Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 1 > Issue 1

Theory, History, and Political Economy

Sean Gailmard, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, USA,
Suggested Citation
Sean Gailmard (2021), "Theory, History, and Political Economy", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 1: No. 1, pp 69-104.

Publication Date: 10 Jun 2021
© 2021 S. Gailmard
Political history,  Political economy,  Formal modeling,  Qualitative methods
Theoryhistorypolitical economy


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In this article:
The Need for Theory in Historical Political Economy 
The Need for Theory in Historical Political Economy 
What Makes HPE Historical? 
What Is Theory in Political Economy? 
Theory and Data in Historical Political Economy 


In this short paper I offer conceptualizations of history, theory, and their interplay under the aegis of political economy. My primary argument is that historical political economy (HPE) depends on theory for its success. First, notwithstanding empirical causal identification, causal explanation is impossible without theory. Second, establishing causal uniqueness (that a particular mechanism is the only reasonable candidate to explain a case) and causal generalization (that a particular mechanism explains other cases not yet empirically analyzed) are exclusively theoretical in nature. No research design, however rigorous or credible, can support these claims; thus it is counterproductive for HPE scholars to analyze cases simply because causal identification is possible. I conclude that political economy can best contribute to historical understanding by applying mechanisms from this field as candidate explanations of important cases, and history can contribute to political economy by helping us discover new mechanisms.



Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 1, Issue 1 Special Issue - Theory and Method in HPE: Articles Overview
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.