Writing on Agent-based Computational Modeling

During the last decade, research on/using agent-based computational modelling has spread impressively quickly. One of the indicators of this diffusion process is the number of special issues published by leading scientific journals in a variety of disciplines including computer science, economics, geography and ecology, and sociology. General, trans-disciplinary journals, like PNAS and Nature also devoted special issues, or focused sections, to this method.

When we decided to set this special issue up, Peter Hedström and I wanted to contribute to make agent-based modeling enter the standard methodological toolbox of sociologists, thus counter-acting the tendency of some authors to relegate this method to specific sub-communities that define themselves above all as “ABM users”. In the introduction to the special issue, we formulated this motivation in the following way:

“Agent-based modelers used to form a community of their own with their own journals and annual meetings. This is gradually changing, however. Researchers using agent-based modeling are no longer ‘‘agent-based modelers’’ but substantively oriented scholars who use the technique when deemed useful for the problem at hand. As a consequence, we now start to see innovative research that uses agent-based models in novel combinations with more traditional methods, as well as new ways of combining empirical or experimental data and agent-based simulations (…). The trends described are represented in the contributions to this special issue. The end product is a set of essays that illustrates in various ways the flexibility and power of agent-based modeling. (…)”

IF you want to read more, please go to SMR website.





My original motivation to submit a project for a special issue on agent-based modeling to the Revue Française de Sociologie was a simple fact: no French central sociological journal seemed pay attention to the interest raised by this simulation method within the international community.
In my opinion, this was somewhat paradoxical. Historically, leading figures of French sociology was far ahead of their time when, in the sixties and seventies, contributed to introduce the idea of generative models in sociology and suggested computer simulations as a promising tool to study this kind of models. To find a special issue devoted to simulation by a journal strongly related to the French sociological community, one has indeed to go back to that time, when Raymond Boudon edited in 1965 “Simulation in Sociology” for the Archives Européennes de Sociologie in which even pioneering, although ignored and forgotten, agent-based simulations ante litteram are presented (see Torsten Hägerstrand’s article).
To fill this gap, I submitted my proposal to the Revue Française de Sociologie in 2011. The project was accepted in 2012 and the call for papers (in French and English) was sent out in April 2012. Thirty abstracts were received from scholars belonging from different countries. At the end of a two-year long selection and review process, we ended up with one meta-reflexive article (by Pierre Livet et alii), three original empirically-oriented studies –applying agent-based modeling to attitude change and diffusion (by Antonio A. Casilli et alii), tax behaviours (by José A. Noguera et alii), and on-line discussions (by Simone Gabbriellini)–, and one long review essay (by Flaminio Squazzoni).
My own article was requested by the RFS board as a general introduction to the field. Substantively, the main argument I defend is that the trait that fundamentally distinguishes agent-based modeling from other formal modeling techniques is the granularity it allows for the design of mechanism-based models. With the aim to help newcomers, I also provide a 7-step guide for a self-training in agent-based modeling.

The issue's full table of contents can be consulted here.
The full issue can be accessed through Cairn.
A (partial) review (In French) of the issue can be found here.

Minor writings.

My very first thoughts on computer simulations were presented in a short chapter published in Italian in 2004. In this paper I discussed simulation from four different viewpoints: 1/ simulation as a tool to improve the quality of sociological theory; 2/ simulation as a tool to implement the mechanism-based thinking in sociology; 3/ simulation as a tool to help the integration of the micro- and macro-levels of analysis; 4/ simulation as a third way between the quantitative and the qualitative approach.

Read the paper (in Italian) --Manzo, G. (2004) “Appunti sulla simulazione al computer. Un metodo attraente per la ricerca sociologica”, in C. Corposanto (ed.), Metodologia e tecniche non-intrusive nella ricerca sociale, Milano, Franco Angeli, ch. 9, 183-197.