Shiping Tang, Yihan Xiong, and Hui Li’s recent article, “Does Oil Cause Ethnic War? Comparing Evidence from Process-Tracing with Quantitative Results,” is a companion piece to another article, by Hui and Tang, published in the Chinese Political Science Review: “Location, Location, and Location: The Ethno-Geography of Oil and the Onset of Civil War.”[1] That article evaluates the authors’ theoretical argument—that oil’s presence in a subordinate minority group’s core territory encourages ethnic war—using statistical analyses. This new article assesses the same argument, including the causal mechanisms underpinning it, using qualitative case studies. It concludes that “oil has rarely been a deep cause of ethnic war” (359). “Does Oil Cause Ethnic War” also aims to evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative methods, thereby contributing to an ongoing debate in political science/international relations.

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Security Studies coverFor scholars engaging in qualitative analysis, the concept of ‘process tracing’ comes in many shapes and forms. In its most basic form, process tracing refers to a set of procedures that uses qualitative evidence in an attempt to establish a causal relationship between one or more explanatory variables and a dependent variable. Notwithstanding the common use of this conventional term in scholarly work in international relations, we still lack conceptual clarity about what ‘good process tracing’ genuinely entails, how to utilize it best in qualitative research, and what its limitations are. This is unfortunate given that one of the advantages of case studies is their potential for illuminating causal mechanisms. Process tracing, in particular, is one of the most useful procedures available to test causality using qualitative evidence. For exactly these reasons, this symposium is of significant importance both for scholars who already believe (mistakenly or not) that the evidence they present amounts to ‘process tracing,’ as well as those who wish to learn how to use this important technique in their future qualitative work.[2]Continue reading