Computational sociology

Computational sociology

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Computational sociology is a branch of sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 that uses computationally intensive methods to analyze and model social phenomena. Using computer simulation
Computer simulation
A computer simulation, a computer model, or a computational model is a computer program, or network of computers, that attempts to simulate an abstract model of a particular system...

s, artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

, complex statistical methods, and new analytic approaches like social network analysis, computational sociology develops and tests theories of complex social processes through bottom-up modeling of social interactions.

It involves the understanding of social agents, the interaction among these agents, and the effect of these interactions on the social aggregate. Although the subject matter and methodologies in social science differ from those in natural science
Natural science
The natural sciences are branches of science that seek to elucidate the rules that govern the natural world by using empirical and scientific methods...

 or computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

, several of the approaches used in contemporary social simulation
Simulation
Simulation is the imitation of some real thing available, state of affairs, or process. The act of simulating something generally entails representing certain key characteristics or behaviours of a selected physical or abstract system....

 originated from fields such as physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 and artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

. Some of the approaches that originated in this field have been imported into the natural sciences, such as measures of network centrality
Centrality
Within graph theory and network analysis, there are various measures of the centrality of a vertex within a graph that determine the relative importance of a vertex within the graph...

 from the fields of social network analysis and network science
Network science
Network science is a new and emerging scientific discipline that examines the interconnections among diverse physical or engineered networks, information networks, biological networks, cognitive and semantic networks, and social networks. This field of science seeks to discover common principles,...

.

In relevant literature, computational sociology is often related to the study of social complexity
Social complexity
In the discipline of sociology, social complexity is a theoretical construct useful in the analysis of society.- Overview :Contemporary definitions of complexity in the sciences are found in relation to systems theory, where a phenomenon under study has many parts and many possible arrangements of...

. Social complexity concepts such as complex systems
Complex systems
Complex systems present problems in mathematical modelling.The equations from which complex system models are developed generally derive from statistical physics, information theory and non-linear dynamics, and represent organized but unpredictable behaviors of systems of nature that are considered...

, non-linear interconnection among macro and micro process, and emergence
Emergence
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems....

, have entered the vocabulary of computational sociology. A practical and well-known example is the construction of a computational model in the form of an "artificial society
Artificial society
Artificial Society is the specific agent based computational model for computer simulation in social analysis. It is mostly connected to the theme in complex system, emergence, Monte Carlo Method, computational sociology, multi-agent system, and evolutionary programming. The concept itself is...

," by which researchers can analyze the structure of a social system
Social structure
Social structure is a term used in the social sciences to refer to patterned social arrangements in society that are both emergent from and determinant of the actions of the individuals. The usage of the term "social structure" has changed over time and may reflect the various levels of analysis...

.

History




Systems theory and structural functionalism



In the post-war era, Vannevar Bush
Vannevar Bush
Vannevar Bush was an American engineer and science administrator known for his work on analog computing, his political role in the development of the atomic bomb as a primary organizer of the Manhattan Project, the founding of Raytheon, and the idea of the memex, an adjustable microfilm viewer...

's differential analyser
Differential analyser
The differential analyser is a mechanical analogue computer designed to solve differential equations by integration, using wheel-and-disc mechanisms to perform the integration...

, John von Neumann
John von Neumann
John von Neumann was a Hungarian-American mathematician and polymath who made major contributions to a vast number of fields, including set theory, functional analysis, quantum mechanics, ergodic theory, geometry, fluid dynamics, economics and game theory, computer science, numerical analysis,...

's cellular automata
Von Neumann cellular automata
Von Neumann cellular automata are the original expression of cellular automata, the development of which were prompted by suggestions made to John von Neumann by his close friend and fellow mathematician Stanisław Ulam...

, Norbert Wiener
Norbert Wiener
Norbert Wiener was an American mathematician.A famous child prodigy, Wiener later became an early researcher in stochastic and noise processes, contributing work relevant to electronic engineering, electronic communication, and control systems.Wiener is regarded as the originator of cybernetics, a...

