DU SOL BA 3rd Year History of Social Thought Notes Chapter 12 Robert K Merton
Examine various social ideas of Robert K. Merton.
Robert K. Merton’s social theory and social structure (1949) has influenced the sociological studies. Merton has deeply influenced by Talcott Parsons as well as Sorokin. He tried to improve upon the theory of systems and called it an overambitious.
In answer to these problems, he developed a concept of ‘middle range’ theory which has exercised tremendous influence. According to Merton, “actors are not for to act in the manner they like, though they have modes of action, which however, are structurally patterned an institutionalised.”
Role-Set Theory. For the purpose of study Merton’s Role set theory is taken as the representative of this middle range theories. The theory of role sets begins with an image of how social status is organised in the social structure. This image is as Boyle’s image of the atmosphere as a sea of air or Gilbert’s image of the earth a magnet. As with all middle range theories, however, the proof is in the using not in the immediate response to the orginating ideas as obvious or odd, as derived from mere general theory and conceived of to deal with a particular class of problems.
Social Role and Social Status. According to Merton despite the very diverse meanings attached to the concept of social status, one sociological tradition consistently uses it to refer to a position in a social system, with its distinctive array of designated rights and obligations. This tradition, as exemplified by Ralph Linton, the related concept of social role refer to the behaviour of status occupants that is oriented toward the patterned expectations of others Linton, like others in this tradition, the long recognised and basic observation that each person in society inevitably occupies multiple statuses and that each of these statuses has its associated role.
It is at this point that the imagery of the role set theory depats from this long established tradition. The difference is initially a small one some might say so small as to be insignificant but this shift in the angle of vision , leads to successively more fundamental theoretical differences. Role Set Theory begins with the concept that each social status involves not a single associated role, but an array of roles. This feature of social structure gives rise to the concept of role set that complement of social relationship in which persons are involved simply because they occupy a particular social status.
Thus a person in the status of medical student plays not only the role of student vis-a-vis the collective status of his teachers, but also an array of other roles relating him diversely to others in the system other students, physicians, nurses, social workers, medical technicians, and the like. Again, the status of school teacher has its distinctive role set which relates the teacher not only to the correlative status, pupil, but also to collegues, the school principal and superintendent, the Board of Education, professional associations and in the United States, local patriotic organisations.
Upto this point, the concept-pf role set is merely an image for thinking about a component of the social structure. But this image is a beginning, not an end, for it leads directly to certain analytical problems. The notion of the role set at once leads to the inference that social structures confrontment with the task of articulating the components of countless role sets that is, the functional task of managing somehow to organize these so that an appreciable degree of social regularity obtains. Sufficient to enables most people most of that time to go about their business without becoming paralysed by extreme conflicts in their role sets.
This relatively simple idea of role set has sociological inquiry. The concept of role set does this. It releases the general but definite problem of identifying the social mechanisms that is, the social processes having designated consequences for designated parts of the social structure which articulate the expectations of those in the role set sufficiently to reduce conflicts for the occupant of a status.
The theory of role sets illustrates another aspect of sociological theories of the middle range. They are frequently consistent with a variety of so called systems of sociological theory. So far as one can tell, the theory of role sets is not inconsistent with such broad theoretical orientations-as Marxist theory, functional analysis, social behaviourism, Sorokin’s integral sociology or Parsons’s theory of action. This may be a horrendous observation for those of us who have been trained to believe that systems of sociological thought are logically close knit and mutually exclusive sets of doctrine. But in fact, comprehensive sociological theories are sufficiently loose knit, internally diversified and mutually overlapping that a given thedry of the middle range, which has a measure of empirical confirmation, can often be subdued under comprehensive theories which are themselves discrepant in certain respects.
This reasonably unorthodox can be illustrated by re-examining the theory of role sets as a middle range theory. We depart from the traditional concept by assuming that a single status in society involves, not a single role, but an array of associated roles, relating the status-occupant to diverse others.
Second, we note that this concept of the role set gives rise to distinctive the practical problems, hypothesis, and so to empirical inquiry. One basic problem is that of identifying the social mechanisms which articulate the role set and reduce conflicts among roles.
Third, the concept of the role set directs our attention to the structural problems identifying the social arrangements which integrate as well as oppose the expectations of various members of the role set. The concept of multiple roles on the other hand confines our attention to a different and no doubt important issue.
