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Typical questions

“What are the causes of X?”

“What led to X?”

“Why did X occur?”

“Why does X happen?”

“What would be the effects of X?” 

Cause and effect involves tracing probable or known effects of a certain cause or examining one or more effects and discussing the reasonable or known cause(s).


In this relatively straightforward example, students are asked to explain why something happened, what causes and effects are involved.  Again, however, note that cause and effect, whilst simple in structure, may be complex in practice and needs care in articulation.  The concept of ‘overdetermination’, is a useful term for recognizing that certain phenomena are the result of multiple ‘causes’.  As a human being, for instance, you are the product, in a sense, of your genetic heritage, but at the same time of social background and context, and also contingent, unique experiences; any individual is therefore ‘overdetermined’.  Bear this in mind when thinking about cause and effect.  An example of a cause-effect question, and the beginnings of a response to this, follows:

Q:  Why did the industrial revolution happen, or happen first, in the Western world, and what significance should we attribute to this fact?
A: Industrialisation DID happen first in the West, but specifically in one part of the Western world only.  The explanations for this development are wide-ranging, ranging from long-term and deterministic explanations to short-term and contingent ones.  Some explanations focus on, inter alia, institutions, culture, innovation, prior levels of economic development, need and the drivers of necessity, and so on.  Some have called into question the importance of mechanisation and steam technology, however, and look to earlier forms of industry and industriousness.