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July 4, 1910 –
February 23, 2003
Biographical Background
Birth name: Meyer R. Schkolnick
Born in Philadelphia to working class Jewish Eastern European immigrant
While growing up in Philadelphia in high school, he became a frequent
visitor of the nearby Andrew Carnegie Library, The Academy of Music,
Central Library, and the Museum of the Arts
Best known for coining the phrases “self-fulfilling prophecy,” “role model,”
and “unintended consequences”
It is a popular misconception that Merton was a student of Talcott Parsons,
who was actually only a junior member of his dissertation committee along
with Carle Zimmerman, George Sarton, and Pitirim Sorokin – a man who
greatly influenced Merton
His sociological career began at Temple University studying with George E.
Simpson and then under Pitrim A. Sorokin at Harvard
Dissertation was on the social history of the scientific development in
England in the seventeenth-century
Merton was married twice, including once to fellow sociologist Harriet
He had one son and two daughters, including Robert C. Merton, who won
the 1997 Nobel Prize in economics
Honors and Recognition
Taught at Harvard then became a professor and chairman of the
Department of Sociology at Tulane University (1939)
1941- joined the faculty of Columbia University and became a Giddings
Professor of Sociology (1963)
1974 - achieved the highest rank at Columbia University as a University
Professor and later a Special Service Professor upon his retirement (1979)
One of the first sociologists elected to the National Academy of Sciences
First American sociologist elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of
Also a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences (through which he received a Parsons
Prize), the National Academy of Education, and Academica Europaea
1961 – received a Guggenheim fellowship
1983-88 – the first sociologist to be named a MacArthur Fellow
Was awarded with honorary degrees from over twenty institutions including
Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Chicaco, and many universities abroad
1994 – received the U.S. National Medal of Science as the first sociologist
to receive the award
Major Theories
Theories of the middle range
Clarifying functional analysis
“fills in the blanks” between empiricism and all-inclusive theory
Influenced by Weber and Durkheim
Functionalism is centralized in interpreting data by
consequences for larger structures
Society is analyzed with reference to cultural and social
structures in regard to how well or badly they are integrated
Influenced by Durkheim and Parsons
His work implies that all institutions are inherently good for
society, emphasizing the importance and existence of
Approaches conflict theory
He states that we can only explain and discover alternatives to
disfunction if we recognize the disfunctional aspects of
Major Theories (continued)
Manifest and latent functions
Manifest functions are expected or observed consequences
Latent functions are those that are not recognized or intended
Merton sees attention to latent functions as increasing
understanding of greater society in going beyond individuals’
Says that dysfunctions can also be manifest or latent
Functional alternatives
Like other functionalists, believes that societies must have
certain characteristics to ensure survival
Merton emphasizes that other institutions are also able to fulfill
the same functions
This is important because sociologists have become aware to
the similarities between functions of different institutions and
“reduces the tendency of functionalism to imply approval of the
status quo”
Major Theory: Deviance Typology
Used the term anomie (from
Durkheim) to mean “A
discontinuity between cultural
goals and the legitimate
means available for reaching
Ritualism is the acceptance
of the means but the forfeit of
the goals
Retreatism is the rejection of
both the means and the
Rebellion is a combination of
rejection of societal goals
and means and a substitution
of other goals and means.
Innovation and Ritualism are
the pure cases of anomie as
Merton defined it because in
both cases there is a
discontinuity between goals
and means.
