3002 micromacro links

Theory Units

Among the terms that do not have a consistent
meaning in sociology is theory. Because it
would be futile to discuss multilevel theory
without a clear picture of what a theory is, it
will help to provide an explicit definition. First,
however, we will define a useful building block
called a theory unit. A theory unit includes logi
cal operators, a minimal set of terms, a theore
tical statement, and a scope statement. Logical
operators are used in the construction of theore
tical statements and might include words such
as: If. . ., then. . ., therefore. . . or mathemati
cal symbols. Their precise meanings are pro
vided by a system outside of the theory unit,
such as symbolic logic or algebra. The terms of a
theory are the words used to carry meanings
from theorist to readers. To accomplish this,
meanings must be shared and so it is important
that theorists define any terms that may not be
understood the same way by all readers. To
enhance communication, the theory unit should
use as few terms as possible. Also, if the theory is
to generalize beyond specific cases, the terms
should be defined abstractly so that they can
subsume specific cases without being limited
by them. The theoretical statement within the
theory unit uses logical operators to express an
assumed relationship between theoretical terms,
such as: If an official has high status, then
the official will have high power. (Presumably,
official, status, and power would be
defined clearly for readers.) Finally, scope
statements express conditions under which the
theorist claims the theoretical statement applies,
e.g.: The statement applies in primitive econo
mies, or The statement applies in face to face


Although a useful building block, theory units
have limited value on their own. With only one
theoretical statement to work with, it is not
possible to use some statements to justify others,
or to use multiple statements to generate new
conclusions. Theories provide these services.
A theory contains two or more theory units that
are linked by their logical operators and terms
such that they create logical arguments chains
of reasoning whose conclusions are logically
derived from prior statements. To be more pre
cise, two or more theory units can form a theory
only if (i) the set of terms of each theory unit
overlaps with the terms of at least one other
theory unit; (ii) their scope statements overlap;
and (iii) the theoretical statement of each the
ory unit connects logically to at least one other.
If (i) does not hold, then the theory units are
talking about different things. If (ii) is not
satisfied, then the theory units apply to dif
ferent domains of phenomena. To illustrate
(iii), the earlier statement If an official has
high status, then the official will have high
power could be combined with the statement
If an official has high power, then the offi
cial will have high autonomy because the
then. . . part of the first statement overlaps
with the If. . . part of the second. In this
manner, a new statement appearing in neither
theory unit may be derived: If an official has
high status, then the official will have high
autonomy. Although this is only a simple
example, it manifests an important quality of
well formed theories: their capacity to capita
lize on prior knowledge to generate new

Multilevel Theories

Having thus defined theories, it is a relatively
simple matter to provide criteria for multilevel
theories. The micromacro link requires two
further conditions: containment and bridging.
Conditions for containment ensure that the
theory incorporates two or more distinct levels,
defined in such a way that one is completely
contained within the other. Examples could be
members within groups, or organizations con
tained by industries. Bridging conditions are
designed so that a statement that refers to terms
existing at one level is explicitly connected to
terms referring to another level.
Two rather different kinds of bridges may be
built. First, there may be a theoretical state
ment, If x then y, in which the level of x
differs from that of y. For example, If each
member of a group feels powerless, then the
group will revolt. Note that while a group
revolt contains multiple group members, it can
not exist at the level of the individual person.