's cybernetics
Cybernetics
Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to information theory, control theory and systems theory, at least in its first-order form...

, and Claude Shannon's information theory
Information theory
Information theory is a branch of applied mathematics and electrical engineering involving the quantification of information. Information theory was developed by Claude E. Shannon to find fundamental limits on signal processing operations such as compressing data and on reliably storing and...

 became influential paradigms for modeling and understanding complexity in technical systems. In response, scientists in disciplines such as physics, biology, electronics, and economics began to articulate a general theory of systems
Systems theory
Systems theory is the transdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of elucidating principles that can be applied to all types of systems at all nesting levels in all fields of research...

 in which all natural and physical phenomena are manifestations of interrelated elements in a system that have common patterns and properties. Following Émile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

's call to analyze complex modern society sui generis
Sui generis
Sui generis is a Latin expression, literally meaning of its own kind/genus or unique in its characteristics. The expression is often used in analytic philosophy to indicate an idea, an entity, or a reality which cannot be included in a wider concept....

, post-war structural functionalist sociologists such as Talcott Parsons
Talcott Parsons
Talcott Parsons was an American sociologist who served on the faculty of Harvard University from 1927 to 1973....

 seized upon these theories of systematic and hierarchical interaction among constituent components to attempt to generate grand unified sociological theories, such as the AGIL paradigm
AGIL Paradigm
The AGIL paradigm is a sociological scheme created by American sociologist Talcott Parsons in the 1950s. It is a systematic depiction of certain societal functions, which every society must meet to be able to maintain stable social life...

. Sociologists such as George Homans argued that sociological theories should be formalized into hierarchical structures of propositions and precise terminology from which other propositions and hypotheses could be derived and operationalized into empirical studies. Because computer algorithms and programs had been used as early as 1956 to test and validate mathematical theorems, such as the four color theorem
Four color theorem
In mathematics, the four color theorem, or the four color map theorem states that, given any separation of a plane into contiguous regions, producing a figure called a map, no more than four colors are required to color the regions of the map so that no two adjacent regions have the same color...

, social scientists and systems dynamicists anticipated that similar computational approaches could "solve" and "prove" analogously formalized problems and theorems of social structures and dynamics.

Macrosimulation and microsimulation



By the late 1960s and early 1970s, social scientists used increasingly available computing technology to perform macro-simulations of control and feedback processes in organizations, industries, cities, and global populations. These models used differential equations to predict population distributions as holistic functions of other systematic factors such as inventory control, urban traffic, migration, and disease transmission. Although simulations of social systems received substantial attention in the mid-1970s after the Club of Rome
Club of Rome
The Club of Rome is a global think tank that deals with a variety of international political issues. Founded in 1968 at Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, Italy, the CoR describes itself as "a group of world citizens, sharing a common concern for the future of humanity." It consists of current and...

 published reports predicting global environmental catastrophe based upon the predictions of global economy simulations, the inflammatory conclusions also temporarily discredited the nascent field by demonstrating the extent to which results of the models are highly sensitive to the specific quantitative assumptions
Garbage In, Garbage Out
Garbage in, garbage out is a phrase in the field of computer science or information and communication technology. It is used primarily to call attention to the fact that computers will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical of input data and produce nonsensical output...

 (backed by little evidence, in the case of the Club for Rome) made about the model's parameters. As a result of increasing skepticism about employing computational tools to make predictions about macro-level social and economic behavior, social scientists turned their attention toward micro-simulation models to make forecasts and study policy effects by modeling aggregate changes in state of individual-level entities rather than the changes in distribution at the population level. However, these micro-simulation models did not permit individuals to interact or adapt and were not intended for basic theoretical research.

