Evidence and Mechanisms in the Social Sciences

Duration: 2022-2025
Code: PID2021-125936NB-I00
Funded by: Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación

Principal Investigator: María Jiménez Buedo (UNED)
Research Team: Valeriano Iranzo (UV), Saúl Pérez-González (UV), Jesús Zamora Bonilla (UNED)


The development of the new mechanical approach has been characterised by the existence of two (partially independent) trends: the new mechanism and the social scientific mechanism. The new mechanism, which has been developed by philosophers of science (with a particular emphasis on biology), focuses on developing a satisfactory notion of mechanism and, on the bases of it, addressing classical philosophical problems (e.g., the nature of causation). On the other hand, the social scientific mechanism, which has been mainly developed by social scientists, focuses on issues related with the methodology of social sciences (e.g., explanations of social macro phenomenon). In spite of some recent cross-influence, those trends have, for the most part, developed independently.

The Evidence and Mechanisms in the Social Sciences (EviSoc) project aims to contribute to developing a framework that accounts for social mechanisms and evidence of mechanisms in the social sciences. Several philosophers and scientists have underlined the relevance of mechanisms for issues such as explanation, scientific inquiry, and causal inference. Furthermore, there has been an increasing support for pluralist approaches to evidence that aim to integrate evidence of mechanisms with other kinds of evidence (e.g., evidence of correlations). In the last decade, these approaches have gradually made it into the social sciences, such as the application of the Machamer, Darden and Craver (MDC) framework to some social scientific problems. Nevertheless, a direct extrapolation of the classical mechanistic framework to social scientific questions faces a number of difficulties.

In view of these difficulties, that the project aims at enumerating and systematize, in EviSoc we contend that, in order to  introduce a mechanistic framework in the social sciences, it is crucial take into account the particularities of social complexes and social scientific research.

EviSoc thus pursues two sets of objectives: (A) objectives related with the application of the new general mechanistic approach to the social sciences and (B) objectives related with analysis of classical questions in the methodology of social sciences from a mechanism-based framework.

(A) First group of objetives, stemming from the application of the new general mechanistic approach to the social sciences

  1. Outlining the limitations of the MDC approach in the Social Sciences
  2. Refining the concept of Evidence of social mechanisms
  3. Specifying the diverse roles of evidence of mechanisms in social science
  4. Develop a pluralist approach to evidence for evidence-based policy

B) Second group of objectives, stemming from the analysis of classical questions in the methodology of social sciences from a mechanism-based framework

  1. Addressing the phenomenon of reactivity and the role of simulations in social scientific research.
  2. Exploring mechanisms as a tool in the communication between social scientists, policymakers, and citizens.