Robert K. Merton in His Own Words:
On middle-range theory:
Throughout this book, the term sociological theory refers
to logically interconnected sets of propositions from which empirical uniformities
can be derived. Throughout we focus on what I have called theories of the
middle range: theories that lie between the minor but necessary working
hypotheses that evolve in abundance during day-to-day research and the
all-inclusive systematic efforts to develop a unified theory that will
explain all the observed uniformities of social behavior, social organization,
and social change (1968, p. 39).
My emphasis upon the gap between the practical problems
assigned to the sociologist and the state of his accumulated knowledge
and skills does not mean of course, that the sociologist should not seek
to develop increasingly comprehensive theory or should not work on research
directly relevant to urgent practical problems. Most of all, it does not
mean that sociologists should deliberately seek out the pragmatically trivial
problems (1968, p. 50).
At any given moment, men of science are close to the solutions
of some problems and remote from others. It must be remembered that necessity
is only the mother of invention; socially accumulated knowledge is its
father. Unless the two are brought together, necessity remains infertile.
She may of course conceive at some future time when she is properly mated.
But the mate requires time (and sustenance) if he is to attain the size
and vigor needed to meet the demands that will be made upon him (1968,
Our major task today is to develop special theories applicable
to limited conceptual ranges--theories for example of deviant behavior,
the unanticipated consequences of purposive action, social perception,
reference groups, social control, the interdependence of social institutions--rather
than to seek immediately the total conceptual structure that is adequate
to derive these and other theories of the middle range (1968, p. 51
Sociological theory, if it is to advance significantly,
must proceed on these interconnected planes: (1) by developing special
theories form which to derive hypotheses that can be empirically investigated
and (2) by evolving, not suddenly revealing, a progressively more general
conceptual scheme that is adequate to consolidate groups of special theories
(1968, p. 51).
We sociologists can look instead toward progressively
comprehensive sociological theory which, instead of proceeding from the
head of one man, gradually consolidates theories of the middle range, so
that these become special cases of more general formulations (1968, p.
But I find it hard to reconcile Bierstedt's appraisal
of Weber's monograph [The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism]
with the rhetoric that would banish theories of the middle range as sickly
and pale and singularly unambitious. For surely this monograph is a prime
example of theorizing in the middle range; it deals with a severely delimited
problem--one that happens to be exemplified in a particular historical
epoch with implications for other societies and other times; it employs
a limited theory about the ways in which religious commitment and economic
behavior are connected; and it contributes to a somewhat more general theory
of the modes of interdependence between social institutions (1968, p. 63).
Second, Bierstedt seems to assume that middle-range theory
completely excludes macrosociological inquiry in which a particular theory
generates specific hypotheses to be examined in the light of systematically
assembled data. As we have seen, this assumption is unfounded. Indeed,
the main work in comparative macrosociology today is based largely on specific
and delimited theories of the interrelations between the components of
social structure that can be subjected to systematic empirical test using
the same logic and much the same kinds of indicators as those employed
in microsociological research (1968, p. 64).
Given these polarized interpretations of sociological
theory of the middle range, it may be helpful to reiterate the attributes
of this theory:
Middle-range theories consist of limited sets of assumptions
from which specific hypotheses are logically derived and confirmed by empirical
These theories do not remain separate by are consolidated
into wider networks of theory, as illustrated by theories of level of aspiration,
reference-group, and opportunity-structure.
These theories are sufficiently abstract to deal with differing
spheres of social behavior and social structure, so that they transcend
sheer description or empirical generalization. The theory of social conflict,
for example, has been applied to ethnic and racial conflict, class conflict,
and international conflict.
This type of theory cuts across the distinction between microsociological
problems, as evidenced in small group research, and macrosociological problems,
as evidenced in comparative studies of social mobility and formal organization,
and the interdependence of social institutions.
Total sociological systems of theory--such as Marx's historical
materialism, Parson's theory of social systems and Sorokin's integral sociology--represent
general theoretical orientations rather than the rigorous and tightknit
systems envisaged in the search for a "unified theory" in physics.
As a result, many theories of the middle range are consonant
with a variety of systems of sociological thought.
Theories of the middle range are typically in direct line
of continuity with the work of classical theoretical formulations. We are
all residuary legatees of Durkheim and Weber, whose works furnish ideas
to be followed up, exemplify tactics of theorizing, provide models for
the exercise of taste in the selection of problems, and instruct us in
raising theoretical questions that develop out of theirs.
The middle-range orientation involves the specification of
ignorance. Rather than pretend to knowledge where it is in fact absent,
it expressly recognizes what must still be learned in order to lay the
foundation for still more knowledge. It does not assume itself to be equal
to the task of providing theoretical solutions to all the urgent practical
problems of the day but addresses itself to those problems that might now
be clarified in the light of available knowledge (1968, pp. 68-69).
