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Levels of Analysis


The discussion in chapter 1 of how to study international politics introduced levels of analysis as an analytical concept. The issue is where to focus our study of world politics. Is it most fruitful to study the nature of the world (system-level analysis), to study how countries make foreign policy (state-level analysis), or to study people as individuals or as a species (individual-level analysis)? The best answer is to understand all three levels. The preceding chapter began our survey of system-level analysis through a brief survey of the evolution of the current world system. This chapter will continue examining system-level analysis by discussing it as a theory and then focus on state-level analysis, followed by individual-level analysis.

System-level analysis is a "top-down" approach to studying world politics. It begins with the view that countries and other international actors operate in a global social-economic-political-geographic environment and that the specific characteristics of the system help determine the pattern of interaction among the actors. Systems analysts believe that any system operates in somewhat predictable ways--that there are behavioral tendencies that the actor countries usually follow. Political systems are an ever-present part of our lives. Although each of us has free will, each of us is also part of many overlapping systems that influence our behavior and make it reasonably, although far from perfectly, predictable. These systems range from very local ones, such as your family and school, to much larger systems, such as your country and the world. Whatever its size, though, how a political system operates is based on four factors: structural characteristics, power relationships, economic realities, and norms.

State-level analysis, a second approach to understanding world politics, emphasizes the national states and their internal processes as the primary determinants of the course of world affairs. As such, this approach focuses on midrange factors that are less general than the macroanalysis of the international system but less individualistic than the microanalytical focus of human-level analysis.How well do you understand the roles of various actors in making foreign policy such as bureaucracies, legislatures, or interest groups? How do you feel about our government's foreign policy?

Individual-level of analysis focuses on human actors on the world stage. This approach begins by identifying the characteristics of the complex process of human decision making which includes gathering information, analyzing that information, establishing goals, pondering options, and making policy choices. The human role in the world drama can be addressed from three different perspectives: human nature, organizational behavior, and idiosyncratic behavior. Human nature involves the way in which fundamental human characteristics affect decisions. Organizational behavior looks at how humans interact within organized settings, such as a decision-making group. Idiosyncratic behavior explores how the peculiarities of individual decision makers affect foreign policy.



  • Explain how power assets, norms of behavior, and geographic characteristics affect the distribution and exercise of power in the system. See how changes in the number or power of major actors can alter the international system by playing a game in which you select actors in order to maintain balance of power.


  • Compare the Greek standards of justice in military outcomes to current ones by reviewing Web sites that discuss the Peloponnesian Wars and respond to questions in a brief essay.


  • Identify your level of agreement or disagreement with international systems of behavior.


  • Understand the international system’s scope and level of interaction by reviewing a table of Intergovernmental Organizations.


  • Review the changing global power equation by comparing maps that show how the European geographical and political boundaries have changed in recent years.


  • Learn more about system-level analysis by visiting some selected Web sites.








  • International PoliticsOnline Learning Center with Powerweb

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