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Simulation as a Social Process in Organizations



An emergent research literature is starting to cohere on simulation as a sociological process within organizations. This paper shines a spotlight on this scholarship, and offers new ways to think about the dizzying array of simulation we encounter in our organizational, institutional, and everyday lives. I define simulation as an empirical social process and show how they vary in consequence by their experiential modality, their referential frame, and their perceived realism. I then document three conceptual trends in the literature: (i) treating simulation as an organizational technique for risk management; (ii) a focus on virtual reality, video games, and moral ambiguity; and (iii) studies of the impact of computer simulation on scientific knowledge production and the reorganization of some technical fields, such as weapons research, artificial intelligence, and meteorology. Organizational uncertainty tends to coalesce around disputes about the appropriate qualities and functions of a given simulation technique or technology. I conclude the paper by identifying how the sociology of simulation can connect with more established areas of contemporary research within organizations, work and occupations, and institutional sociology.