Analyse & Kritik

Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory

Social Mechanisms

2016 (38) Issue 1
Guest Editors: Ulf Tranow, Tilo Beckers and Dominik Becker



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Table of Contents

Title: Explaining and Understanding by Answering `Why' and `How' Questions: A Programmatic Introduction to the Special Issue Social Mechanisms
Author: Ulf Tranow, Tilo Beckers and Dominik Becker
Page: 1-29

Title: Social Mechanisms as Special Cases of Explanatory Sociology: Notes toward Systemizing and Expanding Mechanism-based Explanation within Sociology
Author: Andrea Maurer
Page: 31-52

The revival of action based explanations as well as their formal structuring have been two of the most important topics within explanatory sociology since the 1980s. The two newly developed approaches, being structural individualism and analytical sociology based on mechanism models, will be outlined in this article. The article is dedicated to a comparison of the aims and the formal structure of both approaches. It is shown that explanations within analytical sociology tend to be more realistic but also more complex. They do not differentiate between micro and macro levels in analytical terms and use micro mechanisms instead of an analytically strong action theory that makes it diffcult to systemize mechanism models. On the other hand, structural individualistic explanations that use a general action law from which social interdependencies are to be interpreted as an opportunity structure can formulate a default-option from which models can be expanded and also worked out to mechanism types.

Title: Social Mechanisms of Corruption: Analytical Sociology and Its Applicability to Corruption Research
Author: Peter Graeff
Page: 53-71

By applying a bribery model, this paper will deal with those constellations of conditions and activities by actors that are capable of explaining corrupt behavior in economic and sociological theory. Some of these explanations reveal the properties of 'social mechanisms' in the sense of analytical sociology (AS). Both disciplines suggest and test the mechanisms of corruption. By taking into consideration the link between monitoring and the frequency of corruption, for example, this paper shows that the proposed way of explaining corrupt behavior using AS offers the opportunity to test counteracting mechanisms. A monitoring mechanism which refers to deterrence may lead to less corruption but may also strengthen an already existing bond of trust between corruption partners. Thus, the trust mechanism may counteract the impact of deterrence and pave the way for new corrupt activities.

Title: Neighbourhood Effects: Lost in Transition?
Author: Jürgen Friedrichs
Page: 73-89

The study of neighbourhood effects has become a major domain in urban research since the publication of Wilson’s book The Truly Disadvantaged in 1987. It is estimated that more than 1,800 articles have been published (van Ham et al. 2012). One of the problems well-known from multilevel analysis is that of specifying the context effects linking levels, e.g., conditions on the aggregate level to outcomes at the next lower level, individuals in most cases. Two problems seem insufficiently solved. First, many different context effects have been suggested, such as contagion, role models or discrimination; but it is questionable whether they are all relevant. Second, how exactly can the transition from the macro (e.g., neighbourhood) to the micro (e.g., individual) level be specified? The article addresses both problems by examining the assumptions underlying the effects. Differentiating between causes and outcomes, the diversity of effects is reduced to five types of effects. Mechanisms are defined as specifications of context effects, and for each type a mechanism is specified and the causes are related to the outcomes. Drawing on the results of the analyses, a detailed set of suggestions for future studies of neighbourhood effects that really capture the mechanisms is presented.

Title: Social Mechanisms in Norm-relevant Situations: Explanations for Theft by Finding in High-cost and Low-cost Situations
Author: Stefanie Eifler
Page: 91-120

At the centre of this study is the theoretical and empirical analysis of action-formation mechanisms in norm-relevant situations. Basically two mechanisms are employed, namely action according to a) moral principles and b) the principle of deterrence. Conflicting assumptions concerning the way these mechanisms work are deduced from two theoretical perspectives, the high-cost/low-cost hypothesis and Situational Action Theory (SAT). While the high-cost/low-cost hypothesis leads to the assumption that criminal action is explained by the principle of deterrence in high-cost situations and, in low-cost situations, by moral principles, it follows from SAT that, in high-cost situations, the principle of deterrence has an effect only on those persons with weak moral principles, and influences of moral principles are expected in low-cost situations. Empirical analysis of these hypotheses is conducted with the help of data that have been collected as part of a mail survey (n=2383) of a disproportionately layered random sample of residents of an East German city. Data analyses are carried out in order to estimate the influences of the theoretically specified predictors simultaneously for high-cost and low-cost situations with multiple group comparisons. The study's results partially support both theoretical perspectives. They are finally discussed with respect to theoretical and methodological aspects.

Title: Social Mechanisms and Empirical Research in the Field of Sociology of the Family: The Case of Separation and Divorce
Author: Johannes Kopp and Nico Richter
Page: 121-148

During the last decades, social mechanisms have been broadly discussed in general sociology, but, in family sociology, they seem to be non-existent. Therefore, the frst aim of this paper is to show that, although the term can hardly be found, prominent theoretical ideas use more or less explicitly mechanistic explanations. Focusing on the determinants of separation can show that all arguments connect (structural) input with (social) outcome and search for theoretical explanations in the sense of social mechanisms. We will demonstrate how macro-structural traits are mechanistically connected with individual variables and how they lead to a stable or fragile partnership. As often mentioned, "mechanism-based storytelling" (Hedström/Ylikoski 2010, 64) should be accompanied by empirical research. Therefore, in a simple statistical model in the second part, we will show the results of our testing of some examples of well-known variables for the explanation of separations. It will show how correlations can be mechanistically explained and not simply statistically described.

