Idea and Motivation

Computer simulations have become ubiquitous in various sciences, predominantly in natural sciences. In the past years, however, the fraction of research incorporating computer simulations has been growing also in the humanities. This is in part due to the introduction of a specific kind of a simulation, namely the agent-based modeling.
What makes this approach so appealing to scientists in different research areas is its idea of simulating interactions between heterogeneous and independent units that sets it apart from linear models focusing on system dynamics or based on aggregates of homogeneous elements.

Thanks to this characteristic of agent-based modeling, the individual human actors can be represented in computer simulations and hypotheses can easily be formalized. Moreover, the agent-based modeling approach is embedded in a theoretical framework that helps to explain phenomena otherwise not easily to explain. This is due to its essential conception that many complex phenomena are results of a multitude of inter-actions on a lower scale.
In this way, for example, the functioning of a regional water distribution system on Bali can be explained by the interactions of local water temples that are acting according to a set of traditional rules. By designing an agent-based model based on fieldwork data, Lansing and Kremer (1993) were able to prove the central role of these temples for water management practices in the region and to illustrate the emergence of regional scale properties providing a sustainable water management system.
Other than in this example most of the research currently using agent-based models tends to exclude the cultural dimension of human conceptions and actions or reduces its role by including them only in functionally distinct sub-models.

It is our belief that agent-based modelling research would benefit from taking into account the inherent complexity of culture. In order for it to gain broader acceptance among researchers within the humanities, the appropriate integration of the cultural dimension of human behavior is in our opinion a necessary precondition of success.

Literature cited

Lansing, J.S. & J.N. Kremer (1993). Emergent properties of Balinese water temples. American Anthropologist 95 (1), 97-114.