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

By Lewis A. Coser | Go to book overview

Theory and Research:
The Case of Studies in Medical Education

PATRICIA KENDALL

W HEN I was invited to contribute a chapter on medical sociology to this volume, I felt it an unusual opportunity to examine the interplay between Merton's theoretical concerns and empirical research in which he and I were engaged for some years.

This topic seemed particularly appropriate in view of Merton's well- known and long-standing interest in the reciprocal relations between theory and research. "Sociological Theory" (when this article was reprinted it was given a new title: "The Bearing of Sociological Theory on Empirical Research") and the complementary article, "The Bearing of Empirical Research upon the Development of Sociological Theory," were first published in 1945 and 1948, respectively.1 As the titles of these articles suggest, on the one hand theoretical statements can lead to empirical investigation, and, on the other hand, research can prove crucial in the development of theory.

It will turn out, as our analysis proceeds, that there is a third way in which theory can be related to research. This is when both develop simultaneously, when, in other words, it is impossible to determine whether the theory preceded the research, or the other way around.

Rather than discuss the topic in the abstract, I shall use, for reference points, parts of an unpublished paper that I wrote in 1960, as the studies on medical education carried out by the Bureau of Applied Social Research,

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