Diversity and complementarity of multi-agent models in the social sciences
Multi-agent systems have been used for fifteen years to simulate the dynamics of social phenomena. They help conceptualize interactions between an organized set of agents and to explore the structures that emerge through the formalization of complex situations where heterogeneous agents operate at various levels. This paper presents and discusses a framework of thought which articulates the relevant fields (empirical, conceptual, model) in a general way, and in the case of multi-agent systems. It then develops an analytical framework to capture the various uses of these systems, exploring in particular the methodological opposition between parsimonious models (KISS) and descriptive models (KIDS), which in fact reflect different stages in scientific investigation. Finally, it uses this framework and grid to analyse several examples from sociology, economics and geography (residential segregation, educational inequality, the emergence of norms, market operation, urban hierarchy) and concludes with methodological proposals based on an abductive approach to the use of multi-agent systems in social science.
Keywords. EPISTEMOLOGY AND METHODOLOGY OF SOCIAL SIMULATION – AGENT-BASED MODELING – COMPUTATIONAL SOCIAL SCIENCE – COMPLEX SYSTEM – MULTI-AGENT SYSTEMS