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

By Lewis A. Coser | Go to book overview

Working with Merton

PAUL F. LAZARSFELD


1. SOCIOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE AND KNOWLEDGE OF APPLIED SOCIOLOGY

I N January 1961 the journalist Morton M. Hunt published a "New Yorker" profile on Robert Merton that is still a very well documented source of information about his biography and his work up to the age of fifty. On numerous occasions, Hunt interviewed both Merton and me as to our collaboration. His description of how we met is essentially correct. I had been director of a Rockefeller Foundation project to study the social effects of radio. Originally, the headquarters were in Princeton; but in 1939 the funds were transferred to Columbia, where I had been given the nominal title of lecturer, without faculty status. A year later, a full professorship in sociology became vacant, but the department could not agree on a nomination. The issue was whether the appointment should go to someone who emphasized social theory or to someone primarily concerned with empirical research. Finally, the professorial line was divided into two lower faculty positions, which were filled, respectively, by Merton and by me. Hunt describes the complex situation in more detail and in a somewhat satirical tone. But he is correct in saying that, for quite a while, Merton and I had no personal contact. He then continues:

...In November of 1941, Lazarsfeld felt that, as the older man, he ought to do the graceful thing and acknowledge the existence of his opposite number. He invited Merton to dinner, but on the afternoon of the engagement he got an

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