Causal Layered Analysis: Deconstructing Singapore’s 2015 General Election


In explaining social phenomena, students are taught to explicate the causal mechanism between independent factors and a dependent outcome. However, this could lead to a superficial analysis of the phenomenon if students were to focus on precipitating factors. Hence, this paper contends that JC students should be exposed to complementary analytical approaches in order to transcend conventional frames of analysis. Inayatullah’s (2004) “Causal Layered Analysis” (CLA) could be an appropriate method to encourage students to unpack surface-level factors by drawing out their underlying and deeper causes. The CLA comprises four levels of analysis: the litany (precipitating causes), social causes (systemic causes), discourse/worldview (ideational causes) and myth/metaphor (core narratives). This can be illustrated by applying CLA to Singapore’s GE2015, which would suggest that the electorate’s voting patterns are not just the outcome of varied precipitating factors, but also the product of the existing political system and ideas about the nation-state.

Strands: Innovative ideas & approaches, Pedagogy, Issues

In humanities and social studies education, students are often taught to identify key factors that explain social phenomena in order to put forth an argumentative position. This approach is useful for imparting students with the skills to explain and elaborate on the causal logic between the factor and the argument, but could lead to a superficial understanding of the phenomenon if the student solely focuses on precipitating factors. Hence, this skillset should be complemented with critical thought to ascertain the different levels of causation for a more in-depth analysis. This paper contends that the “Causal Layered Analysis” (CLA) by Sohail Inayatullah could be a useful toolkit for students to educe the deeper causes from the surface-level ones. Inayatullah (2004) conceptualized the CLA as a research methodology to deconstruct an existing social reality into “different levels of reality and ways of knowing” in order to transcend the “conventional framing of issues” (p. 18). He posits that there are four levels of analysis: the litany, social causes, discourse/worldview, and myth/metaphor. The litany, “the unquestioned view of reality” or the precipitating factors, can be further explained by underlying systemic causes at the social causation level. In turn, the social causes are legitimated by deeply held worldviews and “discursive assumptions” that are expressed by metaphors or myths, which provide “a gut/emotional level of experience to the worldview under inquiry” (Inayatullah, 2004, p. 8). In other words, the CLA could be operationalized by posing a series of questions. What are the immediate/precipitating factors that caused this phenomenon? Are there any systemic (political, social, economic, and historical) factors that enabled it? What are the justifications/rationales for this arrangement? Are there any core narratives or metaphors that reproduce the rationale? Although CLA is ultimately geared towards policy issues to effect change, the manner in which it deconstructs social phenomena could be instructive for critical analysis.


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!