On relations between theory and empirical research:
"…empirical research also initiates, reformulates, refocuses
and clarifies sociological theory. And in the measure that empirical inquiry
thus fructifies theory, it is evident that the theoretical sociologist
who is remote from all research, who learns of it only by hearsay as it
were, runs the risk of being insulated from the very experience most likely
to turn his attention to new and fruitful directions. His mind has not
been prepared by experience. He is removed from the often noted experience
of serendipity, the discover through chance by a prepared mind of new findings
that were not looked for" (1968, p ix).
Max Weber was right in subscribing to the view that one
need not be Caesar in order to understand Caesar. But there is a temptation
for us theoretical sociologists to act sometimes as though it is not necessary
even to study Caesar in order to understand him. Yet we know that the interplay
of theory and research makes both for understanding of the specific case
and expansion of the general rule" (1968, p. ix).
The recent history of sociological theory can in large
measure be written in terms of an alternation between two contrasting emphases.
On the one hand, we observe those sociologists who seek above all to generalize,
to find their way as rapidly as possible to the formulation of sociological
laws. Tending to assess the significance of sociological work in terms
of scope rather than the demonstrability of generalizations, they eschew
the "triviality" of detailed, small-scale observations and seek the grandeur
of global summaries. At the other extreme stands a hardy band who do not
hunt too closely the implications of their research but who remain confident
and assured that what they report is so. To be sure, their reports of facts
are verifiable and often verified, but they are somewhat at a loss to relate
these facts to one another or even to explain why these. Rather than other,
observations have been made. For the first group the identifying motto
would at times seem to be: "We do not know whether what we say is true,
but it is at least significant." And for the radical empiricist the motto
may read: "This is demonstrably so, but we cannot indicate its significance."
(1968, p. 139).
The term "sociological theory" has been widely used to
refer to the products of several related but distinct activities carried
on by members of a professional group called sociologists. But since these
several types of activity have significantly different bearings upon empirical
social research--since they differ in their scientific functions--they
should be distinguished for purposes of discussion. Moreover, such discriminations
provide a basis for assessing the contributions and limitations characteristic
of each of the following six types of work which are often lumped together
as comprising sociological theory: (1) methodology; (2) general sociological
orientations; (3) analysis of sociological concepts; (4) post factum sociological
interpretations; (5) empirical generalizations in sociology and (6) sociological
theory (1968, p. 140).
Sociologists, in company with all others who essay scientific
work, must be methodologically wise; they must be aware of the design of
investigation, the nature of inference, the requirements of a theoretic
system. But such knowledge does not contain or imply the particular content
of sociological theory. There is, in short, a clear and decisive difference
between knowing how to test a battery of hypotheses and knowing the theory
from which to derive hypotheses to be tested. It is my impression that
current sociological training is more largely designed to make students
understand the first than the second (1968, pp. 140-141).
Whatever their intellectual function, these methodological
writings imply the perspective of a fledgling discipline, anxiously presenting
its credentials for full status in the fraternity of the sciences (1968,
Much of what is described in textbooks as sociological
theory consists of general orientations toward substantive materials. Such
orientations involve broad postulates which indicates types of variables
which are somehow to be taken into account rather than specifying determinant
relationships between particular variables. Indispensable though these
orientations are, they provide only the broadest framework for empirical
inquiry. This is the case with Durkheim's generic hypothesis, which holds
that the "determining cause of a social fact should be sought among the
social facts preceding it" and identifies the "social" factor as institutional
norms toward which behavior is oriented…. Such general orientations may
be paraphrased as saying in effect that the investigator ignores this order
of fact at his peril. They do not set forth specific hypotheses (1968,
Otherwise put, the general orientation indicated the relevance
of some structural variables, but there still remained the task of ferreting
out the particular variables to be included (1968, p. 142).
With a few conspicuous exceptions, recent sociological
discussions have assigned but one major function to empirical research:
the testing or verification of hypotheses. The model for the proper way
of performing this function is as familiar as it is clear. The investigator
begins with a hunch or hypothesis, from this he draws various inferences
and these, in turn, are subjected to empirical test which confirms of refutes
the hypothesis. But this is a logical model, and so fails, of course, to
describe much of what actually occurs in fruitful investigation. It presents
a set of logical norms, not a description of the research experience (1968,
It is my central thesis that empirical research goes far
beyond the passive role of verifying and testing theory: it does more than
confirm or refute hypotheses. Research plays an active role: it performs
at least four major functions which help shape the development of theory.
