The use of ethnographic social simulation for crime research*: From the field to the model

Vanessa Dirksen, Martin Neumann, Ulf Lotzmann

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


This chapter proposes a methodology for grounding agent-based social simulation in ethnographic data, using the example of crime research. The application of computational tools in crime research typically entails removal of the “intelligible frame” of criminal behaviour and, hence, of meaningful evidence. Ethnography is a microscopic research tradition geared towards the preservation of contextualized meaning deemed essential for the exploration of the variety of prospective alternative scenarios and, hence, of plausible futures. On the basis of exemplary empirical material from a qualitative study on the transit trade of cocaine in the Netherlands, this chapter looks into the complementarity and potential integration of the research traditions of ethnography and agent-based modelling (ABM). That is to say, it explores the compatibility of the formal languages of both these domains and the mutual benefit of “stitching together” these, at first sight, very different methods. The ethnographic approach to social simulation specifies the what-if relations of traditional/conventional ABM modelling into condition-action sequences. As we contend, it is exactly this more microscopic level of condition-action sequences that is needed to facilitate “thick description” and, in turn, enable the grounding of ABM in meaningful evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAn Interpretive Account to Agent-based Social Simulation
Subtitle of host publicationUsing Criminology to Explore Cultural Possibilities
EditorsMartin Neumann
PublisherTaylor and Francis AS
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781003393207
ISBN (Print)9781032489704, 9781032493237
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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