Moving towards hybridity in causal explanation: the example of citizen participation

Liz Richardson, Catherine Durose, Beth Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The puzzle of causal explanation is a core issue for social science. Searches for causal patterns can be overly mechanistic, seen for example in the desire for the ‘magic bullet’ in policy, or the lionising of the ‘celebrity’ policy interventions of the moment. Emphasis in policy interventions on transferable practice is often dismissed as naive for failing to recognise the importance of context, contingency and complexity. However, a focus on highly context-specific narratives, drawn from single cases, can be equally problematic, and exacerbate rather than help the problem of reification of knowledge. This paper makes a reflective theoretical contribution to the debate on the need to tackle the dilemma of contingency versus certainty in causal explanation in the social sciences. It attempts to address this issue through the lens of a specific concrete puzzle of explanation; that of citizen participation in policy. Citizen participation is a salient policy topic which demands a thorough understanding of causation. Using extended empirical examples of citizen participation in policy serves to highlight the intractability of different traditions of causal explanation, and grounds the need for greater compatibility in approaches. The paper then offers two propositions centring on the notions of transdisciplinarity and hybridity in research practices and methodologies. It concludes with a discussion of more and less desirable forms of hybridity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Early online date21 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • causality
  • mechanism
  • hybridity
  • transdisciplinarity
  • citizen participation

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Urban Institute


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