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A Tale of Two CulturesQualitative and Quantitative Research in the Social Sciences$
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Gary Goertz and James Mahoney

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691149707

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691149707.001.0001

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(p.115) Chapter 9 Counterfactuals
A Tale of Two Cultures

Gary Goertz

James Mahoney

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines the use of counterfactual analysis in making causal inferences in the qualitative and quantitative research paradigms. To assess a counterfactual claim about a particular case, the typical approach is to conduct a within-case analysis of that case. Qualitative researchers formulate counterfactuals that are “conceivable,” in the sense that imagining that a cause had not occurred (or occurred differently) does not require fundamentally rewriting history. By contrast, quantitative scholars use counterfactuals mainly to illustrate a general causal model. The chapter first considers the Fundamental Problem of Causal Inference, which is the problem of a counterfactual, before discussing the statistical approach to counterfactuals. In particular, it describes the “minimum rewrite” rule. It suggests that counterfactual analyses are an important mode of causal inference within the qualitative tradition, but not commonly used within the quantitative tradition.

Keywords:   counterfactual analysis, causal inference, quantitative research, within-case analysis, qualitative research, counterfactuals, causal model, Fundamental Problem of Causal Inference, minimum rewrite rule

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