Category Archives: Uncategorized

Explaining and Understanding by Answering ‘Why’ and ‘How’ Questions

Ulf Tranow / Tilo Beckers / Dominik Becker
Analyse & Kritik. Band 38, Heft 1, Seiten 1–30, ISSN (Online) 2365-9858, ISSN (Print) 0171-5860, DOI: 10.1515/auk-2016-0102



“The last decade has seen a growing interest in the concept of social mechanisms in the social sciences and the philosophy of social sciences. The social mechanism debate focuses on the question of which methodological and theoretical principles define a satisfactory way of doing social sciences (Demeulenaere 2011; Becker 2016). The social mechanism approach follows the idea that social sciences should not only describe and classify social phenomena, but should also attempt to provide causal explanations. Although alternative definitions and concepts of social mechanisms can be found in social sciences literature, there is a principle on which most advocates of the social mechanism approach agree: social phenomena should be explained by opening up the black box of (social science) explanation and making explicit the causal “cogs and wheels” Elster 1989) through which these social phenomena are brought into existence. Social scientists committed to the mechanism approach (aim to) explain why social phenomena exist by explaining how they come into existence. and social mechanisms identify the causal sequences of the production steps. […] In this programmatic introduction, we will begin by providing a review of the mechanism approach, introducing its core ideas and the positions of its central adherents and critics, and assessing its overall usefulness. The social mechanism approach follows the idea that the primary aim of social sciences is to understand social phenomena, i.e., in the domain of mechanism based explanations, to specify how “X leads to Y through the steps A, B, C” (George/Bennett 2005, 141).” […] To overcome the stagnation of the social mechanism debate, theoretical and empirical applications are needed in which both the mechanism idea is taken seriously and the value of this approach is demonstrated on the basis of concrete social phenomena (cf. Greshoff 2015). this special issue on Social Mechanisms is a collection of contributions to this task.”

Special Issue on “Social Mechanisms”

Special Issue on “Social mechanisms”

Analyse & Kritik

Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory

edited by: Baurmann, Michael / Leist, Anton

guest editors: Ulf Tranow, Tilo Beckers, Dominik Becker



Featuring 12 articles on “Social Mechanisms”, including three written by AnaGramm team members:

Ulf Tranow / Tilo Beckers / Dominik Becker
Analyse & Kritik. Band 38, Heft 1, Seiten 1–30, ISSN (Online) 2365-9858, ISSN (Print) 0171-5860, DOI: 10.1515/auk-2016-0102
Analyse & Kritik. Band 38, Heft 1, Seiten 149–178, ISSN (Online) 2365-9858, ISSN (Print) 0171-5860, DOI: 10.1515/auk-2016-0108


Dominik Becker
Analyse & Kritik. Band 38, Heft 1, Seiten 287–308, ISSN (Online) 2365-9858, ISSN (Print) 0171-5860, DOI: 10.1515/auk-2016-0113 

AnaGramm at ESRA 2015 in Reykjavik

The researchers of AnaGramm will host a session on “Multilevel survey research, agent based modeling and social mechanisms: towards new frontiers in theory-based empirical research” at the conference of the European Association for Survey Research (ESRA) taking place 13-19 July 2015 in Reykjavik.

Session program


A closer look at the relation between religiosity and formal volunteering. A cross-regional analysis using Swiss data 

(Ms Elena Damian)

[1 \/]
Middle-range theories, moderator models and marginal effects: What does sour grapes make taste sweeter?

(Dr Dominik Becker)

[2 \/]
Resilience as a Mechanism for Educational Success Despite Disadvantaged Circumstances

(Ms Jennifer Tork)

[3 \/]
Unraveling the paradox of job search via personal contacts and wages: Evidence combining agent based modelling and empirical research

(Dr Gerhard Krug)

[4 \/]
Case study data for validating agent-based models

(Professor Sharon Purchase)

[5 \/]


Call for Papers (was due January 2015)
Session convenor: Dominik Becker (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf)
Coordinator 1 Tilo Beckers (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf)
Coordinator 2 Ulf Tranow (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf)

This session will lay the spotlight on the link between empirically-oriented theories and empirical research by focusing on the explanatory concept of social mechanisms. When explaining macro-level phenomena such as network structures or social diffusion outcomes, establishing the underlying social mechanisms is a strategy to overcome incomplete explanations which remain restricted on the macro level. Instead, the theoretical and empirical objective is to unveil the meso- or micro-level social mechanisms causing the macro-level explananda. Whether following Coleman’s explanatory macro-micro-macro model, (`wide´) rational action theory or DBO theory (desires, beliefs and opportunities), social scientists address the need for more fine-grained explanatory approaches.

Since about two decades, social mechanism research evolves to be an important paradigm in the social sciences. Yet, though survey data allow for and are often used to study social mechanisms, their methodological potential to do so is only rarely addressed systematically.

We invite colleagues establishing social mechanisms as part of their theoretical explanation and actually researching these mechanisms applying different survey research designs. We would also like to bring together researchers using survey (and/or network) data and linking them to agent-based modeling, an approach which will gain importance to extend and enrich the use of survey data. Finally, we invite presenters discussing either specific micro- or macro-based mechanisms, i.e. both survey-based and experimental approaches (including mediation and moderation analyses) as well as process tracing. We particularly welcome papers applying multilevel mechanism research, e.g. explicating cross-level interaction effects, or controlling for group-induced selection biases and linking analytical theoretical arguments with their data.

Abstracts should include theoretical references, a specification of the mechanism(s) under study and the method and type of data and analyses.

Research Project AnaGramm: Contributors and Funding

Project coordinators and researchers: Jun.-Prof. Dr. Ulf Tranow (Junior Professor in Sociological Theory),  Dr. Tilo Beckers (Akad. Rat auf Zeit/equiv. of assistant professor in Sociology and Research Methods)

Researcher: Dr. Dominik Becker

The project is funded by the “Strategic Research Fund” (SFF) of Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf (11.2013 – 10.2015).

The project is based at the Department of Social Sciences, Sociology Section, at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf.