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You are in Geoinformatics - Creative Commons :: Spatio-Temporal Information for Society Course

Spatio-Temporal Information for Society

Professor: Gilberto Câmara


The course “Spatio-temporal information in society” is focused on the spatial representation and spatial analysis of phenomena that result from societal or from nature-society interaction. Phenomena such as segregation, land change, resource depletion, epidemic spread, and social exclusion arise from the interaction between humans and between humans and nature. Individual actions and decisions at microlevel result on emergent patters at macrolevel. The focus of the course is on agent-based modelling for understanding societal and nature-society interactions. The aim is to present the users the ideas of complex systems and cooperation and competition for resources, and use ABMs to develop behavioural models that express societal problems in both artificial and real-world situations.


“The biggest problem with models is the fact that they are made by humans who tend to shape or use their models in ways that mirror their own notion of what a desirable outcome would be.” (John Firor, formed director of NCAR, cited in Myanna Lahsen's paper “Seductive Simulations”.

There are certain similarities between a work of fiction and a model: Just as we may wonder how much the characters in a novel are drawn from real life and how much is artifice, we might ask the same of a model; How much is based on observation and measurement of accessible phenomena, how much is based on informed judgment, and how much is convenience? (Naomi Oreskes, professor of History of Science, also cited by Myanna Lahsen).

“A model is clear, decisive, and positive, but it is believed by no one but the man who created it. Observations, on the other hand, are messy, inexact things, which are believed by everyone except the man who did that work”. Harlow Shapley, American astronomer

Conclusion: to understand what models are, a scientist needs to be able to develop models himself. He needs to master computer programs that allow him to grasp the basics of modelling activity. He needs to be understand the different techniques used in modelling and their limitations.


Please look at the following page for instructions on software configuration.

Main reference books

  • Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows, Chelsea Green, 2008.
  • Modeling the Environment, Andrew Ford, Island, 2009. See the book website.
  • Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life, John H. Miller & Scott Page, Princeton University Press, 2007.
  • Simulation for the Social Scientist, N Gilbert, K. Troitzsch. Open University Press, 2005. Wiley, 2004.
  • Agent-Based Models of Geographical Systems, A. J. Heppenstall, A. T. Crooks, L. M. See, Michael Batty (Editors). Springer-Verlag, 2011.
  • Growing Artificial Societies: Social Science from the Bottom Up, J. M. Epstein and R. L. Axtell. MIT Press, 1996.

Additional references

  • Geosimulation: Automata-based modeling of urban phenomena. I. Benenson, P. Torrens.
  • Rules, Games, and Common-Pool Resources. E. Ostrom, R. Gardner, J. Walker. University of Michigan Press, 1994.
  • The Construction of Social Reality, John R. Searle, Free Press, 2007.

Course 2013

st-society.txt · Last modified: 2015/11/13 06:14 by gilberto