Structure, Flow, Change: Toward a Social Systems Simulation Methodology1

Roland Werner, Ph.D.

Social Systems Simulation Group

San Diego, CA 92166-0904



In developing models of social systems, computer simulation methodology is usually limited to simulation languages that carry with them the burden of built in metaphors that must be adapted to social systems, e.g., SWARM (masses of automata), MATHEMATICA (mathematically abstract), STELLA (plumbing), SIMPROCESS (business process), etc. Also, many of these languages call for the researcher's sophisticated programming capability that detracts from social systems model making. Further, each computer program is a prototype making it difficult for the accumulation of knowledge by combining or elaborating existing models.

The metaphor I propose here focuses on the structure of the social system, its elements, and the relevant social relationships among these elements. Elements themselves may be systems and systems may become elements in larger systems. Since these systems deal with the human frames-of-reference, they are limited to causation on the human scale. In this frame-of-reference, time is assumed to be given and is always treated as "running down." The system passes from state to state through social processes that determine the transition probabilities for state changes. When a state change occurs the time for this change is computed. This State/ Process Dynamic Model (SPDM)(TM) can result in several outcomes. The social system can evolve (become more elaborated and complex). It can remain the same, or it can devolve (become more simple, disintegrate and become extinct).

Preliminary design criteria are discussed for implementing this State/ Process Dynamic Model (SPDM)(TM) in Java. Java is selected to treat social systems as objects and make the underlying computer program as machine independent as possible. Notions of GUI pallet design are used for implementing social systems models. The final objective of social systems simulation is to be able to use the resulting models for sociological experimentation.



systems metaphor, General Systems Theory, open system, structure, system state change, flow, time, change, social system modeling, dynamic social process, conditional transition probability, social systems simulation, computer simulation, simulation methodology, laboratory instrument, sociological experiment, object oriented language, Java, secondary research, innovation diffusion, emergent diffusion process, awareness process, geographic spatial process, social network process, impersonal information process, adoption process


1Copyright 8 2000 by Social Systems Simulation Group; . This paper was presented at the Linton C. Freeman Festschrift, at Sunbelt XX: International Sunbelt Social Network Conference, Vancouver, BC, Canada, April 13-16, 2000; . Roland Werner is a part-time lecturer in Sociology at San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182-4423. I would like to thank the various readers for their many useful suggestions to make this paper more understandable: Suzanne Amundson- Werner, MA Educational Technology; Sunday Garrett, Sociology graduate student, SDSU; Lisa Wallace, Sociology graduate student, SDSU; Oswald Werner, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Northwestern University.


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Social Systems Simulation Group
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San Diego, CA  92166-0904
Roland Werner, Principal
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