The Only-Toy-Models Hypothesis

On the Limitations of Developing Models and Computer Simulations in Sociology
  • Nicole J. SaamEmail author
Part of the Sozialwissenschaftliche Simulationen und die Soziologie der Simulation book series (SSSS)


In this chapter, I introduce and defend the hypothesis that all (formalized) models in sociology are toy models. I claim that all models in sociology necessarily include many Aristotelian and Galilean idealizations, and that they are all extremely simple in that they represent only a small number of explanatory factors. All models that have been developed in sociology hitherto are toy models. All models that will be developed in the future will be toy models – even if they are run on high performance computers (which has yet to be the case). I will call this hypothesis the weak only-toy-models hypothesis and distinguish it from the strong only-toy-models hypothesis. The latter states that all (formalized) models in the social sciences are toy models. This includes other disciplines such as political science and economics, e. g. neoclassical economics models. To defend the strong only-toy-models hypothesis would be to go beyond the scope of this article. Drawing on modern sociological theory and the philosophy of the social sciences, I defend the weak only-toy-models hypothesis. In the discussion, I propose the concept of an extensive model as an antonym to the concept of the toy model.


Toy model social science modelling simulation idealizations extensive model 


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© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für SoziologieFriedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-NürnbergErlangenDeutschland

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