Formal Modeling in Social Science

Carol Mershon and Olga Shvetsova
How to move from textbook exercises to using formal modeling in real research.


A formal model in the social sciences builds explanations when it structures the reasoning underlying a theoretical argument, opens venues for controlled experimentation, and can lead to hypotheses. Yet more importantly, models evaluate theory, build theory, and enhance conjectures. Formal Modeling in Social Science addresses the varied helpful roles of formal models and goes further to take up more fundamental considerations of epistemology and methodology.

The authors integrate the exposition of the epistemology and the methodology of modeling and argue that these two reinforce each other. They illustrate the process of designing an original model suited to the puzzle at hand, using multiple methods in diverse substantive areas of inquiry. The authors also emphasize the crucial, though underappreciated, role of a narrative in the progression from theory to model.

Transparency of assumptions and steps in a model means that any analyst will reach equivalent predictions whenever she replicates the argument. Hence, models enable theoretical replication, essential in the accumulation of knowledge. Formal Modeling in Social Science speaks to scholars in different career stages and disciplines and with varying expertise in modeling.

“Political scientists spend too little time considering why we make formal models. Mershon and Shvetsova perform that task in a creative, provocative way. That allows them to show us systematically how to move from doing textbook exercises to actually using models in political inquiry. This is an excellent book.”
—James Johnson, University of Rochester
“This is a truly excellent book that both illustrates why formal modelling is an important tool for developing better theories in the social sciences, and provides a practical, step-by-step framework for using formal modelling.‚Äč Through the innovative use of narrative stories, the methods become more understandable and accessible. The arguments about theory-development as a back-and-forth process also align with the situation that researchers typically find themselves in. This book will be widely read and used.”
—Derek Beach, University of Aarhus, Denmark

Carol Mershon is Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia.

Olga Shvetsova is Professor of Political Science and Economics at Binghamton University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Seven papers consider the many roles of formal models in the social sciences, exploring fundamental considerations of the epistemology and methodology of formal modeling in social research"

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Review in the Journal of Economic Literature | December 2020

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 256pp.
  • 10 tables, 20 charts.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2019
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07423-5

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  • $80.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2019
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05423-7

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  • $29.95 U.S.

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