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2.1: Levels of Analysis

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    C. Wright Mills (1959) described the connection between personal struggles to public issues. He described that by understanding the personal struggles or conditions people confront, we foster awareness about how widespread the struggles are among people in society and the impact they have on everyone as a social problem. For example, by learning about the individual troubles and challenges one is facing with opioid addiction, sociologists get a good understanding about how these dilemmas might influence or manifest in other opioid addicts and provide insight into possible ways of combating the condition for everyone with a similar problem. Through scientific research, sociological practitioners not only gather and learn information to help individuals, they also use the data to infer or evaluate a problem on a larger scale to help society address the issue and those effected by the problem (i.e., individuals, family, friends, organizations, and communities).

    Sociological practitioners work on improving conditions for individuals and society as a whole. Basic, public, and applied sociologists gather research on personal issues to develop a framework for understanding public or social problems and possible solutions for improving human social life on a large scale. Public and applied sociologists specifically use scientific research to solve and improve social plights or conditions. Some practitioners choose to work with individuals to solve their personal issues or challenges using scientifically proven methods within the social context. These practitioners are clinical sociologists.

    There are three continuums or levels of social analysis in the field of sociology. A sociological practitioner works and solves problems within or across these continuums. Regardless of the level of analysis (macro, meso, or micro), a practitioner must learn about and understand all three continuums to find the best approach or solution to addressing the personal or public issue they are working to solve.

    Personal troubles influence and have consequences for individuals, families, friends, organizations, and communities. Sociological analysis of personal and public issues require comprehension about how people interact and live together (i.e., the social arrangement). Analyzing the macro, meso, and micro continuum gives us information about the social arrangement from three different levels.

    The macro continuum or macro level analysis examines large social units including global and national systems, policies, processes as well as large corporate structures, programs, and organizations. Macro level analysis includes exploration of broad scale social institutions including political and legal systems and processes, military systems and orders, economies, social welfare systems and processes, religions, educational systems and programs, and communication media (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Macro analysis also evaluates social adaptation and change such as the evolving roles of women in the workplace, politics, and leadership.

    Figure 1: This image "Alone Buildings City Cityscape" by Pixabay is licensed under CC BY 4.0

    In sociological practice, we must be aware of the systems, policies, processes, institutions, and organizations connected to personal and public issues or problems. Considering the issue of opioid addiction, a practitioner will need to assess the macro level arrangements involved in creating (drug manufacturers), supporting (drug cartels), and combating (criminal justice system) the problem.

    Midlevel or meso level analysis examines networks, communities, organizations, and groups. The meso continuum ranges from government agencies, corporations, universities, and small secondary groups including departments, units, or clubs (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). This level of analysis evaluates internal and external effectiveness, change, adaption, and intergroup relations of a network, community, or organization. Working on the opioid addiction epidemic, a sociological practitioner must investigate the meso level arrangements supporting and fighting addiction such as the Drug Enforcement Agency, Coast Guard, Purdue Pharma (leading manufacturer of the narcotic painkiller OxyContin), local law enforcement agencies, local mental health professionals, community addiction programs, family support groups, etc. The practitioner must understand how these groups influence each other, work together, and impede each other’s goals or mission around opioid addiction.

    Table 3: Continuums of Social Analysis. Attribution: Copyright Vera Kennedy, West Hills College Lemoore, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

    Level of Analysis

    Social Arrangement Examination


    Large social units

    • Systems
    • Structures
    • Policies
    • Processes
    • Institutions
    • Organizations


    Midlevel social units

    • Network
    • Community
    • Organization
    • Group


    Small social units

    • Interactions
    • Socialization
    • Relationships and roles
    • Thinking and motivation

    As you begin your professional career, you will need to learn about and understand the industry and organization you work in and the clientele you serve.

    1. Research organizations in your desired field or matching your career interest.
    2. Choose one organization for those you researched to learn more about for this application.
    3. Using a macro level of analysis, find out the systems, policies, processes, and institutions influencing or affecting the operations of the organization.
    4. Applying a meso level of analysis, investigate which networks, communities, external organizations, and external and internal groups shaping the organization.
    5. Exercising the micro level of analysis, explore different roles of people involved in the organization, the socialization process of individuals within the organization to learn and establish organizational norms and acceptance, relationships between internal and external people involved with the organization, hierarchy and dominance structures of individuals within and receiving services from the organization.

    The micro level examines small social units of which the individual is the social focus as a member of a specific social system (Bruhn and Rebach 207). To understand the individual, micro level analysis serves to identify interactions among individuals and relationships among group members. This level focuses on understanding the roles of individuals in groups, relationships between group members, hierarchy and dominance structures of individuals within groups, and the socialization process of individuals to learn and establish group norms and acceptance. Micro analysis also studies the motivation, self-esteem, and socio-emotional intelligence of individuals and small groups (Rosenberg and Turner 1990; Hochschild 1979). To understand opioid addiction at a micro level, sociological practitioners will examine the first opioid experience of addicts (who, what, where, when, and why), the personal and social group influences supporting addiction, and social groups or group members helping to combat or reduce addiction.

    This page titled 2.1: Levels of Analysis is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Vera Kennedy.