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A Model DisciplinePolitical Science and the Logic of Representations$
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Kevin A. Clarke and David M. Primo

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195382198

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195382198.001.0001

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What Is a Model?

What Is a Model?

(p.52) 3 What Is a Model?
A Model Discipline

Kevin A. Clarke

David M. Primo

Oxford University Press

Most political scientists would be hard-pressed to provide a definition of the term model that encompasses the many uses to which models can be put. Discussions of models in political science primarily focus on the construction and composition of models, as opposed to what models do or what models are. We are told that models “abstract from reality” and “simplify reality” and that models should “generate interesting hypotheses.” We are told that models contain assumptions and predictions. Without an understanding of what a model is, however, we cannot understand why or how models perform these functions, or why models are constructed in a particular way. In this chapter, we answer the question, “what is a model?” Our answer is that models should be viewed as tools or instruments, in particular, like maps. Both models and maps display limited accuracy, partially represent reality, and most importantly, reflect the interest of the user. That is, models and maps are “purpose relative.”

Keywords:   maps, models, semantic view, model-based view, theories

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