It initiates, it reformulates, it deflects and it clarifies theory (1968,
The growing interest in the theory of propaganda as an
instrument of social control, for example, is in large part a response
to the changing historical situation, with its conflict of major ideological
systems, new technologies of mass communication which have opened up new
avenues for propaganda and the rich research treasuries provided by business
and government interested in this new weapon of war, both declared and
undeclared. But this shift is also a byproduct of accumulated facts made
available through such newly developed, and confessedly crude, procedures
as content-analysis, the panel technique and the focused interview (1968,
However this may be, the essential point is that, in this
instance, as in other, the very requirements of empirical research have
been instrumental in clarifying received concepts. The process of empirical
inquiry raises conceptual issues which may long go undetected in theoretic
inquiry (1968, p. 171).
On functional analysis:
Since it was first introduced by Leibniz, the word function
has its most precise significance in mathematics, where it refers to a
variable considered in relation to one or more other variables in terms
of which it may be expressed or on the value of which its own value depends.
This conception, in a more extended (and often more imprecise) sense, is
expressed by such phrases as "functional interdependence" and "functional
relations," so often adopted by social scientists (1968, p. 75).
It is this fifth connotation which is central to functional
analysis as this has been practiced in sociology and anthropology. Stemming
in part from the native mathematical sense of the term, this usage is more
often explicitly adopted from the biological sciences, where the term function
is understood to refer to the "vital or organic processes considered in
the respects in which they contribute to the maintenance of the organism."
But the concept of function involves the standpoint of
the observer, not necessarily that of the participant. Social function
refers to observable objective consequences, and not to subjective dispositions
(aims, motives, purposes). And the failure to distinguish between the objective
sociological consequences and the subjective dispositions inevitably leads
to confusion of functional analysis…(1968, p. 78).
Chiefly, but not solely in anthropology, functional analysts
have commonly adopted three interconnected postulates which, it will now
be suggested, have proved to be debatable and unnecessary to the functional
Substantially, these postulates hold first, that standardized
social activities or cultural items are functional for the entire social
or cultural system; second, that all such social and cultural items fulfill
sociological functions; and third, that these items are consequently indispensable.
Although these three articles of faith are ordinarily seen only in one
another's company, they had best be examined separately, since each gives
rise to its own distinctive difficulties (1968, p. 79).
One need not go far afield to show that the assumption
of the complete functional unity of human society is repeatedly contrary
to fact. Social usages or sentiments may be functional for some groups
and dysfunctional for others in the same society (1968, p. 81).
If the body of observation and fact which negates the
assumption of functional unity is as large and easily accessible as we
have suggested, it is interesting to ask how it happens that Radcliffe-Brown
and others who follow his lead have continued to abide by this assumption.
A possible clue is provided by the fact that this conception, in its recent
formulations, was developed by social anthropologists, that is by men primarily
concerned with the study of non-literate societies. In view of what Radin
had described as "the highly integrated nature of the majority of aboriginal
civilizations," this assumption may be tolerably suitable for some, if
not all, non-literate societies. But one pays an excessive intellectual
penalty for moving this possibly useful assumption from the realm of small
non-literate societies to the realm of large, complex and highly differentiated
literate societies (1968, p. 82).
This unity of the total society cannot be usefully posited
in advance of observation. It is a question of fact, and not a matter of
opinion. The theoretic framework of functional analysis must expressly
require that there be specification of the units for which a given social
or cultural item is functional. It must expressly allow for a given item
having diverse consequences, functional and dysfunctional, for individuals,
for subgroups, and for the more inclusive social structure and culture
(1968, p. 84).
"…although any item of culture of social structure may
have functions, it is premature to hold unequivocally that every such item
must be functional" (1968, 85).
But he need not be driven, by an archaic and irrelevant
controversy, to adopt the unqualified postulate that all culture items
fulfill vital functions. For this, too, is a problem for investigation,
not a conclusion in advance of investigation. Far more useful as a directive
for research would seem the provisional assumption that persisting cultural
forms have a net balance of functional consequences either for the society
considered as a unit or for subgroups sufficiently powerful to retain these
forms intact, by means of direct coercion or indirect persuasion. This
formulation at once avoids the tendency of functional analysis to concentrate
on positive functions and directs the attention of the research worker
to other types of consequences as well (1968, p. 86).
Proceeding further, we must set forth a major theorem
of functional analysis; just as the same item may have multiple functions,
so may the same function be diversely fulfilled by alternative items. Functional
needs are here taken to be permissive, rather than determinant, of specific
social structures. Or, in other words, there is a range of variation in
the structures which fulfill the function in question. (The limits upon
this range of variation involve the concept of structural constraint, of
which more presently) (1968, pp. 87-88).
Upon review of this trinity of functional postulates,
several basic considerations emerge which must be caught up in our effort
to codify this mode of analysis. In scrutinizing, first, the postulate
of functional unity, we found that one cannot assume full integration of
all societies, but that this is an empirical question of fact in which
we should be prepared to find a range of degrees of integration (1968,
From critical scrutiny of this postulate, it developed
that a theory of functional analysis must call for specification of the
social units sub-served by given social functions, and that items of culture
must be recognized to have multiple consequences, some of them functional
and others, perhaps, dysfunctional (1968, p. 90).
