Simulation for the Social Scientist

By Nigel Gilbert; Klaus G. Troitzsch | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Simulation and social science

Using computer simulation in the social sciences is a rather new idea – although the first examples date from the 1960s, simulation only began to be used widely in the 1990s – but one that has enormous potential. This is because simulation is an excellent way of modelling and understanding social processes.

This book has been written for social scientists interested in building simulations. All research should be theoretically informed, methodologically sophisticated and creative. These qualities are especially necessary when doing simulations because the field is only about 20 years old, so there are no well-established traditions to rely on, and there are a wide variety of approaches to simulation from which to choose. One additional skill needed by the researcher wanting to use simulation is some facility in using computers (all simulations nowadays are run on computers). It helps to know how to write simple programs, although the first half of this book does not demand any programming knowledge at all, and the second half needs only a beginner’s level of skill.

Simulation introduces the possibility of a new way of thinking about social and economic processes, based on ideas about the emergence of complex behaviour from relatively simple activities (Simon 1996). These ideas, which are gaining currency not only in the social sciences but also in physics and biology, go under the name of complexity theory (see, by way of introduction, Waldrop 1992). However, we do not consider the theoretical implications of simulation in any depth in this book although there are frequent references to the theoretical foundations. Instead, the book

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