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

By Lewis A. Coser | Go to book overview
faculty members' own superior qualifications, both increasing their participation in research. On the other hand, the research accomplishments of faculty members raise their relative standing, while the research accomplishments of their colleagues lower their own relative standing by comparison. Since relative standing influences the allegiance of faculty members to the local institution, their own research performance and that of their colleague complement, by having opposite implications for their relative standing, have counteracting effects on their local allegiance.The degree of variation in the status complement as well as its prevailing attributes may affect role relations. Much diversity in status promotes processes of social exchange that contribute to scholarly performance, create interdependence among faculty members performing different roles, and strengthen the social integration in the academic community. Great social distances between a small elite and the majority of the faculty, by contrast, inhibit these exchange relations that further scholarship, and they endanger the integration of the academic enterprise. Great social distances between elite universities in a society and its other academic institutions of far lower standing also have deleterious consequences for the integration of the academic system and for the development of science and scholarship.In conclusion, I want to mention two metatheoretical points underlying the foregoing analysis. One of these accords with current tendencies in social theorizing, while the other dissents from them. First, I consider an understanding of quantitative methods essential for systematic theorizing. I have not presented any mathematical formulations in this paper, of which I am in fact incapable, nor have I presented statistical analysis of quantitative data. However, my limited knowledge of path analysis and quantitative procedures generally has informed my thinking and helped me in tracing complex relationships. (I am, of course, not referring to the empirical findings I cited, which are based on quantitative procedures, but to the theoretical conjectures that went beyond these findings.) Second, we are underestimating the theoretical importance of conceptual analysis and refinement in our present emphasis on propositional and deductive theories. Merton in an early paper called attention to the distinctive significance of theories consisting of a system of logically interrelated propositions,33 and I myself have been much concerned with deductive theorizing. However, Merton's own work illustrates the great contributions to theoretical understanding that can be made by introducing new concepts, refining old ones, devising simple conceptual schemes, and constructing complex paradigms. Although I am firmly convinced that developing deductive theories that explain society and thus help improve it is the ultimate goal of sociology, I do want to stress that the contributions to this goal that conceptual refinements and schemes can make should not be gainsaid.
NOTES
1. The sociological conception of social structure is compared with Lévi-Strauss's structuralism by Raymond Boudon, who is critical of the former and favors the latter; The Uses of Structuralism ( London: Heinemann, 1971).

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