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Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Descriptive, Explanatory, and Interpretive Approaches  

Louis M. Imbeau, Sule Tomkinson, and Yasmina Malki

This chapter assesses descriptive, explanatory, and interpretive approaches. ‘Description’, ‘explanation’, and ‘interpretation’ are distinct stages of the research process. Description makes the link between what is to be described and a concept and its empirical referent. It defines a way to understand empirical reality, as variations, significations, or processes. Description refers to the ‘what’ question, as the first step towards explanation. When it comes to answering the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, some social scientists differentiate between explanation and interpretation. For them, the aim of social sciences is to ‘understand’, that is, to uncover the meanings of individuals’ or groups’ actions through the interpretation of their beliefs and discourses, whereas the aim of natural sciences is to ‘explain’, that is, to establish causality and general laws. The chapter presents an approach which offers a broader perspective for the social sciences, advocating an explanatory pluralism that allows for a more ecumenical approach.

Chapter

Cover Contemporary Terrorism Studies

11. Can Terrorism Be Rational?  

Max Abrahms

This chapter looks into the rationality of terrorism. It starts off by looking into the paradox of terrorism. Political scientists typically view terrorists as rational political actors. However, empirical research on terrorism suggests that terrorism is in fact an ineffective political tactic. Evidence indicates that in instances where there has been terrorist attacks on civilians, governments rarely grant concessions. This might explain why terrorism is often selected as a tactic only if alternative options are no longer viable. The chapter uses Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State as case studies to examine broader patterns of terrorism. Knowing the priority of terrorists is vital for governments when considering counterterrorism actions. Having an understanding of the grievances of terrorists helps political actors predict which targets the terrorists will attack.

Chapter

Cover Contemporary Security Studies

12. Securitization Theory  

Catarina Thomson and Stephane Baele

This chapter introduces securitization theory, situating its intellectual roots and tracing its emergence and evolution as a framework for analysis, and spelling out its main concepts and dimensions. The chapter also presents four empirical cases in securitization research—migration, religion, the environment and climate change, and health (including how COVID-19 has been securitized). Finally, the chapter addresses the key criticisms and challenges that have been voiced against securitization theory. These are threefold—the theory has been said to lack coherence, the empirical methods used by securitization researchers have been claimed to lack rigor, and the normative and critical status of the framework has been debated.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Endogeneity: When the Effect Influences the Cause  

Elena Avramovska

This chapter explores endogeneity, which is a problem of multidirectional causality. Rather than identifying clear cause and effect relationships, social science research is often challenged by factors that mutually cause each other. Indeed, causality patterns in social science research are inherently complex. Three prominent challenges contribute to undermining a simple cause and effect logic. One is multicausality, meaning that the outcomes one tries to explain or predict have multiple causes. The second is that the effects of an explanatory variable can depend on the values of one or more other potential factors in the context, commonly referred to as context-conditionality. However, the most challenging problem to empirical inference when trying to identify unidirectional, necessary, and sufficient causes is endogeneity. As long as there is a chance that endogeneity exists, unbiased empirical findings are impossible.