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[Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis
- To: Andy Blunden <email@example.com>, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis
- From: David Dirlam <email@example.com>
- Date: Thu, 7 Sep 2017 13:41:24 -0400
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The issues that have arisen in this discussion clarify the conception of
what sort of entity a "unit" is. Both and Andy and Martin stress the
importance of the observer. Anyone with some experience should have some
sense of it (Martin's point). But Andy added the notion that experts need
basically to be able to agree reliably on examples of the unit (worded like
the psychological researcher I am, but I'm sure Andy will correct me if I
missed his meaning).
We also need to address two other aspects of units--their classifiability
and the types of relations between them. What makes water not an element,
but a compound, are the relations between the subunits (the chemical bonds
between the elements) as well as those with other molecules of water (how
fast they travel relative to each other), which was David Kellogg's point.
So the analogy to activity is that it is like the molecule, while actions
are like the elements. What is new to this discussion is that the activity
must contain not only actions, but also relationships between them. If we
move up to the biological realm, we find a great increase in the complexity
of the analogy. Bodies are made up of more than cells, and I'm not just
referring to entities like extracellular fluid. The identifiability,
classification, and interrelations between cells and their constituents all
help to make the unit so interesting to science. Likewise, the constituents
of activities are more than actions. Yrjo's triangles illustrate that.
Also, we need to be able to identify an activity, classify activities, and
discern the interrelations between them and their constituents.
I think that is getting us close to David Kellogg's aim of characterizing
the meaning of unit. But glad, like him, to read corrections.
On Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 10:08 PM, Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Yes, but I think, Martin, that the unit of analysis we need to aspire to
> is *visceral* and sensuous. There are "everyday" concepts which are utterly
> abstract and saturated with ideology and received knowledge. For example,
> Marx's concept of capital is buying-in-order-to-sell, which is not the
> "everyday" concept of capital at all, of course.
> Andy Blunden
> On 7/09/2017 8:48 AM, Martin John Packer wrote:
>> Isn’t a unit of analysis (a germ cell) a preliminary concept, one might
>> say an everyday concept, that permits one to grasp the phenomenon that is
>> to be studied in such a way that it can be elaborated, in the course of
>> investigation, into an articulated and explicit scientific concept?
>> just wondering
>> On Sep 6, 2017, at 5:15 PM, Greg Thompson <email@example.com>
>>> 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
>>> the volume Discourse and Education and found it useful. The short of it
>>> 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
>>> 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
>>> essential properties of water. Similarly, meaningful language use
>>> a unit of analysis that includes aspects beyond phonology,
>>> grammar, semantics, and mental representations. All of these linguistic
>>> psychological factors play a role in linguistic communication, but
>>> 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
>>> 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