Emergence and Communication in Computational Sociology

Mauricio Salgado, Nigel Gilbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Computational sociology models social phenomena using the concepts of emergence and downward causation. However, the theoretical status of these concepts is ambiguous; they suppose too much ontology and are invoked by two opposed sociological interpretations of social reality: the individualistic and the holistic. This paper aims to clarify those concepts and argue in favour of their heuristic value for social simulation. It does so by proposing a link between the concept of emergence and Luhmann's theory of communication. For Luhmann, society emerges from the bottom-up as communication and he describes the process by which society limits the possible selections of individuals as downward causation. It is argued that this theory is well positioned to overcome some epistemological drawbacks in computational sociology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-110
Number of pages24
JournalJournal for the Theory of Social Behaviour
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Communication
  • Computational sociology
  • Downward causation
  • Emergence
  • Niklas Luhmann

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • General Psychology


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