Case Studies and Formal Models

I’ve just finished a paper with a colleague from graduate school, Peter Lorentzen, and a talented graduate student at UC Berkeley, Jack Paine.

In the paper, we explore how case studies (and in particular the process tracing of causal mechanisms) can be used to evaluate formal models.

Here’s the abstract:

In the ongoing debate about how to test formal models, the role of qualitative evidence has been oddly neglected, even though it is a commonly used by formal theorists. Moreover, qualitative research has played an important role in shaping our collective assessment of the value of many models. We argue that this is no accident, but rather reflects the shared focus of formal theorists and qualitative researchers on mechanisms. Despite this, the flourishing literature on qualitative methodology pays little attention to the specific issues involved in evaluating formal models, and formal modelers generally offer qualitative evidence with very little methodological self-consciousness. This paper takes a first step toward constructive engagement between the two literatures, offering ways that formal modelers can make their qualitative evidence more rigorous as well as providing insights for qualitative scholars interested in empirically evaluating formal theories.

The paper is available through SSRN.

Let us know what you think!