Review of the second postulate of universal functionalism,
which holds that all persisting forms of culture are inevitably functional,
resulted in other considerations which must be met by a codified approach
to functional interpretation. It appeared not only that we must be prepared
to find dysfunctional as well as functional consequences of these forms
but that the theorist will ultimately be confronted with the difficult
problem of developing an organon for assessing the net balance of consequences
if his research is to have bearing on social technology (1968, p. 90).
The postulate of indispensability, we found, entailed
two distinct propositions: the one alleging the indispensability of certain
functions, and this gives rise to the concept of functional necessity or
functional prerequisites; the other alleging the indispensability of existing
social institutions, culture forms, or the like, and when suitably questioned,
gives rise to the concept of functional alternatives, equivalents or substitutes.
Moreover, the currency of these three postulates, singly
and in concert, is the source of the common charge that functional analysis
inevitably involves certain ideological commitments (1968, p. 90).
In many quarters and with rising insistence, it has been
charged that, whatever the intellectual worth of functional analysis, it
is inevitably committed to a "conservative" (even a "reactionary") perspective
(1968, p. 91).
Thus say these critics, functional theory is merely the
orientation of the conservative social scientist who would defend the present
order of things, just as it is, and who would attack the advisability of
change, however moderate (1968, p. 91).
It remains yet to be shown that functional analysis inevitably
falls prey to this engaging fallacy but, having reviewed the postulate
of indispensability, we can well appreciate that this postulate, if adopted,
might easily give rise to this ideological charge (1968, p. 91).
Though functional analysis has often focused on the statics
of social structure rather than the dynamics of social change, this is
not intrinsic to that system of analysis. By focusing on dysfunctions as
well as on functions, this mode of analysis can assess not only the bases
of social stability but the potential sources of social change. The phrase
"historically developed forms" may be a useful reminder that social structures
are typically undergoing discernable change (1968, p. 94).
To the extent that functional analysis focuses wholly
on functional consequences, it leans toward an ultraconservative ideology;
to the extent that it focuses wholly on dysfunctional consequences, it
leans toward an ultra-radical utopia. "In its essence," it is neither one
nor the other (1968, p. 94).
Recognizing, as they must, that social structures are
forever changing, functional analysts must nevertheless explore the interdependent
and often mutually supporting elements of social structure. In general,
it seems that most societies are integrated to the extent that many, if
not all, of their several elements are reciprocally adjusted. Social structures
do not have a random assortment of attributes, but these are variously
interconnected and often mutually sustaining. To recognize this, is not
to adopt an uncritical affirmation of every status quo; to fail to recognize
this, is to succumb to the temptations of radical utopianism (1968, pp.
But again, it must be reiterated: neither change alone
nor fixity alone can be the proper object of study by the functional analyst.
As we survey the course of history, it seems reasonably clear that all
major social structures have in due course been cumulatively modified or
abruptly terminated. In either event, they have not been eternally fixed
and unyielding to change. But, at a given moment of observation, any such
social structure may be tolerably well accommodated both to the subjective
values of many or most of the population, and to the objective conditions
with which it is confronted (1968, p. 95).
In this chapter[Social Structure and Anomie], then, I
am concerned primarily with extending the theory of functional analysis
to deal with problems of social and cultural change. As I have noted elsewhere,
the great concern of functional sociologists and anthropologists with problems
of "social order" and with the "maintenance" of social systems has generally
focused their scientific attention on the study of processes whereby a
social system is preserved largely intact. In general, they have not devoted
much attention to the processes utilizable for determinate basic changes
in social structure. If the analysis in Chapter VI does not materially
advance toward its solution, at the very least it recognizes this as a
significant problem. It is oriented toward problems of social dynamics
and change (1968, p. 176).
The key concept bridging the gap between statics and dynamics
in functional theory is that of strain, tension, contradictions, or discrepancy
between the component elements of social and cultural structure. Such strains
may be dysfunctional for the social system in its then existing form; they
may also be instrumental in leading to changes in that system. In any case,
they exert pressure for change. When social mechanisms for controlling
them are operating effectively, these strains are kept within such bounds
as to limit change of the social structure (1968, p. 176).
The functional orientation is of course neither new nor
confined to the social sciences. It came, in fact, relatively late on the
sociological scene, if one may judge by its earlier and extended use in
a great variety of other disciplines. The central orientation of functionalism--
expressed in the practice of interpreting data by establishing their consequences
for larger structures in which they are implicated--has been found in virtually
all the sciences of man--biology and physiology, psychology, economics
and law, anthropology and sociology. The prevalence of the functional outlook
is in itself no warrant for its scientific value, but it does suggest that
cumulative experience has forced this orientation upon the disciplined
observers of man as biological organism, psychological actor, member of
society and bearer of culture (1968, pp. 100-102).
