Evolution of Causal Mapping

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The term cognitive maps appeared in a paper written by Edward C. Tolman titled,

“Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men,” in the Psychological Review in 1948. Although he

did not use the term in the sense known in organization sciences, Tolman extolled the

virtues of reason, which were in contrast to the behavioral psychologist’s view which

focused on stimulus response mechanisms for explaining human behavior. The term was

later used by Axelrod to name the methods he and his colleagues employed to represent

the arguments of political elites. The term, “cognitive maps,” however, conveyed the idea

that the maps represented the actual workings of the mind. To avoid the claim that they

were representing thought scholars following Axelrod began to employ the term “causal

mapping.” These scholars claimed that they focused only on causal assertions in a

specific set of texts.

In addition to the evolution of the terminology, several streams of scholarship have

contributed to the initial use of causal mapping as a tool for representing thought. These

streams are varied and often not related to each other. Nonetheless, it is useful to reflect

on this rich heritage, if only to discover opportunities that have not yet been exploited

in the contemporary applications of this tool.

I discuss this evolution in five sections: (1) Early Precursors; (2) Immediate Precursors;

(3) Axelrod’s Seminal Work; (4) Causal Mapping in Organizational Sciences; and (5)

Causal Mapping in IS. This is schematically presented in Figure 1.