Assignment # 8:
Robert K. Merton's Functional Analysis
Some short takes:
Merton's primary thrust is to use functional analysis as a research strategy . . . .In order to more accurately describe social stability and change, he introduces terms to distinguish several components of functional analysis: "dysfunction," "manifest function," and "latent function." . . . .Merton's version of anomie is only loosely based on Durkheim's concept....Kingsley Davis pointed out that Merton's method of functional analysis can be better described as good sociological reasoning.
"Social function refers to observable objective consequences, and not to subjective dispositions (aims, motives, purposes)" (1957, p. 24).
[Referring to the Hopi rain ceremonies] "with the concept of latent function, we continue our inquiry, examining the consequences of the ceremony not for the rain gods or for meteorological phenomena, but for the groups which conduct the ceremony. And here it may be found, as many observers indicate, that the ceremonial does indeed have functions--but functions which are non-purposed or latent" (1957, p. 64).
"Ceremonials may fulfill the latent function of reinforcing the group identity by providing a periodic occasion on which the scattered members of a group assemble to engage in a common activity . . . .such ceremonials are a means by which collective expression is afforded the sentiments which . . .are found to be a basic source of group unity. Through the systematic application of the concept of latent function, therefore, apparently irrational behavior may at times be found to be positively functional for the group" (1957, p.65).
On latent functions
"The introduction of the concept of latent function in social research leads to conclusions which show that 'social life is not as simple as it first seems.' For as long as people confine themselves to certain consequences (e.g. manifest consequences), it is comparatively simple for them to pass moral judgments upon the practice of belief in question. Moral evaluations, generally based on these manifest consequences, tend to be polarized in terms of black or white. But the perception of further (latent) consequences often complicates the picture. Problems of moral evaluation (which are not our immediate concern) and problems of social engineering (which are our concern) both take on the additional complexities usually involved in responsible social decisions" (1957, p. 68).
"Examined for a moment apart from any moral considerations, the political apparatus operated by the Boss is effectively designed to perform functions with a minimum of inefficiency. Holding the strings of diverse government divisions, bureaus and agencies in his competent hands, the Boss rationalizes the relations between public and private business. He serves as the business community's ambassador in the otherwise alien (and sometimes unfriendly) realm of government. And, in strict business-like terms, he is well-paid for his economic services to his respectable business clients" (1957, pp.75-76).
"To adopt a functional outlook is to provide not an apologia for the political machine but a more solid basis for modifying or eliminating the machine, providing specific structural arrangements are introduced either for eliminating demands of the business community or, if that is the objective, of satisfying these demands through alternative means" (1957, p. 76).
"Our primary aim is to discover how some social structures exert a definite pressure upon certain persons in the society to engage in nonconforming rather than conforming conduct. If we can locate groups peculiarly subject to such pressures, we should expect to find fairly high levels of deviant behavior in these groups, not because the human beings comprising them are compounded of distinctive biological tendencies but because they are responding to the social situation in which they find themselves" (1957, p. 186).
"Our perspective is sociological. We look at variations in the rates of deviant behavior, not at its incidence. Should our quest be at all successful, some forms of deviant behavior will be found to be as psychologically normal as conforming behavior, and the equation of deviation and psychological abnormality will be put into question" (1957, p. 186).
"A high frequency of deviant behavior is not generated merely by lack of opportunity or by this exaggerated pecuniary emphasis. A comparatively rigidified class structure, a caste order, may limit opportunities far beyond the point which obtains in American society today. It is when a system of cultural values extols, virtually above all else, certain common success-goals for the population at large while the social structure rigorously restricts or completely closes access to approved modes of reaching these goals for a considerable part of the same population, that deviant behavior ensues on a large scale" (1957, p. 200).
"It will be remembered that we have considered the emphasis on monetary success as one dominant theme in American culture, and have traced the strains which it differentially imposes upon those variously located in the social structure. This was not to say, of course,--as was repeatedly indicated--that the disjunction between cultural goals and institutionally legitimate means derives only from this extreme goal-emphasis. The theory holds that any extreme emphasis upon achievement--whether this be scientific productivity, accumulation of personal wealth or, by a small stretch of the imagination, the conquests of Don Juan--will attenuate conformity to the institutional norms governing behavior designed to achieve the particular forms of 'success,' especially among those who are socially disadvantaged in the competitive race. It is the conflict between cultural goals and the availability of using institutional means--whatever the character of the goals--which produces a strain toward anomie" (1957, p. 220).
On the sociology of science
"It is the thesis of this study that the Puritan ethic, as an ideal-typical expression of the value-attitudes basic to ascetic Protestantism generally, so canalized the interests of seventeenth-century Englishmen as to constitute one important element in the enhanced cultivation of science. The deep-rooted religious interests of the day demanded in their forceful implications the systematic, rational, and empirical study of Nature for the glorification of God in His works and for the control of the corrupt world" (1957, pp. 574-575).
Merton, Robert K. 1957. Social Theory and Social Structure, revised and enlarged edition. New York: Free Press of Glencoe.
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