Finally, the logic of analysis exhibited in this sociological theory of the middle range is developed wholly in terms of the elements of social structure raher than in terms of providing concerete historical descriptions of particular between generalising sociological theory and historicism.
From all this, it is evident that according to role set theory that is always a potential for differing expectations among those m the role set as to what is appropriate conduct for a status occupant. The basic source of this potential for conflict, and it is important to note once again that on this point we are at one with such desperate general theorists as Marx and Spencer, Simmel- is found in the structural fact that the other members of a role set are apt hold different position differing from that of the status-occupant in question To the extent that the members of a role set are diversely located in the social structures, they are apt to have interests and moral expectations differing from that of the status occupant himself.
This, after all, is one of the principal assumptions of Marxist theory as it is of much other sociological theory social differentiation generates distinct interests among those variously located. in the structure of the society. For example, the members of a school board are often in social and economic strata that differ significantly from the stratum of the school teacher. The interests, values, and expectations of board members are consequently apt to differ “from those of the teacher who may thus be subject to conflicting expectations from there and other member of his role set professionals, colleagues, influential members of the school board and as, the Americanism Committee of the American Legin. An education essential for one is apt to be judged as an educational frill by another, or as down right subversion by the third.
As a theory of the middle range, then, the theory of role sets begins with a concept and its associated imagery and generates an array of theoretical problems. The middle range theory is not concerned with generalisation that a degree of social order or conflict prevails in society but with the analytical problem of identifying the social mechanisms which produce a greater degree of order or less 140 / HISTORY OF SOCIAL THOUGHT
conflict than would obtain if these mechanisms were not called into play.
Discuss Robert K. Merton’s views about Anomie.
Robert K. Merton is another sociologist who has given his ideas about anomie. In addition to him some others too have given their views on the subject. Synder is of the view that anomie is of three kinds. One is dominant culture anomie. It is a type of anomie in which entire cultural organisation is shaken as a result of struggle between cultural goals and institutional norms and no solution is found to end this struggle. Then is community anomie which does not take place in the whole cultural group but only in a part of the group. The rules of the group are not accepted by that part of the group and thus there is a strain on the whole society. Then comes sub-cultural anomie. Each culture has sub-cultures and when anomie takes place in a particular sub-culture, it is called sub-cultural anomie.
Then another view is that anomie is because of the reasons. First when the individual is not clear about the objectives to be achieved and secondly when norms or values are not clear and individual suffers from uncertainty.
Robert Duevins is of the opinion that in every social structure on every individual is faced with three situations, namely fixing of goals, means for achieving the goals and his ideals or his values. According to him every individual either fully accepts these or partially accepts them or fully rejects these and suggests alternatives or new theories, which are not acceptable to the society. In the process his behaviour becomes deviant and that becomes the cause of anomie.
Then another view expressed is that anomie is created when there is difference in the goals to be achieved by proper or well established modes or methods and available opportunities or otherwise. It has bee ft pointed out that in every society opportunities are not always equal for all classes. These are always more for the upper and less for the lower classes. Thus whereas for few avenues of rise are many, for majority these are just limited few. Those who have few opportunities, their frustration are very much and their behaviour becomes odd or anomie. As the access to means will go on varying with that their behaviour will also go on changing.
Robert K. Merton’s views about Anomie. Robert K. Merton has discussed his views about anomie at some considerable length. He does not believe in the theory that man basically wants to satisfy his biological impulses and also wants to disobey or discard well established social norms. On the other hand, he believes that a struggle is going on between social restraint and biological impulses. A conflict between social structure and cultural values is responsible for anomie. Those factors which bring about a situation of anomie are always present in the social structure itself. It generates circumstances which are responsible for violation of social codes. His theory revolves round social and cultural structures.
According to Merton in every society there are some cultural goals which are linked with emotions and sentiments. These help in achieving commonly acceptable goals. These are essential for happy group living and have close relation with biological impulses but impulses do not decide the goals. He has also said thatevery society has well defined values and procedures for achieving goals. He has characterised these as institutions. Institutional norms decide whether a particular mode is correct or not. Goals and norms determine right or wrong action or behaviour of the individual.