Functions are those observed consequences which make for
the adaptation or adjustment of a given system; and dysfunctions, those
observed consequences which lessen the adaptation or adjustment of the
system. There is also the empirical possibility of nonfunctional consequences,
which are simply irrelevant tot he system under consideration (1968, p.
The second problem (arising from the easy confusion of
motives and functions) requires us to introduce a conceptual distinction
between the cases in which the subjective aim-in-view coincides with the
objective consequences, and the cases in which they diverge.
Manifest functions are those objective consequences contributing
to the adjustment or adaptation of the system which are intended and recognized
by participants in the system;
Latent functions, correlatively, being those which are
neither intended nor recognized (1968, p. 105).
The relations between the "unanticipated consequences"
of actions and "latent functions" can be clearly defined, since they are
implicit in the foregoing section of the paradigm. The unintended consequences
of actions are of three types:
We have observed the difficulties entailed in confining analysis
to functions fulfilled for "the society," since items may be functional
for some individuals and subgroups and dysfunctional for others. It is
necessary, therefore, to consider a range of units for which the item has
designated consequences: individuals in diverse statuses, subgroups, the
larger social system and culture systems. (Terminologically, this implies
the concept of psychological functions, group function, society functions,
cultural functions, etc.) (1968, p. 106).
Those which are functional for a designated system, and these
comprise the latent functions;
Those which are dysfunctional for a designated system, and
these comprise the latent dysfunctions; and
Those which are irrelevant to the system which they affect
neither functionally or dysfunctionally, i.e., the pragmatically unimportant
class of non-functional consequences (1968, p. 105).
The range of variation in the items which can fulfill
designated functions in a social structure is not unlimited (and this has
been repeatedly noted in our foregoing discussion). The interdependence
of the elements of a social structure limits the effective possibilities
of change or functional alternatives. The concept of structural constraint
corresponds, in the area of social structure, to Goldenweiser's "principle
of limited possibilities" in a broader sphere. Failure to recognize the
relevance of interdependence and attendant structural restraints leads
to utopian thought in which it is tacitly assumed that certain elements
of a social system can be eliminated without affecting the rest of the
system (1968, pp. 106-107).
The concept of dysfunction, which implies the concept
of strain, stress and tension on the structural level, provides an analytical
approach to the study of dynamics and change. How are observed dysfunctions
contained within a particular structure, so that they do not produce instability?
Does the accumulation of stresses and strains produce pressure for change
in such directions as are likely to lead to their reduction? (1968, p.
Description in functional analysis:
It soon becomes apparent that the functionalist orientation
largely determines what is included in the description of the item to be
interpreted. Thus, the description of a magical performance or a ceremonial
is not confined to the account of the spell or formula, the rite and the
performers. It includes a systematic account of the people participating
and the onlookers, of the types and rates of interaction among performers
and audience, of changes in these patterns of interaction in the course
of the ceremonial (1968, p. 110).
As we shall see in due course, although it bears stating
at this point, the sheer description of the ceremony in terms of the statuses
and group affiliations of those variously involved provides a major clue
to the functions performed by this ceremonial. In a word, we suggest that
the structural description of the participants in the activity under analysis
provides hypotheses for subsequent functional interpretations (1968, p.
In describing the characteristic (modal) pattern for handling
a standardized problem (choice of marriage-partner), the observer, wherever
possible, indicates the principal alternatives which are thereby excluded.
This, as we shall see, provides direct clues tot he structural context
of the pattern and, by suggesting pertinent comparative materials, points
toward the validation of the functional analysis (1968, p. 111).
A third integral element of the description of the problematical
item preparatory to the actual functional analysis--a further requirement
for preparing the specimen for analysis, so to speak--is to include the
"meanings" (or cognitive and affective significance) of the activity or
pattern for members of the group. In fact, as will become evident, a fully
circumstantial account of the meanings attached to the item goes far toward
suggesting appropriate lines of functional analysis (1968, pp. 111-112).
As is well known, Veblen goes on to impute a variety of
functions to the pattern of conspicuous consumption--functions of aggrandizement
of status, of validation of status, of "good repute," of display of pecuniary
strength (p. 84). These consequences, as experienced by participants in
the patterned activity, are gratifying and go far toward explaining the
continuance of the pattern. The clues to the imputed functions are provided
almost wholly by the description of the pattern itself which includes explicit
references to (1) the status of those differentially exhibiting the pattern,
(2) known alternatives to the pattern of consuming in terms of display
and "wastefulness" rather than in terms of private and "intrinsic" enjoyment
of the item of consumption; and (3) the diverse meanings culturally ascribed
to the behavior of conspicuous consumption by participants in and observers
of the pattern (1968, p. 112).
