Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

Over against the "me" is the "I." The individual not only has rights, but he has duties; he is not only a citizen, a member of the community, but he is one who reacts to this community and in his reaction to it, as we have seen in the conversation of gestures, changes it. The "I" is the response of the individual to the attitude of the community as this appears in his own experience. His response to that organized attitude in turn changes it. As we have pointed out, this is a change which is not present in his own experience until after it takes place. The "I" appears in our experience in memory. It is only after we have acted that we know what we have done; it is only after we have spoken that we know what we have said. The adjustment to that organized world which is present in our own nature is one that represents the "me" and is constantly there. But if the response to it is a response which is of the nature of the conversation of gestures, if it creates a situation which is in some sense novel, if one puts up his side of the case, asserts himself over against others and insists that they take a different attitude toward himself, then there is something important occurring that is not previously present in experience.❖

Robert K. Merton ( 1910-) was a student at Harvard in the days of Parsons and Sorokin. It is a popular misconception that Merton had been Talcott Parsons's student; more accurately, he was the student of George Sarton, Harvard's distinguished historian of science (and father of the feminist poet and writer May Sarton). Merton's most important empirical work, Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England ( 1938), was the first of his many contributions to the sociology of science, the field of which he was the principal founder. In this regard, Merton went beyond Mannheim's preliminary definition of the sociology of knowledge to develop a branch of social studies that flourished in an era when science and technology were considered the keys to social salvation. Merton, like Parsons, is said to be a functionalist social theorist. Unlike Parsons, and in obvious response to him, Merton is known for his attempts to define researchable theories of "the middle range" between pure abstraction and mindless empiricism. With Paul Lazarsfeld, Merton made the Columbia University Department of Sociology famous for its contributions to the empirical sociology of modern American life. From 1942 to 1971, he was associate director of Columbia's Bureau of Applied Social Research, where survey research techniques were developed.

"Social Structure and Anomie" is one of the most widely read articles in the history of sociology. First published in 1938, the article reformulates Durkheim's idea of anomie to account for the unexpected ways in which social conditions force individuals to act in socially functional, if sometimes illegal, ways.


Social Structure and Anomie

Robert K. Merton( 1938)

Until recently, and all the more so before then, one could speak of a marked tendency in psychological and sociological theory to attribute the faulty operation of

____________________
Reprinted with permission of the Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, from Social Theory and Social Structure by Robert K. Merton. Copyright © 1967, 1968 by Robert K. Merton.

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