Image: Ryan Cragun 2005 (from Wikipedia)
Major Theory: Sociology of Science
Sociology of science
Developed the Merton Thesis which explains causes of the scientific
revolution and the Mertonian norms of science, identified commonly by
the acronym “CUDOS”
CUDOS is a set of ideas that are, in Merton’s view, the goals and
methods of science, including:
Communalism - common ownership of scientific discoveries,
according to which scientists give up intellectual property rights in
exchange for recognition and esteem
Universalism - according to which claims to truth are evaluated in
terms of universal or impersonal criteria, and not on factors such as
ethnicity, status, gender, or faith
Disinterestedness - according to which scientists are rewarded for
acting in ways that outwardly appear to be selfless
Organized Skepticism - all ideas must be thoroughly tested and be
made subject to community scrutiny
Merton’s Publications
Social Theory and Social Structure (1949)
The Sociology of Science (1973)
Sociological Ambivalence (1976)
On the Shoulders of Giants: A Shandea Postscript (1985)
The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological
Semantics and the Sociology of Science (2004)
Manifest and Latent
Functions (1957)
Robert K. Merton
Distinguishing Manifest and Latent
 there
has often been confusion between
conscious motivations for social behavior
and its objective consequences
 difference between motives and functions
manifest functions: those objective
consequences for a specified unit (person,
subgroup, social or cultural system) which
contribute to its adjustment or adaptation and
were so intended
latent functions: unintended and unrecognized
Heuristic Purposes of the
clarifies the analysis of seemingly irrational data
distinction aids the interpretation of social practices
which persist even though their manifest purpose is
not achieved
when group behavior does not attain its supposed
purpose, there is an inclination to attribute its
occurrence to lack of intelligence, innocence, etc
• Hopi rain dance does not produce rainfall, it can be labeled
as superstitious and the Hopi people viewed as primitive
concept of latent functions extends beyond
whether or not behavior attained its purpose
directs attention towards individual personalities
involved in behavior, and the persistence and
continuity of larger group
• the Hopi rain dance ceremonial has non-purposed functions
reinforce group identity
Directs Attention to Theoretically
Fruitful Fields of Inquiry
 confinement
sociologist will be concerned with determining
whether a practice instituted for a particular
purpose does, in fact, achieve this purpose
 confinement
to study of manifest functions
to study of latent functions
sociologist will examine the familiar (or
planned) social practice to determine the
latent, unrecognized, functions
• distinctive intellectual contributions
Impact of Merton’s Theory
The discovery latent functions represents significant increments in
sociological knowledge
findings concerning latent functions represent a greater increment in
knowledge than findings concerning manifest functions, because
they describe practices and beliefs which are not common
Precludes the substitution of naïve moral judgments for sociological
moral evaluations in society are usually in terms of the manifest
consequences of a practice or a code
analysis is terms of latent functions, then, often run counter to the
prevailing moral evaluations
proceeding from the functional
Recommendation that we should ordinarily expect persistent social
patterns and social structures to perform positive functions which are at
the time not adequately fulfilled by other existing patterns and
The “publicly criticized organization” is, under present conditions,
satisfying basic latent functions
On Sociological Theories of the
Middle Range
What does it mean?
Socialogical Theory refers to logically
interconnected sets of propositions from which
empirical uniformities can be derived.
 Theories of the middle range-theories that lie
between the minor but necessary working
hypotheses that evolve in abundance during
day-to-day research and the all-inclusive
systematic efforts to develop a unified theory
that will explain all the observed uniformities of
social behavior, social organization, and social
 Middle
Range Theory is principally used in
sociology to guide empirical inquiry
 Each theory is more than an empirical
generalization-an isolated proposition
summarizing observed uniformities of
relationships between two or more
Role-Set Theory
Begins with the concept that each social status
involves not a single associated role, but an
array of roles.
 Ex. UNC medical student plays not only the role
of student vis-à-vis the correlative status of his
teachers but also an array of other roles relating
diversely to other in the system: other students,
physicians, nurses, Duke students, social
workers, medical technicians, and the like.
Role-Set raises the general but definite problem
of identifying the social mechanisms
 Illustrates another aspect of sociological theories
of the middle range.
 Frequently consistent with a variety of so-called
systems of sociological theory: Marxist Theory,
functional analysis, social behaviorism, Sorokin’s
integral sociology, and Parson’s s theory of
There is always a potential for differing
expectations among those in a role set as to
what is appropriate conduct for a statusoccupant
 The basic source of this potential for conflict is
found in the structural fact that the other
members of a role-set are apt to hold various
social positions differing from those of the
status-occupant in question.
 The
assumed structural basis for the
potential disturbance of a role-set gives
rise to a double question: Which social
mechanisms, if any, operate to counteract
the theoretically assumed instability of
role-sets and, correlatively, under which
circumstances do these social
mechanisms fail to operate, with resulting
inefficiency, confusion, and conflict?
Total Systems of Sociological
Not enough preparatory work has been done to
formulate a general sociological theory broad
enough to encompass the vast ranges of
precisely observed details of social behavior,
organization, and change and fruitful enough to
direct the attention of research workers to a flow
of problems for empirical research.
 Early sociology grew up in an intellectual
atmosphere in which vastly comprehensive
systems of philosophy were being introduced on
all sides.
 Attempts
to create total systems of
sociology is a goal that is often based on
one or more misconception of the
The first misinterpretation assumes that systems of
thought can be effectively developed before a great
mass of basic observations has been accumulated
The second misinterpretation about the physical
sciences rest on a mistaken assumption of historical
contemporaneity- that all cultural products existing at
the same moment have the same degree of maturity
The third misconception is sociologist sometimes
misread the actual state of theory in the physical
Utilitarian Pressures for Total
Systems of Sociology
The conviction among some sociologist that we must,
here and now, achieve a grand theoretical system not
only results from a misplaced comparison with the
physical sciences, it is also a response to the ambiguous
position of sociology in the contemporary society.
