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Conflict studies and causality: critical realism and the nomothetic/idiographic divide in the study of civil war

Van Ingen, Michiel (2017) Conflict studies and causality: critical realism and the nomothetic/idiographic divide in the study of civil war. Civil Wars, 18 (4). pp. 387-416. ISSN 1369-8249

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Identification Number: 10.1080/13698249.2017.1297049


The study of civil war has increased exponentially during the post-Cold War period. This has not, however, resulted in greater levels of consensus with regard to the causes and nature of this phenomenon. Indeed, as Jonathan Goodhand has shown, the conflict studies discipline is currently experiencing something of a ‘crisis of theory as well as a crisis of practice’ (2006, 29). This article aims to show, however, that this situation can be alleviated by drawing on the critical realist approach to the philosophy of science. This is the case, in short, because critical realism provides conflict studies authors with a more sophisticated and coherent understanding of causality than has previously been available to them. More specifically, it has developed a mechanism-based understanding of causality which transcends the persistent split between (1) nomothetically-oriented (or ‘universal law-oriented’) approaches, predominantly associated with the work of various neo-positivist authors, and (2) idiographically-oriented (or ‘single case-oriented’) approaches, associated with the work of a much more diverse group of authors. By making the case for this mechanism-based approach, however, this article also aims to show that critical realist philosophy paves the way for an alternative approach to social science. An approach, that is, which – rather than consistently abstracting from (historical/geographical) context in the way that neo-positivist studies do – systematically engages with the context in which civil wars take place.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Date Deposited: 07 Mar 2017 09:56
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2020 02:28

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