The Epistemologies of Social Simulation Research

  • Nigel Gilbert
  • Petra Ahrweiler
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 5466)


What is the best method for doing simulation research? This has been the basis of a continuing debate within the social science research community. Resolving it is important if the community is to demonstrate clearly that simulation is an effective method for research in the social sciences. In this paper, we tackle the question from a historical and philosophical perspective. We argue that the debate within social simulation has many connections with the debates that have echoed down the years within the wider social science community about the character of social science knowledge and the appropriate epistemological and methodological assumptions on which social science research should rest.


Social simulation epistemology methodenstreit Max Weber 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Ahrweiler, P., Gilbert, N.: Caffè Nero: the Evaluation of Social Simulation. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 8(4), 14 (2005), Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Axelrod, R.: Advancing the Art of Simulation in the Social Sciences. In: Conte, R., Hegselmann, R., Terna, P. (eds.) Simulating Social Phenomena, pp. 21–40. Springer, Heidelberg (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Axtell, R.L., Epstein, J.M., Dean, J.S., Gumerman, G.J., Swedlund, A.C., Harburger, J., Chakravarty, S., Hammond, R., Parker, J., Parker, M.: Population growth and collapse in a multiagent model of the Kayenta Anasazi in Long House Valley. In: PNAS, May 14, 2002, vol. 99 (suppl. 3), pp. 7275–7279 (2002),
  4. 4.
    Bagni, R., Berchi, R., Cariello, P.: A Comparison of Simulation Models Applied to Epidemics. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 5(3), 5 (2002), Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Beck, N., Katz, J.: What to Do (and not to Do) with Time-Series Cross-Section Data. American Political Science Review 89, 634–647 (1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Boudon, R.: La logique du social. Hachette, Paris (1979)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Boudon, R.: La place du desordre. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris (1984)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Boudon, R.: Social Mechanisms Without Black Boxes. In: Hedström, P., Swedberg, R. (eds.) Social Mechanisms. An Analytical Approach to Social Theory, pp. 172–203. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Bunge, M.: Scientific Research I. The Search for System. Springer, New York (1967)CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bunge, M.: Mechanisms and Explanation. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 27(4), 410–465 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Büthe, T.: Taking Temporality Seriously: Modelling History and the Use of Narratives as Evidence. American Political Science Review 96(3), 481–493 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Calhoun, C.: Explanation in Historical Sociology: Narrative, General Theory, and Historically Specific Theory. American Journal of Sociology 104(3), 846–871 (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Coleman, J.S.: Introduction to Mathematical Sociology. Free Press, New York (1964)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Coleman, J.S.: Social Theory, Social Research, and a Theory of Action. American Journal of Sociology 91(6), 1309–1335 (1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Coleman, J.S.: Foundations of Social Theory. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1990)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Comte, A.: Die Soziologie. Positive Philosophie. Stuttgart, Kroener (1975)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Craver, C.: Role Functions, Mechanisms, and Hierarchy. Philosophy of Science 68(1), 53–74 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    David, P.: Clio and the Economics of QWERTY. American Economic Review 75, 332–337 (1985)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Deffuant, G.: Comparing Extremism Propagation Patterns in Continuous Opinion Models. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 9(3), 8 (2006), Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Dilthey, W.: Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften. Frankfurt (The structure of the historical world in the humanities) (1970)Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Dunham, J.B.: An Agent-Based Spatially Explicit Epidemiological Model in MASON. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 9(1), 3 (2005), MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Elias, N.: Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation, 2nd edn. Francke AG, Bern (1969)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Elster, J.: Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Elster, J.: A Plea for Mechanisms. In: Hedström, P., Swedberg, R. (eds.) Social Mechanisms. An Analytical Approach to Social Theory, pp. 45–73. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Epstein, J.M.: Generative Social Science. Studies in Agent-Based Computational Modeling. Princeton University Press, Princeton (2007)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Esser, H.: Soziologie. Allgemeine Grundlagen. Frankfurt, Campus (1993)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Esser, H.: Was könnte man (heute) unter einer Theorie mittlerer Reichweite verstehen? In: Mayntz, R. (ed.) Akteure - Mechanismen - Modelle. Zur Theoriefähigkeit makro-sozialer Analysen, pp. 128–150. Frankfurt, Campus (2002)Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Franks, D.W., Kaufmannand, P., Stagl, S.: Simulating the Adoption of Organic Farming Practices in New EU Member States – A Study of Latvia. SPRU 40th Anniversary Conference Paper (2006),
  29. 29.
