Why things happen – Developing the critical realist view of causal mechanisms

Document Type

Journal Article




School of Business and Law


Originally published as:

Mingers, J., & Standing, C. (2017). Why things happen–Developing the critical realist view of causal mechanisms. Information and Organization, 27(3), 171-189.

Original article available here.


Events happen within the organizational world not by chance but for reasons. It is surely the task of management research to try to explain why these events occur. This requires us to understand the nature of causality but, in general, this is seldom discussed in the management or IS literature. The standard, positivist view underlying statistical analysis is the Humean one of constant conjunctions of events leading to universal laws. Against this, many constructivists find the whole idea of external causality implausible. In this paper we explore a third alternative that is developing strongly within the philosophy of science, social theory and critical realism – the mechanisms view. This proposes that events are generated through the interaction of specific mechanisms endowed with causal powers that may or may not be triggered, and may or may not be countervailed. In particular, the paper develops some of the fundamental concepts such as the nature of events, emergent properties, the difference between properties and powers, casual interactions between levels, absences as causes, event causality and generative causality, and abstracting causal regularities. The paper concludes by illustrating these ideas with a series of empirical case studies.