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MonographDOI

Unmaking the West : "what-if?" scenarios that rewrite world history

TL;DR: A collection of alternative scenarios to world history and an exercise in testing the strengths and weaknesses of counterfactual experiments is presented in this paper, where the authors explore alternative scenarios for world history.
Abstract: What if the Persians had won at Salamis? What if Christ had not been crucified? What if the Chinese had harnessed steam power before the West? Disparaged by some as a mere parlor game, counterfactual history is seen by others as indispensable historical tool. Taking as their point of inquiry the debate over the inevitability of the rise of the West, the eminent scholars in "Unmaking the West" argue that there is no escaping counterfactual history. Whenever we make claims of cause and effect, we commit ourselves to the assumption that if key links in the causal chain were broken, history would have unfolded otherwise. Likewise, without counterfactual history, we all too easily slip into the habit of hindsight bias, forgetting, as soon as we learn what happened, how unpredictable the world looked beforehand, and closing our minds to all the ways the course might have changed. This collection is thus both an exploration of alternative scenarios to world history and an exercise in testing the strengths and weaknesses of counterfactual experiments.
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TL;DR: The authors provide a formal definition of path dependence that disentangles process and outcome, and identify the necessary conditions for path dependence; distinguishing clearly between path dependence and other 'history matters' kinds of mechanisms; and specifying the missing link between theoretical and empirical path dependence.
Abstract: Path dependence is a central construct in organizational research, used to describe a mechanism that connects the past and the future in an abstract way. However, across institutional, technology, and strategy literatures, it remains unclear why path dependence sometimes occurs and sometimes not, why it sometimes lead to inefficient outcomes and sometimes not, how it differs from mere increasing returns, and how scholars can empirically support their claims on path dependence. Hence, path dependence is not yet a theory since it does not causally relate identified variables in a systematized manner. Instead, the existing literature tends to conflate path dependence as a process (i.e. history unfolding in a self-reinforcing manner) and as an outcome (i.e. a persisting state of the world with specific properties, called 'lock-in'). This paper contributes theoretically and methodologically to tackling these issues by: (1) providing a formal definition of path dependence that disentangles process and outcome, and identifies the necessary conditions for path dependence; (2) distinguishing clearly between path dependence and other 'history matters' kinds of mechanisms; and (3) specifying the missing link between theoretical and empirical path dependence. In particular, we suggest moving away from historical case studies of supposedly path-dependent processes to focus on more controlled research designs such as simulations, experiments, and counterfactual investigation.

375 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: The authors provide a formal definition of path dependence that disentangles process and outcome, and identify the necessary conditions for path dependence; distinguishing clearly between path dependence and other 'history matters' kinds of mechanisms; and specifying the missing link between theoretical and empirical path dependence.
Abstract: Path dependence is a central construct in organizational research, used to describe a mechanism that connects the past and the future in an abstract way. However, across institutional, technology, and strategy literatures, it remains unclear why path dependence sometimes occurs and sometimes not, why it sometimes lead to inefficient outcomes and sometimes not, how it differs from mere increasing returns, and how scholars can empirically support their claims on path dependence. Hence, path dependence is not yet a theory since it does not causally relate identified variables in a systematized manner. Instead, the existing literature tends to conflate path dependence as a process (i.e. history unfolding in a self-reinforcing manner) and as an outcome (i.e. a persisting state of the world with specific properties, called 'lock-in'). This paper contributes theoretically and methodologically to tackling these issues by: (1) providing a formal definition of path dependence that disentangles process and outcome, and identifies the necessary conditions for path dependence; (2) distinguishing clearly between path dependence and other 'history matters' kinds of mechanisms; and (3) specifying the missing link between theoretical and empirical path dependence. In particular, we suggest moving away from historical case studies of supposedly path-dependent processes to focus on more controlled research designs such as simulations, experiments, and counterfactual investigation.

318 citations

Book
01 Jan 2016
TL;DR: Ghosh as mentioned in this paper argues that the extreme nature of today's climate events make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining, particularly true literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres.
Abstract: "Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability at the level of literature, history, and politics to grasp the scale and violence of climate change. The extreme nature of today's climate events, Ghosh asserts, make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres. In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has sometimes led to gross simplifications; Ghosh shows that the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictory and counter-intuitive elements. Ghosh ends by suggesting that politics, much like literature, has become a matter of personal moral reckoning rather than an arena of collective action. But to limit fiction and politics to individual moral adventure comes at a great cost. The climate crisis asks us to imagine other forms of human existence a task to which fiction, Ghosh argues, is the best suited of all cultural forms. His book serves as a great writer's summons to confront the most urgent task of our time."

238 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: The concept of political feasibility is a central issue for political philosophy, conceptually as well as practically as mentioned in this paper, and feasibility is an important issue for any political philosophy and its application.
Abstract: To date there is no systematic exploration of the concept of ‘political feasibility’. We believe that feasibility is a central issue for political philosophy, conceptually as well as practically, a...

206 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: This paper argues that a counterfactual approach - one that builds on a systematic analysis of what-if questions - can advance the understanding of key causal mechanisms in strategy research, and offers two concrete methodologies -counterfactual history and causal modeling - as useful solutions.
Abstract: Causation is still poorly understood in strategy research, and confusion prevails around key concepts such as competitive advantage. In this paper, we define epistemological conditions that help dispel some of this confusion and provide a basis for more developed approaches. In particular, we argue that a counterfactual approach—one that builds on a systematic analysis of ‘what-if’ questions—can advance our understanding of key causal mechanisms in strategy research. We offer two concrete methodologies—counterfactual history and causal modeling—as useful solutions. We also show that these methodologies open up new avenues in research on competitive advantage. Counterfactual history can add to our understanding of the context-specific construction of resource-based competitive advantage and path dependence, and causal modeling can help to reconceptualize the relationships between resources and performance. In particular, resource properties can be regarded as mediating mechanisms in these causal relationships.

173 citations


Cites background or methods from "Unmaking the West : "what-if?" scen..."

  • ...In fact, counterfactuals are like thought experiments (De Mey and Weber, 2003; Lewis, 1973) or fiction (Tetlock et al., 2006; White, 1987) in the sense that they require the construction of ‘possible worlds.’...

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  • ...Historians (Ferguson, 1997; Fogel, 1964) and political scientists (Tetlock and Belkin, 1996, Tetlock et al., 2006) have used counterfactual reasoning to examine events and phenomena of historical significance and compared them with alternative, imaginary realities....

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  • ...…as means to spell out different and competing theorizations, but obviously not all counterfactual analysis needs to be theory-testing in nature (Tetlock et al., 2006). e. Generalizations and projectability: Connecting principles should be consistent with well-established generalizations…...

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  • ...This testing involves the construction of alternative scenarios and worlds, in other words, what could have happened had X not occurred (Tetlock and Belkin, 1996; Tetlock et al., 2006)....

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  • ...We start with this view, but also include insights of others on ‘possible worlds,’ most notably those of political scientists and historians (Tetlock and Belkin, 1996, Tetlock et al., 2006), and work on causal modeling and inference (Morgan and Winship, 2007; Pearl, 2000)....

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