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SIMSOC  April 2019

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Subject:

Re: Definition of an agent

From:

"Penn, Alan" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Penn, Alan

Date:

Thu, 18 Apr 2019 10:14:51 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (1 lines)

A really good point Andy,



I have also been following this discussion which seems to come round on this list in a relatively regular cycle every few years. (**Incidentally it would be a fascinating project for anyone so inclined to analyse the nature of the debate as that has evolved over time - do we continually repeat the same set of issues or have substantively new issues emerged over time? Have individual contributors changed their position over time? Have new computational paradigms contributed to this?) 



I think that you point to a fundamental divide in the field between those that consider the agent to be the individual person (something that might at first glance be thought of as pretty straightforward to define… but which I suspect will turn out to be a bit more complex), and those that seek to represent higher level social groups as agents (households, clans, firms, institutions and so forth). The first group tend to work on the basis that the higher level groupings should ideally emerge from the interactions of individuals; the latter seem to me to be interested in a different set of questions, and believe that aggregate phenomena can be modelled directly at the group level.



The point that you make - that these social groups tend to persist and change over time in such a way that it is hard to tell when you are talking about the same ‘thing’ or something different - is a challenge for the definition of agent for the second group. The point that I would add is that the same might also be said of those that model individuals. I know from personal experience for example that my political views and so behaviour and actions, have varied over my life, both in response to different world events, my local context at different times, and as I have learned new things (and most probably forgotten other things). As an ‘agent’ I suspect that more than half of me is externally defined - ie by factors outside my individual body. Amongst those factors are the higher level social groupings of which I may be a member, or which otherwise influence my context. For this reason difficulty in defining the second group aggregate entities my turn out also to present a difficulty in defining the individual. 



Alan



> On 18 Apr 2019, at 10:08, Andy Turner <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> 

> Hi SIMSOC,

> 

> Thanks for the discussion.

> 

> The thread has split a bit, but I decided to reply to Edmund's message because of a point I wanted to make about households being complicated dynamic things comprised in part by people that can be represented as agents in models. Household may also be represented as an organisation type agent in models too.

> 

> I've done some demographic modelling work with people and households and quite a bit of data analysis too that has involved longitudinal data about people and households that reveal aspects of how they changed, dissolve and reform over time.

> 

> Often in this work there is also a need to consider family relationships and define kinship which I dare say is a bit easier to define than households, although adoption and the fact that sometimes it is unclear whether someone really is descended from anyone else in a family in a close and direct way (children have and probably will continue to be swapped and given away). Anyway, households evolve over time, at what point does it stop being the same household? Maybe not when it moves location. Maybe not when it loses a member, but what about bigger splits? The question is really rhetorical, I just wanted to point out the complexity in defining households.

> 

> Best wishes,

> 

> Andy

> https://eur01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.geog.leeds.ac.uk%2Fpeople%2Fa.turner%2Findex.html&amp;data=02%7C01%7Ca.penn%40UCL.AC.UK%7C4b6f1fcb8d684b0d90a308d6c3dd72c4%7C1faf88fea9984c5b93c9210a11d9a5c2%7C0%7C0%7C636911753212858488&amp;sdata=v0TspJBXgt2%2FFHieF0Fop8mQr9FHayfqpHruDyWw3XI%3D&amp;reserved=0

>   

> 

> 

> -----Original Message-----

> From: News and discussion about computer simulation in the social sciences <[log in to unmask]> On Behalf Of Edmund Chattoe-Brown

> Sent: 17 April 2019 11:31

> To: [log in to unmask]

> Subject: Re: [SIMSOC] Definition of an agent

> 

> Dear All,

> 

> I would take a different tack and say that one of the reasons why these sorts of definitional tasks are so difficult and controversial is because it is not clear what the _aim_ of definition is. What do we "gain" when we define (rather than just "illustrate") the concept of agents? You cannot remove some aspects of reality that you don't approve of just by definition (or people will argue with you endlessly). So how could one adjudicate "scientifically" the dispute about whether an agent must/needn't have "advanced reasoning capabilities?" (Which, of course, is another contestable definition and so on!)

> 

> An example. We can "define" a household as two married adults living in the same house with dependent children (and marriage and dependent also have formal definitions). Then we can do some statistics to show (perhaps) that this kind of household is correlated with educational success. But then we have to allow that it is not being married that creates this correlation but whether the household is "harmonious" (which some cohabitation is and some marriage is not) and whether the parents engage with and support their children's schooling (ditto). We have done the research starting from a clear definition (and that is good) but the definition has not "saved us" from the complexities of social life behind it. Given than many ABM are not so empirical, we cannot ask whether one definition rather than another generates "better designed" research or "better fit with data" (or some other "worthy" outcome) and that is another reason why (IMO) such discussions tend to be relatively unproductive.

> 

> All the best,

> 

> Edmund

> 

> -- 

>  Edmund Chattoe-Brown

>  [log in to unmask]

> 

> ########################################################################

> 

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