Inevitably, participants in the practice under scrutiny
have some array of motives for conformity or for deviation. The descriptive
account should, so far as possible, include an account of these motivations,
but these motives must not be confused, as we have seen, with (a) the objective
pattern of the behavior or (b) with the social functions of that pattern.
Inclusion of motives in the descriptive account helps explain the psychological
functions subserved by the pattern and often proves suggestive with respect
to the social functions (1968, p. 118).
All this points to a fifth desideratum for the descriptive
protocol: regularities of behavior associated with the nominally central
activity (although not part of the explicit culture pattern) should be
included in the protocols of the field worker, since these unwitting regularities
often provide basic clues to distinctive functions of the total pattern.
As we shall see, the inclusion of these "unwitting" regularities in the
descriptive protocol directs the investigator almost at once to analysis
of the pattern in terms of what we have called latent functions (1968,
In summary, then, the descriptive protocol should, so
far as possible, include:
Location of participants in the pattern within the social
Consideration of alternative modes of behavior excluded by
emphasis on the observed pattern (i.e. attention not only to what occurs
but also to what is neglected by virtue of the existing pattern);
The emotive and cognitive meanings attached by participants
to the pattern;
A distinction between the motivations for participating in
the pattern and the objective behavior involved in the pattern;
Regularities of behavior not recognized by participants but
which are nonetheless associated with the central pattern of behavior (1968,
On manifest and latent functions:
As has been implied in earlier sections, the distinction
between manifest and latent functions was devised to preclude the inadvertent
confusion, often found in the sociological literature, between conscious
motivations for social behavior and its objective consequences (1968, p.
Heuristic purposes of the distinction: Clarifies the analysis
of seemingly irrational social patterns. In the first place, the distinction
aids the sociological interpretation of many social practices which persist
even though their manifest purpose is clearly not achieved. The time-worn
procedure in such instances has been for diverse, particularly lay, observers
to refer to these practices as "superstitions," "irrationalities," "mere
inertia of tradition," etc. In other words, when group behavior does not--and,
indeed, often cannot--attain its ostensible purpose there is an inclination
to attribute its occurrence to lack of intelligence, sheer ignorance, survivals,
or so-called inertia (1968, p. 116).
Thus, the Hopi ceremonials designed to produce abundant
rainfall may be labelled a superstitious practice of primitive folk and
that is assumed to conclude the matter. It should be noted that this in
no sense accounts for the group behavior. It is simply a case of name-calling;
it substitutes the epithet "superstition" for an analysis of the actual
role of this behavior in the life of the group. Given the concept of latent
function, however, we are reminded that this behavior may perform a function
for the group, although this function may be quite remote from the avowed
purpose of the behavior (1968, p. 118).
The concept of latent function extends the observer's
attention beyond the question of whether or not the behavior attains its
avowed purpose. Temporarily ignoring these explicit purposes, it directs
attention toward another range of consequences: those bearing, for example,
upon the individual personalities of Hopi involved in the ceremony and
upon the persistence and continuity of the larger group (1968, p. 118).
But 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
(1968, p. 118).
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. As Durkheim
among others long since indicated, such ceremonials are a means by which
collective expression is afforded the sentiments which, in a further analysis,
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" (1968,
The distinction between manifest and latent functions
serves further to direct the attention of the sociologist to precisely
those realms of behavior, attitude and belief where he can most fruitfully
apply his special skills (1968, p. 119).
But, so long as sociologists confine themselves to the
study of manifest functions, their inquiry is set for them by practical
men of affairs (whether a captain of industry, a trade union leader, or,
conceivably, a Navaho chieftain, is for the moment immaterial), rather
than by the theoretic problems which are at the core of the discipline.
By dealing primarily with the realm of manifest functions, with the key
problem of whether deliberately instituted practices or organizations succeed
in achieving their objectives, the sociologist becomes converted into an
industrious and skilled recorder of the altogether familiar pattern of
behavior. The terms of appraisal are fixed and limited by the question
put to him by the non-theoretic men of affairs, e.g., has the new wage-payment
program achieved such-and-such purposes? (1968, p. 119).
But armed with the concept of latent function, the sociologist
extends his inquiry to those very directions which promise most for the
theoretic development of the discipline. He examines the familiar (or planned)
social practice to ascertain the latent, and hence generally unrecognized,
functions (as well, of course, as the manifest functions) (1968, p. 120).
In short, it is suggested that the distinctive intellectual
contributions of the sociologist are found primarily in the study of unintended
consequences (among which are latent functions) of social practices, as
well as in the study of anticipated consequences (among which are manifest
functions) (1968, p. 120).
There is another respect in which inquiry into latent
functions represent a distinctive contribution of the social scientist.
It is precisely the latent functions of a practice or belief which are
not common knowledge, for these are unintended and generally unrecognized
social and psychological consequences. As a result, findings concerning
latent functions represent a greater increment in knowledge than findings
concerning manifest functions. They represent, also, greater departures
from "common-sense" knowledge about social life (1968, p. 122).
