James P Houghton

James Houghton - About Me

This is what my face looks like.

I am a doctoral student in the Sloan School of Management at MIT, in the System Dynamics Group.

As an undergraduate I studied aerospace engineering, and developed a taste for complex systems modeling. After graduation, I worked in an R+D lab for a drone aircraft company, and modeled systems whose structure was purposefully designed to create a specific behavior.

I now model social systems, in which the structure of the system emerges from the interactions of human actors in an organic fashion. While the systems themselves are different; and the intention is understanding and influence, rather than design and construction; the process of modeling is quite similar.

In both engineering and social systems modeling, I do my best to represent the structure of the system in a formal, mathematical way, and through simulation understand how that structure gives rise to the system’s behavior.

My hope now is to use my ability to understand and model systems to find policies for wiser action in the world.

Research Interests

I’m interested in understanding social movements as complex, emergent systems. I spend a lot of time thinking about how traditional, qualitative theories and mechanisms for explaining social movement behavior can be formalized as models and simulated.

I also have a methodological interest in using social data and modern analytics together with systems models. I’m interested in how models can give shape and meaning to data, and to how data can make models concrete and actionable.


There are a number of fundamental challenges our world must face in the 21st century, and Climate Change may be one of the most difficult. The climate system must be understood with the help of complex system models, and the policies that are needed to respond to climate change must be grounded in such an understanding.

The process of policy development itself is embedded within a complex, human system and manifests as much complexity as the underlying problem. The tools of system modeling can be just as useful in helping understand how to put in place wise policies for responding to climate change as they are in understanding what those policies should be in the first place.

I am lucky enough to find myself with both the interest and abilities to consider these models, and so have chosen to give them my attention.