Building on Social Science

Theoretic Foundations for Modelers

Published in: Social-Behavioral Modeling for Complex Systems, Chapter 4 (2019). doi: 10.1002/9781119485001.ch4

Posted on RAND.org on June 11, 2019

by Benjamin P. Nyblade, Angela O'Mahony, Katharine Sieck

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Social scientists predominantly engage in mid-level theorizing and empirical research, which presents distinct challenges for building models. The default theoretic and empirical approaches vary across social scientific disciplines, and the validity of most social scientific theoretical and empirical research is context dependent, making integration and cumulation of knowledge difficult. Social scientific modelers need to be aware of the challenges in building models based on mid-level theoretical frameworks and empirical research where the most common causal mechanisms involve unobserved, and potentially unobservable, mental states. This chapter begins with an overview of key social scientific theoretic frameworks that researchers draw on to build models, focusing in turn on atomistic models of individual behavior before turning to social determinants of individual behavior and theories of interaction and group behavior. While the range of theoretic frameworks used across the contemporary social sciences is diverse, they share common features that create distinct challenges for data collection and model building. With these challenges however come opportunities for building useful social scientific models that leverage cross-disciplinary perspectives and a wider range of social scientific theories.

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