Three Levels of Analysis

A research insight from my PhD

1/ I used three levels of analysis in my PhD: the micro (individual), the meso (organisational or institutional), and the macro (the economy, the world).

2/ My PhD focused primarily on the meso-level: the terrorist organisation. I also considered individual terrorist experiences (the micro-level), and how my chosen case study of Aum Shinrikyo dealt with the end of the Heisei Boom economic bubble (1986-91) (the macro-level). In this case, Aum Shinrikyo shifted its orientation from world salvation to embracing terrorist violence.

3/ This same three levels of analysis can be applied to other areas and case studies.

4/ In a research career, an Early Career Academic (first 5 years after PhD conferral) focuses first on building a viable 3-to-5 year research program (which may have a range of funders and projects in it).

5/ The meso-level for a researcher may first be the university, research institute or think tank that they work at; then a small research team; and maybe then a Centre or an Institute that they are affiliated with. At each stage the potential reach of your research activity scales up.

6/ One of the benefits of the meso-level for the researcher is what author Garrett Jones calls “positive spillover effects” in his book Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters More Than Your Own (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015): the benefits that you get from being in a team, group, or organisation compared with your individual IQ, human capital, and skills. An organisation enables you to do and to learn more.

7/ Academic conferences provide a way to link the meso-level (university affiliation) and the macro-level (the world): you begin to build collaborative networks. For new researchers I ask: “Who are the 4 or 5 other research teams in the world who are also interested in your research questions?”

8/ The macro-level (the world) is the realm of large-scale cascades and phenomena that affect our lives: the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crashes and recessions, the internet, and wars. Liberal internationalist television networks like CNN have turned the macro-level into a successful business model for global news.

9/ The key as a researcher is to engage with a research question that engages with the macro-level world and that allows you to access meso-level resources (such as academic journals in your discipline or field, and membership of relevant professional associations).

10/ This basic three-level analysis model is generalisable to other areas. What levels do you actively engage with? How could this three-level model help you to make better sense of the world and of potential opportunities?