Sociology Today; Problems and Prospects

By Robert K. Merton; Leonard Broom et al. | Go to book overview

11
Personality and Social Structure

ALEX INKELES

Harvard University

I t is perhaps a reflection of the intellectual insecurity of social scientists that they spend an inordinate amount of time and energy defining the "boundaries" of their respective fields as if these were holy lands which had to be defended against expansive, barbaric, and heathen invaders. This need for a clear professional identity leads to a striving for ideological purity, and often from their earliest student days those entering the field are carefully watched for signs of dangerous pantheistic belief. The discipline's name designates not so much a focus of study or a mode of analysis as a banner around which the faithful rally. In sociology this tendency expresses itself in the attempt to analyze social phenomena with a method which strictly excludes psychological theory and data. Those who take this position do so, of course, with the most authoritative of sanctions, since it was Durkheim's explicit purpose, in the first great modern work in sociology, to demonstrate that suicide rates could not be explained by individual psychology. As he defined the task of that great work, it was "to determine the productive causes of suicide directly. . . . Disregarding the individual as such, his motives and his ideas, we shall seek directly the states of the various social environments (religious confessions, family, political society, occupational groups, etc.) in terms of which the variations of suicide occur." And, again, after reviewing the psychological and other

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