Cellular automata and agent-based modeling



The 1970s and 1980s were also a time when physicists and mathematicians were attempting to model and analyze how simple component units, such as atoms, give rise to global properties, such as complex material properties at low temperatures, in magnetic materials, and within turbulent flows. Using cellular automata, scientists were able to specify systems consisting of a grid of cells in which each cell only occupied some finite states and changes between states were solely governed by the states of immediate neighbors. Along with advances in artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

 and microcomputer
Microcomputer
A microcomputer is a computer with a microprocessor as its central processing unit. They are physically small compared to mainframe and minicomputers...

 power, these methods contributed to the development of "chaos theory
Chaos theory
Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the...

" and "complexity theory
Complex systems
Complex systems present problems in mathematical modelling.The equations from which complex system models are developed generally derive from statistical physics, information theory and non-linear dynamics, and represent organized but unpredictable behaviors of systems of nature that are considered...

" which, in turn, renewed interest in understanding complex physical and social systems across disciplinary boundaries. Research organizations explicitly dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of complexity were also founded in this era: the Santa Fe Institute
Santa Fe Institute
The Santa Fe Institute is an independent, nonprofit theoretical research institute located in Santa Fe and dedicated to the multidisciplinary study of the fundamental principles of complex adaptive systems, including physical, computational, biological, and social systems.The Institute houses a...

 was established in 1984 by scientists based at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

 and the BACH group at the University of Michigan
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

 likewise started in the mid-1980s.

This cellular automata paradigm gave rise to a third wave of social simulation emphasizing agent-based modeling. Like micro-simulations, these models emphasized bottom-up designs but adopted four key assumptions that diverged from microsimulation: autonomy, interdependency, simple rules, and adaptive behavior. Agent-based models are less concerned with predictive accuracy and instead emphasize theoretical development. In 1981, mathematician and political scientist Robert Axelrod
Robert Axelrod
Robert M. Axelrod is an American political scientist. He is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Michigan where he has been since 1974. He is best known for his interdisciplinary work on the evolution of cooperation, which has been cited in numerous articles...

 and evolutionary biologist W.D. Hamilton published a major paper in Science
Science (journal)
Science is the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is one of the world's top scientific journals....

titled "The Evolution of Cooperation" which used an agent-based modeling approach to demonstrate how social cooperation based upon reciprocity can be established and stabilized in a Prisoner's dilemma
Prisoner's dilemma
The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game, analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W...

 game when agents followed simple rules of self-interest. Axelrod and Hamilton demonstrated that individual agents following a simple rule set of (1) cooperate on the first turn and (2) thereafter replicate the partner's previous action were able to develop "norms" of cooperation and sanctioning in the absence of canonical sociological constructs such as demographics, values, religion, and culture as preconditions or mediators of cooperation. Throughout the 1990s, scholars like William Sims Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who currently resides in Virginia. He is co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the National Science Foundation and also teaches sociology as a part-time professor at George Mason University. He is the first Senior Fellow to be appointed by...

, Kathleen Carley
Kathleen Carley
Kathleen M. Carley is an American social scientist specializing in dynamic network analysis. She is a professor in the School of Computer Science in the Institute for Software Research International at Carnegie Mellon University and also holds appointments in the Tepper School of Business, the...

, Michael Macy, and John Skvoretz developed multi-agent-based models of generalized reciprocity, prejudice
Prejudice
Prejudice is making a judgment or assumption about someone or something before having enough knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy, or "judging a book by its cover"...

, social influence
Social influence
Social influence occurs when an individual's thoughts, feelings or actions are affected by other people. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales, and marketing...

, and organizational information processing
Information processing
Information processing is the change of information in any manner detectable by an observer. As such, it is a process which describes everything which happens in the universe, from the falling of a rock to the printing of a text file from a digital computer system...

. In 1999, Nigel Gilbert
Nigel Gilbert
Nigel Gilbert is a British sociologist and a pioneer in the use of agent-based models in the social sciences. He is the founder and director of the Centre for Research in Social Simulation , author of several books on computational social sciences, social simulation and social research and editor...

 published the first textbook on Social Simulation: Simulation for the social scientist and established its most relevant journal: the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation
Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation
The Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal created and edited by Nigel Gilbert . The journal publishes articles in computational sociology, social simulation, complexity science, and artificial societies. Its approach is...

