Proust and causal process observations

Qualitative methodologists have argued that qualitative research cannot be properly understood within the rigid framework of quantitative analysis. For instance, qualitative scholars often rely on “causal process observations” (CPOs):

CPOs may be defined as diagnostic pieces of evidence that yield insight into causal connections and mechanisms, providing leverage for adjudicating among alternative hypotheses. CPOs are not part of a rectangular data set, and the decision to focus on particular CPOs is guided by the researcher’s theoretical framework, hypotheses, and substantive knowledge—and correspondingly, by the judgment that they have strong probative value in evaluating specific explanatory claims.

Critics have retorted that CPOs is just a new bottle for fine old wine. Well, it seems that CPOs date back at least to the early 20th century. Here’s the narrator of Proust’s Recherche desperately trying to figure out whether his girlfriend was having sex with women (Marcel Proust, Albertine disparue, Gallimard, pp. 95-96):

Et puis, un seul petit fait, s’il est bien choisi, ne suffit-il pas à l’expérimentateur pour décider d’une loi générale qui fera connaître la vérité sur des milliers de faits analogues? Albertine avait beau n’exister dans ma mémoire comme elle m’était successivement apparue au cours de la vie, que comme des fractions de temps, ma pensée rétablissant en elle l’unité, en refaisait un être, et c’est sur cet être que je voulais porter un jugement général, savoir si elle m’avait menti, si elle amenait les femmes, si c’est pour en fréquenter librement qu’elle m’avait quitté. Ce que dirait la doucheuse pourrait peut-être trancher à jamais mes doutes sur les moeurs d’Albertine.

(It turns out that Albertine wasn’t just showering in Balbec’s public showers.)

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