The misplaced masochism of the social scientist and the
inadvertent sadism of the public both result from the
failure to remember that social science, like all science,
is continually developing and that there is no providential
dispensation providing that at any given moment it will
adequate to the entire array of problems confronting
 The
urgent of immensity of a practical
social problem does not insure its
immediate solution
 Necessity is only the mother of invention;
socially accumulated knowledge is its
Total Systems of Theory and
Theories of the Middle Range
Our major tasks today is to develop theories
applicable to limited conceptual rangestheories, for example, deviant behavior, the
unanticipated consequences of purposive
action, social perception, reference groups,
social control, the interdependence of social
institutions – rather than to seek immediately the
total conceptual structure that is adequate to
derive these and other theories of the middle
If sociological theory is to advance significantly, it must
proceed on these interconnected planes
By developing special theories from which to derive
hypothesis that can be empirically investigated
By evolving, not suddenly revealing, a progressive
more general conceptual scheme that is adequate to
consolidate groups of special theories
Theories of the middle ranges hold the largest
Social Structure and Anomie (1938)
 Measure
of “structural constraints on the
ability to obtain socially valued goods,
such as wealth, shape the possible range
of individual responses.”
 Cultural
 Institutional Norms
…cont. Cultural and Institutions
societies governed in some way –
HOW governed (institutions, folkways,
etc.) determines integration and cultural
 Anomie – “normalness”
 Demoralization (deinstitutationalization) –
two parts of social group not highly
 All
America and success…
Deviant Behavior
Social strata – greatest pressure on lowest
 Occupational opportunities largely
confined to manual labor
Because NO realistic out, cause for deviant
Bigger cause: cultural emphasis and
social structure inconsistencies
(1) Incentives for success
(2) Limited mobility towards goal
Typology of modes of individual
Modes of Adaptation
Cultural goals
Institutionalized means
+ = acceptance
- = rejection
+/- = rejection of current values, replacement with others
 Social
order is maintained because modal
behavior of members represent the
cultural patterns, even if secularly
 Behavior  basic values  society
Society does NOT exist if no “deposit of
values shared by interacting individuals
 Most
common and widely diffused
 Keeps society “rolling”
 Emphasis
on success-goal  wealth and
 “occurs when the individual has
assimilated the cultural emphasis upon the
goal without equally internalizing the
institutional norms governing ways and
means for its attainment”
 Drives both: business-like striving one
side of mores and sharp practices beyond
the mores
Scaling down/abandoning cultural goals for
personal aspirations
Although one attempts to not have cultural influences,
they abide by institutional norms
Not generally considered to represent a social
 Fairly frequent because largely dependent upon
one’s achievements
 Ritualist: familiar and instructive
Ex: “I’m satisfied with what I’ve got,” “Don’t aim high
and you won’t be disappointed”
 Private
Able to avoid dangers and frustrations of
cultural norms
Hold on to safe routines and institutional
 Lower-Middle
Parents exert pressure to children about
moral mandates of society
Upward social mobility not easy to obtain
Least common
 “in the society but not of it”
Ex: outcasts, vagabonds, chronic drunkards, drug
addicts, etc.
Individuals have been assimilated by standards
of both cultural goals and institution  not
accessible  individual is shut off
 Escape mechanisms: Defeatism, quietism,
 Solution
for deviant person: abandon both
goals and means and become asocialized.
 Condemned because “non-productive
 Positive side – minimal frustrations while
seeking rewards
Negative – socially disinherited
 Adaptations
are largely private and
 Collective
 Presupposes alienation from reigning
goals and standards
 Ressentiment vs. Rebellion
(1) hate, envy, hostility
(2) powerlessness to express feelings
(3) continual re-experiencing hostility
Involves genuine transvaluation
Experience of frustration leads to full denunciation of
previously prized values
Ex: grapes..
Key difference: ressentment condemns the
object being craved; rebellion condemns craving
 More likely to occur if: Institutional system is a
barrier to satisfaction goals.
 Goal: to stay a part of society, but transition
between social groups
 Myths:
source of frustration
Conservative counter-myth – not in basic
structure of society
Conservative myth – “nature of things,” any
 Rebellion
and Conservativism work
together – move toward/away from
 Rising class, not depressed class.
 What
is considered deviant behavior
today? Are there similarities between the
1930s and the present? If there are
differences, what made them change?