Short summary of one of the structural functionalist theorists, and then come to my office
hours to talk about what you have written. I'm looking to see you write about their
biography, their theory itself, and its relevance.
SF: Analysis of the structure of the social system (society) and its subsystems (social
institutions and structures), and their functional relevance in maintaining society, social
order, or system equilibrium.
SF was dominant in the 1940’s and 50’s due to the conservative period social
order and maintaining society exactly the way it is
Robert Merton – Biography
- Born in 1940 in Philadelphia. He graduated from Temple University in 1931
where he studied sociology. Eventually he won a scholarship to Harvard.
While at Harvard he met a junior professor named Talcott Parsons who he
decided to work with. In 1938 he became a professor at Tulane University and
then in 1941 he started teaching at Columbia University. There he pioneered
studies of mass media and public opinion. During his time at Columbia
university, he published Social Theory and Social Structure (1949) – it set
out many of his contributions to structural functionalism. Merton was
quite critical of earlier forms of structural functionalism – critical of his
former professor Parsons. He argued against the generalized theorizing
Parsons favored. Between the years 1956 and 1957 he served as
president of the American Sociological Association. In 1979 he retired
from Columbia University and then he died in 2003 at the age of 92.
- Merton is most known for middle range theory and his extensive
contributions to the sociology of deviance and the sociology of science.
Emphasized the importance of deduction and induction – Parsons only
focused a deductive approach (theory to hypothesis to observations)
Induction: Observations (research) Generalizations Theory
Middle Range Theory: Generates theoretical explanations grounded in and
extending beyond specific observed realities.
o Are those theories that are closely tied in to the empirical realities in
societies, articulating the relationships that exist among particular
variables as exemplified in Weber’s Protestant Ethic and Durkheim’s
o For Merton, theory and data impact each other in a reciprocal way
rather than theory requiring, but ultimately having priority over data
as Parsons envisioned.
Manifest and Latent functions.
o Manifest: intended and recognized consequences of a particular
course of action
o Latent functions: unanticipated and unrecognized (functional or
dysfunctional) consequences of an intended course of action. Relevance to today:
Looking at manifest and latent functions still applicable to many things
today such as the education system.
o Right out of high school students are filtered into either University or
College. This depends on certain marks and course requirements.
o For example: getting into a college program vs. Health Science at
McMaster. To get into the program at McMaster you need to take
academic classes in high school, have extensive extra curricular ‘s and
have high marks. In addition to this there is quite the application
process which includes a interview. They also only select a very small
amount of students into the program in