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Observations of Social Processes and their Formal Representations

Formal Methods

The article outlines the advantages of formalisms, defined as the "explicit representation of a set of elements and of relations among them", in historical research. Formalisms, he writes, help researchers discipline their research inquiries from the outset and make it easier to discover alternative explanations. The less frequent use of formalisms in historical research, he argues, results from historians’ confusion of formalisms with quantitative research. The quantitative/qualitative distinction, according to Tilly, is harmful to social science because it misrepresents the choice of using or avoiding formalisms with the transformation and representation of historical evidence. While all social scientists should use formalisms to guide their research, narratives are necessary for the presentation of certain types of research.