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

By Lewis A. Coser | Go to book overview

Structural Constraints of Status Complements *

PETER M. BLAU

T HE most frequent label applied to Merton is that of a functional theorist. The reason is, of course, that his well-known functional paradigm greatly refined the theoretical framework for systematic functional analysis. Yet I think it is more appropriate to consider him a structural theorist, not in the special sense in which Lévi-Strauss's followers use the term, but in the distinctly sociological sense of structural analysis, in the tradition of Durkheim and Radcliffe-Brown.1 Indeed, this has been noted by several commentators on Merton's work. Thus, Wallace classifies Merton as a structuralist, whose theory he contrasts on three basic dimensions of his typology of social theories with functionalism, which is represented by Parmsons, although he distinguishes Merton's "functional structuralism" from two other kinds of structuralism.2 Barbano goes one step further and contends that "the whole of Merton's work is directed toward the emancipation of structural analysis; it is directed, that is, to making structural analysis independent of functional analysis."3

The concept of structural constraints has been of central significance in Merton's theoretical analyses throughout, already before he developed the functional paradigm, in this paradigm itself, and in his subsequent work. The fundamental question he regularly poses, in Durkheimian fashion, is how external social constraints influence observable patterns of conduct, and

____________________
*
I gratefully acknowledge helpful comments from Rebecca Z. Margulies and Judith R. Blau.

-117-

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