    Geertz, C.: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. In: The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, pp. 3–30. Basic Books, New York (1973)Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Glennan, S.S.: Mechanisms and the Nature of Causation. Erkenntnis 44, 49–71 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Granovetter, M.: Threshold Models of Collective Behavior. American Journal of Sociology 83(6), 1420–1443 (1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Habermas, J.: Ein anderer Ausweg aus der Subjektphilosophie: Kommunikative vs. Subjektzentrierte Vernunft. In: Habermas, J. (ed.) Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne. Vorlesungen, vol. 12, pp. 344–379. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, S. (1985)Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Hall, P.A.: Aligning Ontology and Methodology in Comparative Research. In: Mahoney, J., Rueschemeyer, D. (eds.) Comparative Historical Research in the Social Sciences. Cambridge University Press, New York (in print) (2003)Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Hedström, P., Swedberg, R. (eds.): Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1998)Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Hedström, P., Swedberg, R.: Social Mechanisms. Acta Sociologica 39(3), 281–308 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Hegselmann, R., Krause, U.: Opinion Dynamics and Bounded Confidence Models. Analysis and Simulation. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 5(3), 2 (2002), Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Hempel, C.G.: Aspects of Scientific Explanation - And Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science. Free Press, New York (1965)Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Hoover, K.D.: The Logic of Causal Inference. Econometrics and the Conditional Analysis of Causation. Economics and Philosophy 6, 207–234 (1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Huang, C.-Y., Sun, C.-T., Lin, H.-C.: Influence of Local Information on Social Simulations in Small-World Network Models. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 8(4), 8 (2005), Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Johnson, J.: How Conceptual Problems Migrate: Rational Choice, Interpretation, and the Hazards of Pluralism. Annual Review of Political Science 5, 223–248 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Kaesler, D.: Max Weber. An Introduction to his Life and Work. Polity Press, Cambridge, University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1988)Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Karlsson, G.: Social Mechanisms. Studies in sociological theory. Almquist & Wiksell, Stockholm (1958)Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Kennedy, J., Eberhart, R.: Particle Swarm Optimization. In: Proc. IEEE Int’l. Conf. on Neural Networks (Perth, Australia), IEEE Service Center, Piscataway, NJ, pp. IV:1942–IV:1948 (1995),
  44. 44.
