The Idea of Social Structure: Papers in Honor of Robert K. Merton

By Lewis A. Coser | Go to book overview

Merton and the Contemporary Mind
An Affectionate Dialogue

LEWIS A. COSER AND ROBERT NISBET

Robert Nisbet. Bob Merton's intellectual roots are in the Depression thirties. I've thought for some time now that before the century is out we're going to find that decade among the more vital and creative periods in American history. We can paraphrase Dickens and call it the best of times and the worst of times. What was bad about it needs no recapitulation here, nor the slightest nostalgia. What was good about the decade, at least as far as the sciences are concerned, seems to me to have sprung in the first instance from the great influence on American thought of European perspectives. In large degree, of course, these were brought directly by intellectual refugees from Hitler's Germany, though there were other, less direct and dramatic channels. Merton's mind is rooted in American soil -- no question about that when one looks at the overall character of his work -- but he was certainly one of the first social scientists in this country to begin to use European perspectives in his approach to problems.

Lewis A. Coser. I fully agree. Yet we may perhaps speculate why it was that this European perspective entered into Merton's way of thinking in a more "organic" way than was the case with most of his predecessors. A pilgrimage to Europe or attendance at European universities had, of course, been quite common for American academics long before Merton's days.

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