Process Tracing and Historical Explanation

James Mahoney*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


This article offers a state of the art of methodological writings on process tracing. Its goal is to encourage the more self-conscious and transparent use of this method in security studies. The article considers process tracing for both theory testing and theory development. First, with theory testing, the article discusses the logic of historical explanation and the use of sequential analysis. It then focuses attention on two kinds of process-tracing tests: hoop tests and smoking gun tests. The article explores the mechanics through which these tests allow investigators to pass judgment on hypotheses. Second, with theory development, the article examines the use of counterfactual analysis and inductive discovery in the process of novel hypothesis formulation. The article shows how process-tracing researchers use event analysis to formulate original explanations of specific outcomes in particular cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-218
Number of pages19
JournalSecurity Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 3 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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