3S WP 2014-24 Rozema – Inference in social science research

Abduction is a very promising mode of inference, particularly when researchers aim to simultaneously build and test theoretical propositions. Yet the application of abduction in social science research is marginal in comparison with induction and deduction. It is likely that this is due so to limited understanding of what abduction does and how it works in practice. In this working paper I introduce abductive inference first by looking at its principles of logical conduct, then by making it an integral aspect of the social science research design. It is demonstrated that abduction is an invaluable attribute to critical realism and case study research, especially when researchers want to proffer explanations of social reality in the face of uncertainty. My research on the controversy surrounding high-speed rail in the United Kingdom (UK) makes insightful the merit of using abduction for improving the plausibility of theoretical propositions. The working paper suggests that inductivists and deductivists could learn considerably from abduction by accepting that the search for ‘ultimate truth’ hinders rather than advances progress in social science research.

Rozema, J. G. (2014) Inference in social science research: Introducing abduction. 3S WP 2014-25 Norwich, UK: Science, Society and Sustainability Research Group,