Race Prejudice and Discrimination: Readings in Intergroup Relations in the United States

By Arnold M. Rose | Go to book overview

groups. It would be naive to suggest that frustration can be reduced or symbolic associations dissolved simply by the presentation to consciousness of the real sources of frustration and the real meaning of the symbolic association. Both are products of long and complex historical developments, both require long and complex developments to eliminate them: just as getting over a neurosis may be as long and painful a process as acquiring it. Nevertheless, the attack on prejudice, like the analysis of it, must work on the basis of the desire of all sane men to be rational--albeit rational in their own peculiar way rather than in the view of the impartial observer.


50. A Social Psychological Factor *

Robert K. Merton

[Much of the wisdom of the sociologist is brought out in the following paper by Dr. Robert K. Merton. Some basic sociological processes are translated into practical terms.]

In a series of works seldom consulted outside the academic fraternity, W. I. Thomas, the dean of American sociologists, set forth a theorem basic to the social sciences: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences." Were the Thomas theorem and its implications more widely known more men would understand more of the workings of our society. Though it lacks the sweep and precision of a Newtonian theorem, it possesses the same gift of relevance, being instructively applicable to many, if indeed not most, social processes. . . .

The first part of the theorem provides an unceasing reminder that men respond not only to the objective features of a situation, but also, and at times primarily, to the meaning this situation has for them. And once they have assigned some meaning to the situation, their consequent behavior and some of the consequences of that behavior are determined by the ascribed meaning. But this is still rather abstract, and abstractions have a way of becoming unintelligible if they are not occasionally tied to concrete data. What is a case in point?

____________________
*
From "The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy," The Antioch Review, 8 (Summer, 1948), 193- 210. Copyright 1948 by The Antioch Review. Reprinted by permission of The Antioch Review and the author.

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