Merton has also said that as long as balance is maintained between cultural goals and institutional noi ms, there is no problem. But real difficulty’ arises only when norms provide insufficient for achieving goals. When such a situation arises the individuals decide their own norms and goals for achieving objectives. In evety society there are norms but differences come when the question of integration of institutional controls with goajs arises. Since every society has separate cultural goals and when in proportionate stress is laid on cultural goals and institutional norms, there is every possibility of deviant behaviour or anomie.
There are some societies in which more stress is laid on goals rather than on their achievements. In such societies if the goals can easily be achieved, then everyone will struggle for achieving some higher goals. In every society each and every individual has some status and role and also corresponding responsibilities attached to it. When there is no clear cut definition of status, role and responsibilities, the people have no other alternative but to define their own goals and objectives in their own way and this results in anomie. This is all un-international anomie.
Merton has also pointed out that the present day social structure is very complex and in it, on many occassions, the people are not clear about their roles. Even cultural goals are becoming out-dated and this very much creates a situation of anomie.
Problem of Adjustment. Merton has discussed the problem of adjustment as well between cultural goals and institutional norms. This is non adjustment between the two which results in anomie and deviant behaviour. He has discussed different types of adjustment e.g., there is conformity when there is comp’ete adjustment between goals and norms. When there is adjustment of goals and not norms, it is called innovation, goals are not accepted but norms are accepted, it is called ritualism. An ideal behaviour of an individual is one in which he completely adopts institutional norms for achieving his cultural goals. In that case his behaviour conforms to community norms.
According to Merton in a society in which cultural goals are available to all but institutional norms for achieving those goals are not uniformally available, those who are deprived of resources for achieving goals think of novel methods, which may not conform to community rules. Their innovative methods are considered as their deviant behaviour and anomie. When people leave cultural goals and take to institutional norms only, to this situation he has termed as ritualism. In that the individual forgets his personal ambitions in dismay and his behaviour becomes odd. A situation may also arise when a person may give up both norms and goals. This situation is called that of retreatism. In this situation one tries to escape from social responsibilities because of having been fed up with social obligations. Thjs situation of utter frustration, according to Merton is very much responsible for anomie.
Last situation of anomie or deviant behaviour arises when an individual raise his voice for bringing changes both in cultural goals and social norms. Efforts are then made to establish new norms and goals, which are condemned by those who do not like these. They try to establish that the behaviour of such an individual is deviant and one anomie situation arises.
Thus Merton has paid sufficient attention to problem of anomie or deviant behaviour. In this theory such a behaviour primarily arises because of non adjustment of cultural goals and institutional norms. As long as there is harmony between the two, there can be no situation of anomie.
What is reference group ? Write an essay on Robert Merton’s reference group theory.
Though Reference Group Theory was initiated earlier than Robert K. Merton but it was developed only by him. That is why his name is associated with this theory. It is based on the entitled book The American. Soldiers’. According to him such a reference, group can be both ‘in group’and‘out group’. By the former he means the group to which a person belongs whereas from the latter he means a group which does not belong to him. Usually in the first instance a person picks up in group individuals as reference and it is subsequently that be moves to the out group.
As regards membership group as reference group, Merton feels that sometimes the people select few persons from within their own group as ideals because of their achievements in the field(s) of their choice. He believes that in this type of group there can be conflicting as well as mutually sustaining reference groups. According to him at times it may happen that a person may develop liking for conflicting ideals which he may identify in more than one reference group, but in the long run the person concerned will have to make a choice for one out of the two conflicting ideals. If such a situation arises he leaves the groups which is altogether stranger to him and accepts the one with which he is somewhat familiar.
Then come mutually sustaining reference groups. According to Merton when the people with same educational qualifications and status come in close contact with each other, a group which is more suited and with whom group people are familiar is accepted as reference group. Since* these people, remain in constant touch with each other, therefore, their values, behaviour and psychology very much changes. Usually then person selects a group as his reference group with which he had been in touch for a longer period of time. One consideration being familiarity with that group.
Merton is of the view that each one holds certain persons in high esteem and tries to become respected as they are. He tries to change his behaviour, habits and image and accepts those of the others whom he holds in high esteem. His idea is that he should become highly respectable and rich, like them. He also believes that reference group inspires the people and helps establishing uniformity and conformity. This happens because the person concerned tries to conform to the ideals and values of the group which he has chosen as his reference group. No reference group will however, allow any outsider to enter which causes loss of any function which the group has already been performing. Such a group will tolerate or adjust criticism of the new comer only to a limited extent and will also ensure that basic values upheld by the group do not get lost.
