Complex causal relations and case study methods: The example of path dependence

Andrew Bennett, Colin Elman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

217 Scopus citations


This article discusses the application of qualitative methods in analyzing causal complexity. In particular, the essay reviews how process tracing and systematic case comparisons can address path-dependent explanations. The article unpacks the concept of path dependence and its component elements of causal possibility, contingency, closure of alternatives, and constraints to the current path. The article then reviews four strengths that case studies bring to the study of path dependence: offering a detailed and holistic analysis of sequences in historical cases, being suitable for the study of rare events, facilitating the search for omitted variables that might lie behind contingent events, and allowing for the study of interaction effects within one or a few cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-267
Number of pages18
JournalPolitical Analysis
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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