    Kertész, A.: Artificial intelligence and the sociology of scientific knowledge. Prolegomena to an integrated philosophy of science. Frankfurt/M, Lang. (1993)Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Kiser, E., Hechter, M.: The Debate on Historical Sociology: Rational Choice and Its Critics. American Journal of Sociology 104(3), 785–816 (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Kitschelt, H.: Accounting for Postcommunist Regime Diversity: What Counts as a Good Cause? In: Ekiert, G., Hanson, S. (eds.) Capitalism and Democracy in Eastern and Central Europe. Assessing the Legacy of Communist Rule. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (in print) (2003)Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Knight, J.: Models, Interpretations, and Theories: Constructing Explanations of Institutional Emergence and Change. In: Knight, J., Sened, I. (eds.) Explaining Social Institutions. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor (1995)Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Kuran, T.: Sparks and Prairie fires: A theory of unanticipated political revolution. Public Choice 61, 41–74 (1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Little, D.: Varieties of Social Explanation. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Social Science. Westview Press, Boulder (Col.) (1991)Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Little, D.: On the Scope and Limits of Generalizations in the Social Sciences. Synthese 97, 183–207 (1993)Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Maasen, S., Weingart, P.: Metaphors and the Dynamics of Knowledge. Routledge, London (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Machamer, P., Darden, L., Craver, C.F.: Thinking about Mechanisms. Philosophy of Science 67(1), 1–25 (2000)MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Mahoney, J.: Beyond Correlational Analysis: Recent Innovations in Theory and Method. Sociological Forum 16(3), 575–593 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Mayntz, R.: Mechanisms in the Analysis of Macro-Social Phenomena. MPI Working Paper 03/3 (April 2003); re-printed in Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34(2), pp. 237–259 (2004)Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Mayntz, R.: Soziale Diskontinuitäten. Erscheinungsformen und Ursachen. In: Soziale Dynamik und politische Steuerung. Theoretische und methodologische Überlegungen, pp. 115–140. Frankfurt/Main, Campus (1988/1997)Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Mayntz, R.: Zur Theoriefähigkeit makro-sozialer Analysen. In: Mayntz, R. (ed.) Akteure - Mechanismen - Modelle. Zur Theoriefähigkeit makro-sozialer Analysen, pp. 7–43. Frankfurt/Main, Campus (2002)Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    McAdam, D., Tarrow, S., Tilly, C.: Dynamics of Contention. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Menger, C.: Untersuchungen über die Methode der Sozialwissenschaften und der politischen Ökonomie insbesondere. Leipzig (Investigating the methods of the social sciences, especially political economy) (1883)Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Merton, R.K.: On Sociological Theories of the Middle Range. In: On Sociological Theory. Five Essays, Old and New, pp. 39–72. Free Press, New York (1957)Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Moss, S., Edmonds, B.: Towards Good Social Science. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 8(4), 13 (2005), Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Müller, H.-P.: Soziologie in der Eremitage? Skizze einer Standortbestimmung. In: Barlösius, E., Müller, H.-P., Sigmund, S. (eds.) Gesellschaftsbilder im Umbruch. Leske + Budrich, Opladen (2001)Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Nagel, E.: The Structure of Science. Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London (1961)Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Nedelmann, B., Mayntz, R.: Eigendynamische soziale Prozesse. Anmerkungen zu einem analytischen Paradigma. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 39, 648–668 (1987)Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Oakes, G.: Weber and the Southwest German School: The Genesis of the Concept of the Historical Individual. In: Mommsen, W., Osterhammel, J. (eds.) Max Weber and his Contemporaries, pp. 434–446. Allen & Unwin, London (1987)Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Osterhammel, J.: Varieties of Social Economics: Joseph A. Schumpeter and Max Weber. In: Mommsen, W., Osterhammel, J. (eds.) Max Weber and his Contemporaries, pp. 106–120. Allen & Unwin, London (1987)Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Ostrom, E.: Governing the Commons. The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. 67.
    Otter, H.S., van der Veen, A., de Vriend, H.J.: ABLOoM: Location Behaviour, Spatial Patterns, and Agent-Based Modelling. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 4(4), 2 (2001), Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Pawson, R.: Middle-range realism. Archives Européennes de Sociologie XLI (2), 283–324 (2000)Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Petersen, R.: Mechanisms and structures in comparison. In: Bowen, J. (ed.) Critical Comparisons in Politics and Culture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1999)Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Pierson, P.: Increasing Returns Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics. American Political Science Review 94, 251–267 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. 71.