As already said according to Merton’s reference group can be both membership i.e., in group and non membership group out group. In the case of out group it is basically accepted that some non members have influenced its behaviour, ideals and values.
Merton has categories reference groups as positive and negative. A positive reference group is one which has healthy influence on its members and vice-versa. He has also said that a reference group can be normative which sets and maintains standards for the individuals whereas the, other group is comparative reference group which provides comparison between the members of two groups. The first is source of value assimilation whereas the second evaluates relative positions. Both are only analytically distinct. He also believes that group boundaries are not necessarily fixed but always go on changing in response to changing situations.
Selection of Reference Group. According to Merton an individual choses some group as his model and tries to adopt its behaviour to have greater prestige and respect. But while selecting his group every individual is guided by certain considerations. These being degree of involvement of members in the group, extent of social unity in the group, power and influence of the social group on the individual and clarity of laws and definitions.
Some other considerations being social prestige of the group ; its extent of stability duration of its existence arrangement of control ; method of evaluation of role ; ecological structure of the group and absolute size of the group or its constituent units. Some other considerations are the extent of tolerance towards deviant and wrong behaviour attachment of the people to the norms of the group openess and closeness of the group or its related units, degree of social differentiation of the members i.e., ratio of important members and ordinary persons and extent of social interaction. Thus several factors combined together help and are taken into consideration before a person joins a reference group.
Functions of Reference Group. Each reference is required to perform certain functions. One of its important function is to help in socialisation because every individual who intends to join an out reference group must socialise himself before joining that. As already said it is easy in an open rather than in a close society. Then its another function in to get the people ready to face a situation of both conflict and cooperation. On the one hand the individual who leaves the group membership of his original group gets alienated from that whereas he is supposed to work in close cooperation with his reference group members- It creates difficult situation for the individual concerned. Difficulties still more increase when he falls to adjust himself in the out reference group.
Thus Merton has very elaborately studied reference group problems and issues and as already said that his study is based on American Soldiers who fought on the war front during world war II.
Explain Robert K. Merton’s structural function theory.
Robert K. Merton is one of the chief exponents of structural approach. In this regard he was influenced by many anthropologists. He was equally influenced by Malinowski, Redcliffe Brown and few others. In his theory he has used ‘function’ not in one sense but in five different ways. According to him functions are a system, an action and a responsibility. He has also used functions in mathematical sense and also as biological procedures. These indicate motives and aims. But he has stressed that the functions should not be used as indicative of subjective feelings. He feels that in the interest of proper study of the approach functions should be taken as organic type of system and consequence of any design, aim or purpose within the same system.
His Structural Functional Approach. According to Merton it is wrong to believe that all units of society perform only functions. He believes that these units also contribute towards preserving social structure some units not only perform functions but dysfunctions as well and thus instead of organising the society they even disorganise it. These’ are thus units whose role is functional, while those of others is non functional and still others js partial dysfunctional. Thus he has tried to point out that all units do not contribute towards the stability of the society or its social-structure.
While discussing the functions of a unit, he understands from the term ‘function’ as consequences which are responsible for the adjustment of a particular system of social structure. Dysfunctions for him are those functions which minimise the organisation of a society. It hinders the fulfilment of one or more of the social needs of a social systems.
Manifest raid Latent Functions. Merton Has divided the functions as manifest and latent. The former are those which are liked by the society and thus considered desirable. These are accepted by the members of society. On the other hand latent functions are those which are not recognised and accepted by the society. These create such situations which are disliked by the society and thus are of great consequence. While distinguishing between the two he has said “Manifest functions are those consequences that contribute to the adjustment or adaptation of the system which are intended or recognised by participants of the system. Latent functions correspondingly being those which are neither intended nor recognised.”
Need for Maintaining Distinction. According to Merton there is always a need to maintain distinction between latent and manifest functions. This need arises because in every society there are traditions which have both manifest as well as latent functions. If no distinction is made between the two, we shall not be able to know their realities. It is by maintaining a distinction between the two that we come to know about those functions which though may appear to be producing some results, may not actually be so doing. 4 These thus help us in understanding whether a function is performing its avowed functions or not.
