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[Xmca-l] Unit of Analysis

Not sure if others might feel this is an oversimplification of unit of
analysis, but I just came across this in Wortham and Kim's Introduction to
the volume Discourse and Education and found it useful. The short of it is
that the unit of analysis is the unit that "preserves the
essential features of the whole".

Here is their longer explanation:

"Marx (1867/1986) and Vygotsky (1934/1987) apply the concept "unit of
analysis" to social scientific problems. In their account, an adequate
approach to any phenomenon must find the right unit of analysis - one that
preserves the essential features of the whole. In order to study water, a
scientist must not break the substance down below the level of an
individual H20 molecule. Water is made up of nothing but hydrogen and
oxygen, but studying hydrogen and oxygen separately will not illuminate the
essential properties of water. Similarly, meaningful language use requires
a unit of analysis that includes aspects beyond phonology,
grammar, semantics, and mental representations. All of these linguistic and
psychological factors play a role in linguistic communication, but natural
language use also involves social action in a context that includes other
actors and socially significant regularities."

(entire chapter can be found on Research Gate at:

​I thought that the water/H20 metaphor was a useful one for thinking about
unit of analysis.​


Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
WEBSITE: greg.a.thompson.byu.edu