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 or 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 (1968, p.
Thus, to revert to Veblen's well-known analysis of conspicuous
consumption, it is no accident that he has been recognized as a social
analyst gifted with an eye for the paradoxical, the ironic, the satiric.
For these are frequent, if not inevitable, outcomes of applying the concept
of latent function (or its equivalent) (1968, p. 123).
The manifest purpose of buying consumption goods is, of
course, the satisfaction of the needs which these goods are explicitly
designed. …However, says Veblen in effect, as sociologists we must go on
to consider the latent functions of acquisition, accumulation and consumption,
and these latent functions are remote indeed from the manifest functions.
'But it is only when taken in a sense far removed from its naïve meaning
[ie. Manifest function] that the consumption of goods can be said to afford
the incentive from which accumulation invariably proceeds.' And among these
latent functions, which help explain the persistence and the social location
of the pattern of conspicuous consumption, is its symbolization of 'pecuniary
strength and so of gaining or retaining a good name." The exercise of 'punctilious
in the excellence of 'food, drink, shelter, service, ornaments, apparel,
amusements' results not merely in direct gratifications derived from the
consumption of 'superior' to 'inferior' articles, but also, and Veblen
argues, more importantly, it results in a heightening or reaffirmation
of social status (1968, p. 123).
The Veblen paradox is that people buy expensive goods
not so much because the are superior but because they are expensive. For
it is the latent equation ('costliness = mark of higher social status')
which he singles out in his functional analysis, rather than the manifest
equation ('costliness = excellence of the goods'). Not that he denies manifest
functions any place in buttressing the pattern of conspicuous consumption.
These, too, are operative (1968, pp. 123- 124).
It is only that these direct, manifest functions do not
fully account for the prevailing patterns of consumption. Otherwise put,
if the latent functions of status-enhancement or status-reaffirmation were
removed from the patterns of conspicuous consumption. Otherwise put, if
the latent functions of status-enhancement or status-reaffirmation were
removed from the patterns of conspicuous consumption, these patterns would
undergo severe changes of a sort which the 'conventional' economist could
not foresee (1968, p. 124).
Since moral evaluations in a society tend to be largely
in terms of the manifest consequences of a practice or code, we should
be prepared to find that analysis in terms of latent functions at times
runs counter to prevailing moral evaluations, For it does not follow that
the latent functions will operate in the same fashion as the manifest consequences
which are ordinarily the basis of these judgments (1968, p. 125).
Thus, in large sectors of the American population, the
political machine or the "political racket" are judged as unequivocally
'bad' and 'undesirable" (1968, p. 125).
In view of the manifold respects in which political machines,
in varying degrees, run counter to the mores and at times to the law, it
becomes pertinent to inquire how they manage to continue in operation (1968,
Proceeding from the functional view, therefore, that
we should ordinarily (not invariably) expect persistent social patterns
and social structures to perform positive functions which are at the time
not adequately fulfilled by other existing patterns and structures, the
thought occurs that perhaps this publicly maligned organization is, under
present conditions, satisfying basic latent functions (1968, pp. 125-126).
The key structural function of the Boss is to organize,
centralize and maintain in good working condition 'the scattered fragments
of power' which are at present dispersed through our political organization.
By this centralized organization of political power, the boss and his apparatus
can satisfy the needs of diverse subgroups in the larger community which
are not adequately satisfied by legally devised and culturally approved
social structures (1968, p. 126).
To understand the role of bossism and the machine, therefore,
we must look at two types of sociological variables: (1) the structural
context which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for morally approved
structures to fulfill essential social functions, thus leaving the door
open for political machines (or their structural equivalents) to fulfill
these functions and (2) the subgroups whose distinctive needs are left
unsatisfied, except for the latent functions which the machine in fact
fulfills (1968, p. 126).
The question whether the dysfunctions of the machine outweigh
its functions, the question whether alternative structures are available
which may fulfill its functions without necessarily entailing its social
dysfunctions, still remain to be considered at an appropriate point. We
are here concerned with documenting the statement that moral judgments
based entirely on an appraisal of manifest functions of a social structure
are 'unrealistic' in the strict sense, i.e., they do not take into account
other actual consequences of that structure, consequences which may provide
basic social support for the structure. As will be indicated later, :social
reforms' or 'social engineering' which ignore latent functions do so on
pain of suffering acute disappointments and boomerang effects (1968, p.
The constitutional framework of American political organization
specifically precludes the legal possibility of highly centralized power
and, it has been noted, thus "discourages the growth of effective and responsible
leadership. The framers of the Constitution, as Woodrow Wilson observed,
set up the check and balance system 'to keep government at a sort of mechanical
equipoise by means of a standing amicable contest among its several organic
parts.' They distrusted power as dangerous to liberty: and therefore the
spread it thin and erected barriers against its concentration" (1968, pp.
