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[Xmca-l] Re: units of analysis?

The interesting thing about that chapter, I think, Martin, is that after a protracted discussion of "unit of analysis" and a derivation of the triangle of triangles , he doesn't call the triangles a "unit of analysis" - he calls it a "root model". And I think is an apt characterisation of what it is.
*Andy Blunden*

Martin John Packer wrote:
Well, if it works for you, Helena..!  :)

Clearly Yrjo does claim that the triangle represents a dynamic system with contradictions. I'm still reading the chapter that Mike linked to, and I already some questions. But I'll wait until I read it all before posting.


On Oct 12, 2014, at 6:10 PM, Helena Worthen <helenaworthen@gmail.com> wrote:

On the contrary.

To me, that very affordance is one of the great things about activity theory and the activity system as a unit of analysis. A very simple example is that if you change something in the norms/customs/laws/history corner of the triangle (like win a court case that gives you a stronger footing in bargaining), then your tools also change. Another: if by bringing new members into the community (the base of the triangle) out of which division of labor raises the subjects, you may find yourself with a leadership team that is not all white, or not all primarily English-speaking, which in turn will change what tools/resources you have and may, if you're lucky and quick, change your history.

Helena Worthen

On Oct 12, 2014, at 2:54 PM, Martin John Packer wrote:

And what's neat about this way of thinking is that it implies that, once one understands the relationships among the components, one can bring about changes in one component in the totality by acting on *another* component of the totality.

The activity system triangle does not suggest to me this type of relationship among components. Instead, it seems to represent elements that are only accidentally brought together.


On Oct 12, 2014, at 2:43 PM, Martin John Packer <mpacker@uniandes.edu.co> wrote:

Seems to me the problem in many research projects is that the question is not formulated in an appropriate way. LSV was exploring a method of analysis that seeks to understand the relationship among components in a complex totality. Not the causal influence of one factor on another, which is often how students frame their research interest. And this means that the unit of analysis has to represent, exemplify, this relationship.


On Oct 12, 2014, at 1:31 PM, Helena Worthen <helenaworthen@gmail.com> wrote:

As someone who uses the concept of "unit of analysis" in a very down-to-earth, quick and dirty, applied way to shape collective responses to a crisis in a labor and employment relationships (like, when a rule changes creates difficulties for workers), I would agree with Andy:

The other thing is that discovering a unit of analysis is an *insight*. It
is not something that can be achieved by following a template, it is the
breakthrough in your research into some problem, the leap. It usually comes
*after* you've collected all the data for your research using some other
unit of analysis.
First comes the story, the details, the experiences. The question lying behind the telling of the stories is, "What are we going to do?" The unit of analysis gets defined by the purpose we are trying to accomplish. Are we trying to get the employer to back off temporarily? Are we trying get the rule changed? Example:  In a big hospital system in Chicago, clerical workers were no longer allowed to leave an "I'm going to be late to work today" or "I have to stay home with my sick kid today and will miss work" message on the answering machines of their supervisors. We're talking about a workforce with hundreds of employees, most of them middle aged minority women -- with grandchildren and extended families to be responsible for.  Not being allowed to leave a message on a machine, but being required to actually speak to a supervisor in person who would then keep a record of the call, was a problem because supervisors were often away from their desks and the whole phone syste
 m was unreliable. Also, a lot of workers didn't have cell phones at the time this was happening (2004) and pay phones are few and far between, so if someone it out buying more asthma inhalers for a grandkid, making a phone call is not easy.
So, exactly what is the purpose that we're trying to accomplish, here? To repeal the rule? To fix the phone system? To educate members of the union and other others about how to respond collectively to something that only affects some of them? To make a profound change in society so that middle-aged women are not the primary caretakers of an extended family? Pick one. Once you've picked one (hopefully, one that you can carry out) you can define the unit of analysis and then reviewing the whole Engestrom triangle and evaluating your strategy becomes, as Andy says, a matter of solving puzzles.
From the employer point of view, asking workers to actually speak to a live supervisor makes a certain sense. That's why we talk about activity system(s), not just one activity system. But they are often in conflict with each other, which adds to the drama.
Is the data in your study being gathered with some purpose in mind? Is the purpose the purpose of the children, the purpose of the class, or the purpose of the PhdD program?  To me, what would be most interesting would be a comparison between the unit of analysis (purposes of children) and unit of analysis (purpose of classroom). I'll bet they're not identical.


Helena Worthen

On Oct 12, 2014, at 10:20 AM, Katerina Plakitsi wrote:

This problem of the ' unit of analysis' is my concern too. I supervise
three PHD students on Science Education in a CHAT context. Two of them on
early childhood science education and one on primary science. They have
collected log files, children discourses consisted of
scientific justifications, accepted rules, and forms of division of labor.
They have collected children narratives, and drawings. When they decided to
analyze their data they follow different paths into CHAT context mainly
modeling them using Engestrom's triangle. They still doubt about the " unit
of analysis".

Στις Κυριακή, 12 Οκτωβρίου 2014, ο χρήστης Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>

Katie, picking up on your concern about units of analysis, it was one of
the points I mentioned in my "report" from ISCAR, that this concept was
almost lost to us. A phrase I heard a lot, and which was new for me, was
"unit to be analysed." If anyone knows the origin of this expression, I'd
be interested in hearing. It seemed to me that what it referred to was a
"closed system" for analysis, that is, abandoning CHAT methodology whilst
keeping the word. If I am mistaken about this, please let me know.

The other thing is that discovering a unit of analysis is an *insight*. It
is not something that can be achieved by following a template, it is the
breakthrough in your research into some problem, the leap. It usually comes
*after* you've collected all the data for your research using some other
unit of analysis. In Kuhn's terms, discovery of the unit is the new
paradigm, after which it is just a matter of solving puzzles. So for
graduate students to use the concept of unit in their research, often
depends on the wisdom of teh direction they get from their supervisor. I
don't know how many PhD students I've met who have got to this point in
their thesis and discover that the data they have is not the data they now
know they need.


*Andy Blunden*

Katherine Wester Neal wrote:

I like Holli's plan to commit some time to reading the two articles. But,
as usual, I don't know that I'll have much to contribute in posts. I
usually get deep in thinking about the posts and don't follow that through
to write something. The writing is much harder, and I am usually just
trying to keep up with reading!

For me, the thread has been fascinating, probably because I'm interested
in different units of analysis, what they might be used for, and how they
fit together with theory and conducting research. What are people doing
with units of analysis and why? Or why aren't units of analysis being used?
If anyone wants to write more in that direction, I'd be very interested to
read, and I'll try to respond, although the questions might be as basic as

Lastly, Andy has basically been articulating my thoughts (in a much more
eloquent way than I would) about action as a unit of analysis. In Mike's
example about driving and thinking and writing, I'd add that the action is
mediated. Together with sociocultural and historical factors that
influenced those actions (and which, as has been said here before, are
often difficult to get a look at), the actions create a picture of much
more than just Mike's behavior.

Katie Wester-Neal
University of Georgia

Katerina Plakitsi
Associate Professor of Science Education
School of Education
University of Ioannina
University Campus Dourouti 45110
tel. +302651005771
fax. +302651005842
mobile.phone +306972898463