Title: Contextualizing Cognitive Consonance by a Social Mechanisms Explanation: Moderators of Selective Exposure in Media Usage
Author: Dominik Becker, Tilo Beckers, Simon Tobias Franzmann and Jörg Hagenah
Page: 149-177

While many studies from analytical sociology apply agent-based modeling to analyze the transformational mechanisms linking the micro to the macro level, we hold the view that both situational and action formation mechanisms can rather be unveiled by means of more advanced quantitative methods. By focusing on selective exposure to quality newspapers, our study has both an analytical and a substantive aim. First, our analytical aim is to amend the psychological mechanism of avoiding cognitive dissonance by social mechanisms allowing postulates on how the selectiveexposure effect might vary by particular social groups. Second, our substantive aim is to set the ground for a longitudinal analysis of selective exposure to quality papers by placing these social mechanisms in the context of social and cultural change. By referring to hypothetical data, we illustrate which kind of (multilevel) moderator effects would have to hold if our hypotheses were true.

Title: The Use of Field Experiments to Study Mechanisms of Discrimination
Author: Marc Keuschnigg and Tobias Wolbring
Page: 179-201

This paper discusses social mechanisms of discrimination and reviews existing field experimental designs for their identification. We first explicate two social mechanisms proposed in the literature, animus-driven and statistical discrimination, to explain differential treatment based on ascriptive characteristics. We then present common approaches to study discrimination based on observational data and laboratory experiments, discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and elaborate why unobtrusive field experiments are a promising complement. However, apart from specific methodological challenges, well-established experimental designs fail to identify the mechanisms of discrimination. Consequently, we introduce a rapidly growing strand of research which actively intervenes in market activities varying costs and information for potential perpetrators to identify causal pathways of discrimination. We end with a summary of lessons learned and a discussion of challenges that lie ahead.

Title: Rational Laziness - When Time Is Limited, Supply Abundant, and Decisions Have to Be Made
Author: Gunn Elisabeth Birkelund
Page: 203-225

This paper expands the model of rational action by introducing a new concept, rational laziness, to better understand actors' decision making. In addition to rational information processing, human beings often rely on automatic and non-cognitive mental capacities, and I use the term mental laziness to account for information processing based on these capacities. When time is limited, supply abundant, and decisions have to be made, mental laziness might be a rational decision device. Actors' choice of rational-calculating or automatic-spontaneous mental decision devices is contingent on their locations within an opportunity structure. The empirical case studied is employers' hiring processes, and employers' activation of these action generating mechanisms are expected to cause discrimination of job applicants categorized as out-groups members.

Title: How the Mechanism of Dynamic Representation Aects Policy Change and Stability
Author: Simon Tobias Franzmann and Johannes Schmitt
Page: 227-256

In politics, we often observe stasis when, at first sight, no reason exists for such policy blockades. In contrast, we sometimes see policy change when one would expect blockades resulting from veto points or countervailing majorities. How can we explain these contradictory results concerning policy stability? In order to solve this theoretical puzzle, we develop an agent-based model (ABM). We combine established models of veto player theory (Tsebelis 2002; Ganghof-Bräuninger 2006) with the findings of political sociology and party competition. By aggregating previous party-level findings, we show that dynamic representation (Stimson et al. 1995) provides an additional mechanism that can explain these macro-level outcomes. Parties behaving responsively to their electorate do not automatically guarantee perfect responsivity on the party system level. Further, if opposition parties also fear punishment by the electorate for government inaction, the opposition behaves more accommodatingly than previous approaches have predicted.

Title: Opening the Black Box. How the Study of Social Mechanisms Can Benet from the Use of Explanatory Mixed Methods
Author: Jörg Stolz
Page: 257-285

This article argues that analytical sociology - an approach that attempts to study social mechanisms 'without black boxes' - can benefit from the use of explanatory mixed methods. Analytical sociologists mainly relate their theoretical and agent-based models to representative surveys and experiments. While their central claim is to find and test the actual mechanisms that have produced the explanandum, the mechanisms they postulate often remain speculative. Neither agent-based models, nor experiments or mainstream quantitative methods, give access to some of the central elements of the causal mechanisms and the relevant subjective and objective contextual parameters. One of the most important reasons for this lies in the fact that social reality is changing fast, characterized by strong diversity and complexified by the phenomenon of cultural meanings. I argue that by creating and testing the models of analytical sociology with explanatory mixed methods, researchers have the possibility of getting closer to their object of research and therefore of having the chance to create more valid explanations.

Title: A Methodological Outlook on Causal Identification and Empirical Methods for the Analysis of Social Mechanisms
Author: Dominik Becker
Page: 287-307

The debate on empirical tests of social mechanisms suffers from a fragmented view on the relative benefit of the empirical method a researcher considers to be superior, compared to the flaws of all other methods. In this outlook, I argue that disciplinary barriers might be surmounted by a common methodological perspective on the analysis of social mechanisms. First, experimental, quantitative, qualitative, and simulation methods (agent-based modeling) are all required, but also capable to deal with the issue of causal identification, respectively. Second, having established causal identification (among which I subsume strategies to deal with causal heterogeneity), each method disposes of genuine techniques to deal with the most crucial property of mechanism-based explanations: input-mechanism-output (IMO) relations.

Institut für Sozialwissenschaften
Universität Düsseldorf
Universitätsstr. 1
D-40225 Düsseldorf