agent based models in sociology, circa 2016

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

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.

I think that olderwoman’s response is on target. There is nothing out of style about ABM’s, but sociology is mainly a discipline of empiricists. You will find scholars who occasionally to ABMs but no one who ONLY does is very, very rare. Examples of people who have done simulations: Damon Centola, Kathleen Carley, Carter Butts. In my department, I can think of two people who have published simulations (Clem Brooks, Steve Benard, and myself) and those who do methods research often employ simulations. Olderwoman is also correct in that writing simulations helps you develop programming skills that are now required for “big data” work and for industry.

So don’t write an all simulation dissertation, but by all means, if you have good ideas, simulate them!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

June 14, 2016 at 12:01 am

2 Responses

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  1. More recently, Macy and DellaPosta have produced some interesting simulation research.

    I’m more of a “big umbrella” person in asking what falls into “computational sociology” but I could be convinced to draw stricter boundaries around the subfield.


    Alex Hanna

    June 14, 2016 at 3:51 pm

  2. I really don’t understand Fabio’s hottake of ABM as being a thing of the past. I guess it depends on how you define ABM. There’s a lot of work out there that uses ABM fitted to empirical data in important ways (see e.g., SABM/SAOM literature).


    jimi adams

    June 15, 2016 at 10:18 pm

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