    Prewo, R.: Max Webers Wissenschaftsprogramm. Suhrkamp (Max Weber’s Programme of Science), Frankfurt (1979)Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Pyka, A., Grebel, T.: Agent-based Modelling – A Methodology for the Analysis of qualitative Development Processes. In: Billari, F.C., Fent, T., Prskawetz, A., Scheffran, J. (eds.) Agent-Based Computational Modelling. Applications in Demography, Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences. Physica, Heidelberg (2006)Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    Ragin, C.C.: The Comparative Method. Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies. University of California Press, Berkeley (1987)Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Ragin, C.C.: Fuzzy-Set Social Science. Chicago University Press, Chicago (2000)Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Rickert, H.: Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begriffsbildung. Tuebingen (The limits of concept formation in the natural sciences) (1902)Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    Salzarulo, L.: A Continuous Opinion Dynamics Model Based on the Principle of Meta-Contrast. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 9(1), 13 (2006), Google Scholar
  77. 77.
    Schmoller, G.: Zur Methodologie der Staats- und Sozialwissenschaften. In: Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung, Verwaltung und Volkswirtschaft im Deutschen Reich 7, pp. 239–258 (1883) (Methodology of the political and the social sciences)Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    Schnaedelbach, H.: Rationalitaet. Philosophische Beitraege. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt (1984) (Rationality. Philosophical Contributions)Google Scholar
  79. 79.
    Schumpeter, A.: History of Economic Analysis, London (1954)Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    Somers, M.R.: We’re no Angels: Realism, Rational Choice, and Relationality in Social Science. American Journal of Sociology 104(3), 722–784 (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. 81.
    Srbljinovic, A., Penzar, D., Rodik, P., Kardov, K.: An Agent-Based Model of Ethnic Mobilisation. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 6(1), 1 (2003), Google Scholar
  82. 82.
    Stauffer, D., Sousa, A., Schulze, C.: Discretized Opinion Dynamics of the Deffaunt Model on Scale-Free Networks. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 7(3), 7 (2004), Google Scholar
  83. 83.
    Stinchcombe, A.L.: The Conditions of Fruitfulness of Theorizing about Mechanisms in Social Science. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 21, 367–388 (1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. 84.
    Stinchcombe, A.L.: Monopolistic competition as a mechanism: Corporations, universities, and nation-states in competitive fields. In: Hedström, P., Swedberg, R. (eds.) Social Mechanisms. An Analytical Approach to Social Theory, pp. 267–305. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. 85.
    Thagard, P.: Computational Philosophy of Science. MIT Press, Cambridge (1988)Google Scholar
  86. 86.
    Thelen, K.: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics. The Annual Review of Political Science 2, 369–404 (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. 87.
    Tilly, C.: Mechanisms in Political Processes. Annual Review of Political Science 4, 21–41 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. 88.
    von Wiese, L.: System der allgemeinen Soziologie: Beziehungslehre - als Lehre von den sozialen Prozessen und den sozialen Gebilden des Menschen. Duncker und Humblot, Berlin (1933)Google Scholar
  89. 89.
    Weber, M.: The Methodology of the Social Sciences (translated and edited by E.A. Shils and H.A. Finch), New York (1949)Google Scholar
  90. 90.
    Weber, M.: The National State and Economic Policy (translated by B. Fowkes). Economy and Society 9, 428–449 (1980)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. 91.
    Weber, M.: Roscher and Knies: The logical Problems of Historical Economics (translated by G. Oakes), New York (1975)Google Scholar
  92. 92.
    Weber, M.: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre. Tuebingen: UTB/Mohr. (Collected articles concerning the methodology of the social sciences) (1988)Google Scholar
  93. 93.
    Weingart, P., Stehr, N. (eds.): Practising Interdisciplinarity. University of Toronto Press, Toronto (2000)Google Scholar
  94. 94.
    Windelband, W.: Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft. In: Windelband, W. (ed.) Praeludien 2, Tuebingen, pp. 136–160 (1915) (History and Natural Science)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nigel Gilbert
    • 1
  • Petra Ahrweiler
    • 2
  1. 1.CRESS - Centre for Research in Social SimulationUniversity of SurreyUK
  2. 2.Innovation Policy Unit, National Institute of Technology ManagementUniversity College DublinIreland

Personalised recommendations