.

Data mining and social network analysis



Independent from developments in computational models of social systems, social network analysis emerged in the 1970s and 1980s from advances in graph theory, statistics, and studies of social structure as a distinct analytical method and was articulated and employed by sociologists like James S. Coleman
James S. Coleman
James Samuel Coleman was a renowned American sociologist, theorist and empirical researcher. He was elected president of the American Sociological Association. Coleman studied the sociology of education, public policy, and was one of the earliest users of the term "social capital". His...

, Harrison White
Harrison White
Harrison Colyar White is the emeritus Giddings Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. White is an influential scholar in the domain of social networks. He is credited with the development of a number of mathematical models of social structure including vacancy chains and blockmodels...

, Linton Freeman, J. Clyde Mitchell
J. Clyde Mitchell
James Clyde Mitchell was a British sociologist and anthropologist....

, Mark Granovetter
Mark Granovetter
Professor Mark Granovetter is an American sociologist at Stanford University who has created theories in modern sociology since the 1970s. He is best known for his work in social network theory and in economic sociology, particularly his theory on the spread of information in social networks known...

, Ronald Burt, and Barry Wellman
Barry Wellman
Barry Wellman, FRSC directs NetLab as the S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. His areas of research are community sociology, the Internet, human-computer interaction and social structure, as manifested in social networks in communities and organizations...

. The increasing pervasiveness of computing and telecommunication technologies throughout the 1980s and 1990s demanded analytical techniques, such as network analysis
Network analysis
Network analysis can refer to:* Analysis of general networks: see Network theory.* Electrical network analysis see Network analysis .* Social network analysis.You may also be interested in Network planning and design...

 and multilevel modeling, that could scale to increasingly complex and large data sets. The most recent wave of computational sociology, rather than employing simulations, uses network analysis and advanced statistical techniques to analyze large-scale computer databases of electronic proxies for behavioral data. Electronic records such as email and instant message records, hyperlinks on the World Wide Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

, mobile phone usage, and discussion on Usenet
Usenet
Usenet is a worldwide distributed Internet discussion system. It developed from the general purpose UUCP architecture of the same name.Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis conceived the idea in 1979 and it was established in 1980...

 allow social scientists to directly observe and analyze social behavior at multiple points in time and multiple levels of analysis without the constraints of traditional empirical methods such as interviews, participant observation, or survey instruments. Continued improvements in machine learning
Machine learning
Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, is a scientific discipline concerned with the design and development of algorithms that allow computers to evolve behaviors based on empirical data, such as from sensor data or databases...

 algorithms likewise have permitted social scientists and entrepreneurs to use novel techniques to identify latent and meaningful patterns of social interaction and evolution in large electronic datasets.

Journals and academic publications


The most relevant journal of the discipline is the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation
Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation
The Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal created and edited by Nigel Gilbert . The journal publishes articles in computational sociology, social simulation, complexity science, and artificial societies. Its approach is...

.

Associations, Conferences, & Workshops


North American Association for Computational Social and Organization Sciences

Academic Programs & Departments & Degrees


Centers & Institutes


See also

  • Artificial Society
    Artificial society
    Artificial Society is the specific agent based computational model for computer simulation in social analysis. It is mostly connected to the theme in complex system, emergence, Monte Carlo Method, computational sociology, multi-agent system, and evolutionary programming. The concept itself is...

  • Simulated reality
    Simulated reality
    Simulated reality is the proposition that reality could be simulated—perhaps by computer simulation—to a degree indistinguishable from "true" reality. It could contain conscious minds which may or may not be fully aware that they are living inside a simulation....

  • Social simulation
    Social simulation
    Social simulation is a research field that applies computational methods to study issues in the social sciences. The issues explored include problems in sociology, political science, economics, anthropology, geography, archaeology and linguistics ....

  • Agent Based Social Simulation

External links