Experiments in particle physics have hitherto failed to produce any significant evidence for the many explicit models of physics beyond the Standard Model (BSM) that had been proposed over the past decades.
As a result, physicists have increasingly turned to model-independent strategies as tools in searching for a wide range of possible BSM effects.
In this paper, we describe the Standard Model Effective Field Theory (SM-EFT) and analyse it in the context of the philosophical discussions about models, theories, and (bottom-up) effective field theories.
We find that while the SM-EFT is a quantum field theory, assisting experimentalists in searching for deviations from the SM, in its general form it lacks some of the characteristic features of models.
Those features only come into play if put in by hand or prompted by empirical evidence for deviations.
Employing different philosophical approaches to models, we argue that the case study suggests not to take a view on models that is overly permissive because it blurs the lines between the different stages of the SM-EFT research strategies and glosses over particle physicists' motivations for undertaking this bottom-up approach in the first place.
Looking at EFTs from the perspective of modelling does not require taking a stance on some specific brand of realism or taking sides in the debate between reduction and emergence into which EFTs have recently been embedded.