Then another reason is that such a distinction has structural importance because it enables us to know the nature of the structure and also helps us in understanding the effectiveness with which the functions are being performed.
Still another need for maintaing distinction is that it helps us in acquiring knowledge about such special facts to which generally no importance is attached and thus these are omitted. Special fields of latent functions can be identified for social investigation. In this way new areas of research become available to sociologists.
This knowledge also helps us to have sociological analysis of prevalent moral judgments and thus help us to find out what appears to be good for the society is really good for it or not. Thus accepted moral judgements are subjected to sociological analysis.
One latent functions of constituent units are known social structure can be amended accordingly and put on the right track.
Paradigms of Functional Analysis. According to Merton, Paradigms help us bringing together postulates, concepts aud ideological imputations in a compact form. These help ns in examining major requirements of functional analysis. A paradigm presents bard core of a concept, procedure and inference in functional analysis. These help in the codification. The paradigms arc :
1. Functions can be imputed to entire range of sociological data and much of which has already been subjected to functional analysis. It also helps in identifying what must enter into the protocol of observation of a given item.
2. At some points functional analysis invariably assumes or explicitly operates with some conception of the motivation of individuals involved in a social system. In which type of analysis it is sufficient to take observed motivations as data is another concern of paradigms ?
3. Appropriate conceptual distinctions are required to be made between functions and dysfunctions and several current conceptions of functions. What are effects of seeking to transform a previously latent function into a manifest function ?
4. Its one postulate is that it is necessary to consider a range of units affected by the given item.
5. There should be concrete and detailed account of the mechanisms which operate to perform a given function i.e., what is presently available and what are the methodological problems entailed in discerning the operation of social mechanism.
6. Which are practicable procedures in large scale sociological situations for logical scientific experimentation ?
7. How narrowly does a given structural context limit the range of variations in the items which can effectively satisfy functional requirements.
8. Does the prevailing concern among functional analysts with the concept of social equilibrium divert attention from the phenomena of social disequilibrium ?
9. To what extent is the functional analysis limited by the difficulty of locating adequate samples of social systems which can be subjected to comparative study ?
Purpose of Paradigm. According to Merton first and foremost function or purpose of paradigm is to supply a provisional codified guide for adequate and fruitful functional analysis. It implies that paradigm contains the minimum set of concepts which the sociologists must operate in order to carry through an adequate functional analysis.
Then its another purpose is to lead directly to Jhe postulate and assumptions underlying functional analysis.
Thirdly a paradigm seeks to sensitize the sociologists not only narrow scientific implications of various types of functional analysis but also to their political and ideological implications.
Thus in Merton’s approach paradigms are essential for any scientific functional analysis. Since he has dealt with the subject at considerable length, that has become his significant contribution to sociological theory.
Critically examine Merton’s concept of middle range theories.
Write a brief critical essay on Robert K. Merton’s views about Middle range theories.
Importance of Middle Range Theories. Merton is the chief exponent of middle range theories and thus has opened a new field for discussion among the sociologists. According to him if sociologists try to develop absolutely new sociological theories then there is every danger that specific hypthesis may be made applicable to limited aspects of social systems and organisations. On the other hand if stress is laid on subsidiary theories then it will very much get linked with the past and not keep with the present or the future.
We, therefore, feels that via media lies in consolidating middle range theories. While discussing the need and importance of these theories, he has said, “I believe and my beliefs are of course notoriously subject to error, that the theories of the middle range hold the largest promise, provided that the search for them is coupled with a pervasive concern with consolidating special theories into more general sets of concepts and mutually consistent prepositions.”
Critical Evaluation. Obviously his ideas have been evaluated and reacted by modern sociologists, who have their own approach as well as ideas for the development of sociology. The sociologists who support theoretically oriented empirical research of course cannot be in favour of this concept of Merton. Similarly it is not likely to find favour with the sociologists who believe in developing a total sociological theory. Only those who do not fall in either of above mentioned categories can favourably react to Merton’s view point and their number is quite heartening.
The critics also point that these theories call for new intellectual ambitions and undermine the importance of intellectual ambitions of the past.
Inspite of these criticism, it must be accepted that these theories have made useful contribution in studying such concepts as reference group, deviant behaviour, suicides etc.