05 Feb @12:30

The third way version 2.0? How agent based modelling can transform our understanding of social behaviour

Speaker(s): Edmund Chattoe-Brown

Date: 12:30 on Mon, 05 Feb 2018

Duration: 1.5 hours

Seminar Series: Lunchtime Seminars

Lecture Theatre, Manor Road Building,Manor Road, Oxford, OX1 3UQ

The tension between qualitative and quantitative research and the associated criticisms of these approaches are well known across the social sciences. This talk proposes that there is a third distinctive way to understand social behaviour and that, like the existing ways, what makes it distinctive is the logic of its methodology. This “third way”, known as Agent-Based Modelling (hereafter ABM), is becoming increasingly well known as a technical tool but is far less well understood methodologically (even by many of its practitioners). The talk shows how, by misunderstanding the logic of its methodology, practitioners run the risk of eliminating its distinctive contribution and rendering it a less satisfactory version of existing approaches (which are themselves recognisably flawed). It also draws on diverse examples of ABM, both to show the current “state of the art” and to propose a detailed vision for social science based on the “third way” (which includes a discussion of currently open challenges in the field).

My intellectual career dates from the moment in an economics tutorial when I wondered what would happen if half the people in the UK made decisions based on rational choice and half using adaptive learning. I had seen no sign, in my undergraduate degree, of tools that could handle such questions. By serendipity, I was interested in Artificial Intelligence and this introduced me to the idea that you could understand complex behaviours (like vision and speech generation) more effectively by building computer models of them. Gradually (and with many false starts) I managed to “pin down” this idea so it was workable in a social science context, discover a specialised community of scholars who were already interested in this approach and find a permanent job that allowed me to pursue my interest. I have been doing that in diverse ways ever since. My enthusiasm for rigorous research methods and my heterodox preoccupations have exposed me to the merits of diverse academic disciplines while protecting me from being socialised into the preconceptions of any one. My vision is now that ABM should become a specialised but accepted research method across the social sciences (like Social Network Analysis for example) and my experience is that many of the divisions between these fields are needlessly artificial. The differences between what is needed to build a credible ABM in archaeology and criminology are, in my opinion, far more interesting. The most economical summary of my research interests is provided by my academia.edu page, which can be found at https://leicester.academia.edu/EdmundChattoeBrown.