Friday, January 8, 2010

Robert K. Merton

Read: Appelrouth & Edles 382-394

Structural Functionalism - is a broad perspective in the social sciences which addresses social structure in terms of the function of its constituent elements, namely norms, customs, traditions and institutions.

Sociology of Science - "Ethos of science" published, On the Shoulders of Giants - later revised and expanded into Social Theory and Social Structure (382).

Merton's theories include - deviance, drug addiction, friendship formation, medical education, technology, media, and the history of science.

Merton extended Parsons point that society is a system of interrelated parts and reworked it in order to emphasize that the components of the system may or may not be "in sync," and that the results are not always predictable. This pivotal theoretical contribution is readily apparent not only in Merton's highly influential concepts of manifest and latent function and dysfunction, but also in his oft-cited theory of deviance.

(Freud term) Manifest function - refers to the overt or intended purpose of action (388-94).

(Freud term) Latent function (related to human sex drive)- refers to the implicit or unintended purpose. Often reinforces group identity and social ties (388-94).

(Freud term) Oral fixation - gum chewing, fingernail biting, smoking, etc. is related to the "oral" period of child development (0-15 months) in which gratification for the child revolves around nursing, gumming, sucking, and mouth movement. Oral fixation reflects a failure to psychologically complete this stage, the behavior in question being a defense mechanism to avoid the anxiety produced from the conflict of leaving this stage (383).

Merton emphasized that different parts of a system might be at odds with each other and, thus, that even functional or beneficial institutions or sub-systems can produce dysfunctions or unintended consequences as well.

Theory of Deviance - in sociology, deviance refers to modes of action that do not conform to the dominant norms or values in a social group or society. Following the functionalist notion that society is a system of interrelated parts, Merton hypothesized that deviance results when the values of a society are out of sync with the means available for achieving them. For that "success" means having lots of money but is not afforded the opportunity to earn a legitimate, well-paying living. Thus, the individual turns to illegal means (e.g., selling illegal drugs) in order to achieve economic success.

Dysfunction - the concept in which unintended consequences occur because of a disconnect between the cultural and social realms (384).

Role Theory - Role theory is a perspective in sociology and in social psychology that considers most of everyday activity to be the acting out of socially defined categories (e.g., mother, manager, teacher). Each social role is a universe of rights, duties, expectations, norms and behavior a person has to face and to fulfill.

The theory posits the following propositions about social behavior:

1.  People spend much of their lives in groups.
2.  Within these groups, people often take distinct positions.
3.  Each of these positions can be called a role, with a whole set of functions that are molded by the expectations of others.
4.  Formalized expectations become norms when enough people feel comfortable in providing punishments and rewards for the expected behavior.
5.  People generally conform to their roles.
6.  The anticipation of rewards and punishments inspire this conformity.
7.  A key insight of this theory is that role conflict occurs when a person is expected to simultaneously act out multiple roles that carry contradictory expectations (385).