social unit


The term "level of analysis" is used in the s to point to the location, size, or scale of a research target. "Level of analysis" is distinct from the term "" in that the former refers to a more or less integrated set of relationships while the latter refers to the distinct unit from which data have been or will be gathered. Together, the and the level of analysis help define the of a research enterprise.

Level of analysis vs unit of analysis

Level of analysis is closely related to the term , and some scholars have used them interchangingly, while others argue for a need for distinction. Ahmet Nuri Yurdusev wrote that "the level of analysis is more of an issue related to the framework/context of analysis and the level at which one conducts one's analysis, whereas the question of the unit of analysis is a matter of the 'actor' or the 'entity' to be studied". Manasseh Wepundi noted the difference between "the unit of analysis, that is the phenomenon about which generalizations are to be made, that which each 'case' in the data file represents and the level of analysis, that is , the manner in which the units of analysis can be arrayed on a continuum from the very small (micro) to very large (macro) levels."

Analytical levels in social science

Although levels of analysis are not necessarily , there are three general levels into which research may fall: , level or , and level.

Micro level

The smallest unit of analysis in the is an individual in their social setting. At the micro level, also referred to as the local level, the research population typically is an individual in their social setting or a small group of individuals in a particular social context. Examples of micro levels of analysis include, but are not limited to, the following individual analysis type approach: * , , , * * * , * * *

Meso level

In general, a meso-level analysis indicates a size that falls between the micro and macro levels, such as a or an . However, meso level may also refer to analyses that are specifically designed to reveal connections between micro and macro levels. It is sometimes referred to as , especially in . Examples of meso-level units of analysis include the following: * * * * , , * *

Macro level

Macro-level analyses generally trace the outcomes of interactions, such as or other interactions over a large . It is also referred to as the global level. Examples of macro-level units of analysis include, but are not limited to, the following: * * * * *

Level of analysis in cognitive science

Marr's tri-level hypothesis

According to , information processing systems must be understood at three distinct yet complementary levels of analysis – an analysis at one level alone is not sufficient.


The computational level of analysis identifies ''what'' the information processing system does (e.g.: what problems does it solve or overcome) and similarly, why does it do these things.


The algorithmic/representational level of analysis identifies ''how'' the information processing system performs its computations, specifically, what representations are used and what processes are employed to build and manipulate the representations.


The physical level of analysis identifies how the information processing system is ''physically realized'' (in the case of biological vision, what neural structures and neuronal activities implement the visual system).

Poggio's learning level

After thirty years of the book ''Vision'' (David Marr. 1982. W. H. Freeman and Company), added one higher level beyond the computational level, that is the .

Level of analysis in political science

In , level of analysis is generally divided into three categories – , , and . However, newer discussions of globalization have led to a newer level of analysis to be considered. The framework of analysis originated from K. Waltz's 1959 book entitled ''Man, the State, and War''. An examination is J. Singer's "The Level-of-Analysis Problem in International Relations" (1961). While the framework is widely discussed, not many scholarly articles use it. Two writings may shed light on its advantages and disadvantages: M. Brawley's 2005 case studies of international economic relations and S. Hu's 2015 analysis of small states' diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. The three (or four) levels of analysis cannot describe every effect and there is unlimited number of levels between the three primary ones, levels of analysis will help understand how one force in affects another. Generally, power is the concept that collects all the analysis together. For example, the struggle for power may be the cause of war, but the struggle for power may originate in the individual human being's lust for power. The lust for power is individual level of analysis, while the struggle for power is systemic level of analysis.

Individual level

The individual level of analysis locates the cause of events in individual leaders or the immediate circle of decision makers within a particular country. It focuses on human actors on the world stage identifying the characteristics of human decision making. For example, the cause of is from the particular leaders in power at that time. is considered to be the level from which the cause originated. It may have been his need for power to hide a sense of inferiority, or it may have been his inability to understand the intricacies of , the way did. Or it may have been his idea about the and German destiny. All three possibilities are drawn from an individual level of analysis.

Domestic/state level

The domestic level of analysis locates causes in the character of the domestic system of specific states. Thus, war is caused by aggressive or warlike states, not by evil, inept, or misguided people or the structure of power in the international system. The failure of domestic institutions may also cause war. In , the internal collapse of the , or the brittle coalition inside of agricultural and industrial interest, such as and , are often cited as important causes. Domestic level cases may come from various characteristics of the domestic system. and economies generate different attitudes and behavior. The and religions or and nondemocratic political ideologies do as well. Stable and failed institutions are domestic level factors affecting state behavior. A great worry today is the existence of failed states, meaning states whose domestic institutions have broken down, such as . Another worry here is existence of a rogue state, such as , which may pass on to . Any type of state come from the domestic level of analysis, but a usually means an institutional breakdown at domestic level of analysis, whereas a often implies evil intentions by individual – individual level of analysis.

Systemic level

The systemic level of analysis explains outcomes from a system wide level that includes all states. It seeks explanations for international phenomena by considering the nature or structure of the international political system at the period under study. It takes into account both the position of states in the international system and their interrelationships. The position of states constitutes the systemic structural level of analysis. This involves the relative distribution of power, such as which state; great, middle, or small power, and ; such as which state is sea or land power. The interaction of states constitutes the systemic process level of analysis. At this level, we are concerned with which state aligns with which other states and which state negotiates with which other states. Thus, we can explain in terms of the absence of system wide institutions, such as , which was not created until after World War I to prevent such wars in the future. However, system wide institution does not always mean harmony among nations, as seen in the . The cause of is seen as the failure of a systemic institution, which led new institutions of the to carry on reformed legacy of the .

Global level

Global level factors are much like Systemic level factors, however the core difference is that global factors are not necessarily created by states, whereas systemic factors are. Global factors ''can'' be the outcome of individuals, interest groups, states, nonstate actors or even natural conditions – however they cannot be ''traced'' to the actions of any one state or even group of states. An example can be how the internet can shape how policy is formed, through social media or forums – where an idea is formed over time by a group of individuals, but the source is generally hard to determine. An environmental natural example is how global warming can help shape how society views certain policies, or help shape new policies themselves. Droughts caused by rising temperatures can cause global actors to form alliances to help procure critical resources – and as writers such as Peter Gleik and Michael Klare have shown, the possibility of "Water Wars" in dry countries in Africa and the Middle East are very possible.Oxford University Press. Introduction to Global Politics, Third edition.

See also

* * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* (2004). ''The Practice of Social Research'' (10th ed.), Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning Inc. . * Fisher et al. (2018) "Lack of group-to-individual generalizability is a threat to human subjects research". ''PNAS'', 115(27): 6106–6115. * Jepperson, Ronald and John W. Meyer (2011). "Multiple Levels of Analysis and the Limitations of Methodological Individualisms". ''Sociological Theory'', 29(1): 54–73.

External links

Rourke, John T. (2005). "Levels of analysis", from ''International Politics on the World Stage'', (10th ed.)

Megas, Achilleas (2008). "The Level Analysis Meta-theoretical Problem: International Studies Assessment". ''Third International Conference on Interdisciplinary Social Sciences''.
{{Social sciences Social science methodology