufficiently fundamental, and much of the rest of this chapter will focus on the theories of ...

No comments:

Post a Comment