three computational sociologies

I was having a discussion with a visiting scholar about what computational sociology means right now. In my career, the term has been used in at least three different ways:

  • Statistics – for the baby boomer generation of social scientists, “computing in socioal science” meant applied statistics. Remember, it requires a lot of knowledge and skill to store data and estimate models on computes with limited computing power.
  • Agent based models – in the 1980s and 1990s, “computational” meant running simulations.
  • Big data/CS techniques – currently, the term seems to refer to either (a) large data generated by online behavior  and/or (b) using computer science techniques (e.g., topic models or sentiment analysis) to study social science data

Use the comments to discuss other uses of the term.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 9, 2016 at 2:11 am

5 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Design Passion.

    Liked by 1 person

    Sig Nordal, Jr.

    June 9, 2016 at 2:59 am

  2. Are agent based models/simulations a dead end? Are smart people still using that technique? Have there been any important results? I didn’t realize it peaked in the 1980s.

    I’m a current doctoral student considering pursuing ABM, but if it’s a dead end then maybe not.


    doctoral student

    June 9, 2016 at 4:24 am

  3. @doctoral student, I will not answer on behalf of sociologists. There is increasing use of ABMs in anthropology, economics, and parts of management — notably entrepreneurship and strategy. I see this as a result of new, better ABM platforms than existed in the 1990s and 2000s (Swarm, REPAST). The new software platforms allow for more complicated agent-environment interactions, easier simulation experiment design and execution, more advanced spatial models, and mixed models with system-level (macro) variables that govern/moderate agent behaviors. There is even a new, widely accepted protocol for ABM design and description/communication (for journal editors, reviewers, and others) — the ODD Protocol.

    Don’t give up on ABM, unless your project is a 1980s design.



    June 9, 2016 at 4:06 pm

  4. It has always been difficult to build a sociology career doing only mathematical models of any type, agent or other. But good modeling can be a great asset to a research portfolio that also includes empirical work, and really good modeling that is well tied to empirical data or sound theory (so that the parameters actually mean something, rather than just being arbitrary) can still get you a job, especially now that “big data” and computational sociology are the thing. If you couple the computer skills to do ABM with big data computer skills, you will be employable.

    Liked by 1 person


    June 9, 2016 at 6:51 pm

  5. […] A few days ago, we had a discussion about the different meanings of the word “computational sociology.” A commenter wrote the following: […]


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