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Theoretical Foundations of EITM

Thomas Bräuninger (University of Mannheim)
June 22-24, 2020

One of the center goals of the EITM program is to promote theoretically informed empirical research. How to improve our methodological reasoning so that empirical work is most effective and informative about theories? How to improve our theoretical reasoning to provide a larger number of useful theoretical hypotheses that can be evaluated against the evidence of empirical models?

In this setting, game theory is a primary tool for building rigorous theories because political phenomena most often involve strategic interactions which lend themselves to game-theoretic analysis. For example, challengers in a parliamentary or congressional race will consider the incumbents' response to such a challenge when deciding whether to run for candidacy or not. Likewise, rebel groups will consider the ability and willingness of an autocrat to fight a rebellion when initiating insurgency. At the same time, standard introductions to game theory frequently imply that such theories generate point predictions which oftentimes are unsuitable for testing.

In the theoretical foundations seminar we first review basic ingredients of game-theoretic models. We then look at important varieties of rational choice models, specifically non-cooperative game theory, in a form that emphasizes the techniques and research designs by which these models can be used to explore a causal mechanism using data, e.g. evaluation of equilibrium point predictions using parameter variations across a population, comparative statics that is the evaluation of relationship predictions, as well as structural estimation approaches.

Thomas Bräuninger is Professor of Political Economy at the University of Mannheim and Associate Editor of the American Political Science Review.