Towards the politics of causal explanation: a reply to the critics of causal inquiries

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Causal inquiry has been a controversial matter in International Relations scholarship in recent years. While many new ‘non-positivist’ stances on causal analysis have been developed in recent years, many post-positivist and critical theorists in the discipline have remained unconvinced of the virtues of causal inquiry. Crucially, the political consequences of causal analysis seem to be a sticking point for many such critics. Yet, the politics of causal analysis are, we argue, complex and relatively poorly engaged with at present. Indeed, the arguments against causal analysis, which rely on warnings concerning the political nature of causal analysis, are inadequate and incomplete. We contend here that causal analysis is, indeed, political but that this does not mean that we should not engage in causal inquiry. On the contrary, we argue that this is what makes causal inquiry interesting and important in social science. A more nuanced and reflective approach to dealings with the politics of causal analysis is needed, and it is such a response that we provoke critics of causal analysis to consider.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)400-429
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Theory
Issue number3
Early online date31 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


  • causal explanation
  • politics
  • ethics
  • international relations theory


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