This dispersion of power is found not only at the national
level but in local areas as well. "As a consequence," Sait goes on to observe,
"when the people or particular groups among them demand positive action,
no one had adequate authority to act. The machine provided the antidote"
(1968, p. 127).
Put in more generalized terms, the functional deficiencies
of the official structure generate an alternative (unofficial) structure
to fulfill existing needs somewhat more effectively. Whatever its specific
historical origins, the political machine persists as an apparatus for
satisfying otherwise unfulfilled needs of diverse groups in the population.
By turning to a few of these subgroups and their characteristic needs,
we shall be led at once to a range of latent functions of the political
machine (1968, p. 127).
It is well known that one source of strength of the political
machine derives from its roots in the local community and the neighborhood.
The political machine does not regard the electorate as an amorphous, undifferentiated
mass of voters. With a keen sociological intuition, the machine recognizes
that the voter is a person living in a specific neighborhood, with specific
personal problems and personal wants. Public issues are abstract and remote;
private problems are extremely concrete and immediate. It is not through
the generalized appeal to large public concerns that the machine operates,
but through the direct, quasi-feudal relationships between local representatives
of the machine and voters in their neighborhood. Elections are won in the
precinct (1968, pp. 127-128).
The precinct captain "must be a friend to every man, assuming
if he does not feel sympathy with the unfortunate, and utilizing in his
good works the resources which the boss puts at his disposal." The precinct
captain is forever a friend in need. In our prevailing impersonal society,
the machine, through its local agents, fulfills the important social function
of humanizing and personalizing all manner of assistance to those in need
(1968, p. 128).
The condescending lady bountiful can hardly compete with
the understanding friend in need. In this struggle between alternative
structures for fulfilling the nominally same function of providing aid
and support to those who need it, it is clearly the machine politician
who is better integrated with the groups which he serves than the impersonal,
professionalized, socially distant and legally constrained welfare worker….The
"deprived classes," then, constitute one subgroup for whom the political
machine satisfies wants not adequately satisfied in the same fashion by
the legitimate social structure (1968, p. 129).
For a second subgroup, that of business (primarily "big"
business but also "small"), the political boss also serves the function
of providing those political privileges which entail immediate economic
gains. Business corporations, among which the public utilities (railroads,
local transportation and electric light companies, communications corporations)
are simply the most conspicuous in this regard, seek special political
dispensations which will enable them to stabilize their situation and to
near their objective of maximizing profits. Interestingly enough, corporations
want to avoid a chaos of uncontrolled competition. They want the greater
security of an economic czar who controls, regulates and organizes competition,
providing that this czar is not a public official with his decisions subject
to public scrutiny and public control. (The latter would be "government
control," and hence taboo). The political boss fulfills these requirements
admirably (1968, p. 129).
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" (1968, pp. 129-130).
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 these effective demands of the business community
or, if that is the objective, of satisfying these demands through alternative
means" (1968, p. 130).
A third set of distinctive functions fulfilled by the
political machine for a special subgroup is that of providing alternative
channels of social mobility for those otherwise excluded from the more
conventional avenues for personal "advancement." Both the sources of this
special "need" (for social mobility) and the respect in which the political
machine comes to help satisfy this need can be understood by examining
the structure of the larger culture and society. As is well known, the
American culture lays enormous emphasis on money and power as a "success"
goal legitimate for all members of the society. By no means alone in our
inventory of cultural goals, it still remains among the most heavily endowed
with positive affect and value. However, certain subgroups and certain
ecological areas are notable for the relative absence of opportunity for
achieving these (monetary and power) types of success. They constitute,
in short, sub-populations where "the cultural emphasis upon pecuniary success
has been absorbed, but where there is little access to conventional and
legitimate means for attaining such success (1968, pp. 130-131).
It is within this context of social structure that the
political machine fulfills the basic function of providing avenues for
social mobility for the otherwise disadvantaged. Within this context, even
the corrupt political machine and racket "represent the triumph of amoral
intelligence over morally prescribed 'failure' when the channels of vertical
mobility are closed or narrowed in a society which places a high premium
on economic affluence, [power] and social ascent for all its members" (1968,
See the National Opinion Research Center survey of evaluation
of occupations which firmly documents the general impression that manual
occupations rate very low indeed in the social scale of values, even among
those who are themselves engaged in manual labor. Consider this latter
point in its full implications. In effect, the cultural and social structure
exacts the values of pecuniary and power success even among those who find
themselves confined to the stigmatized manual occupations. Against this
background, consider the powerful motivation for achieving this type of
"success" by any means whatsoever. A garbage-collector who joins with other
Americans in the view that the garbage-collector is "the lowest of the
low" occupations can scarcely have a self-image which is pleasing to him;
he is in a "pariah" occupation in the very society where he is assured
that "all who have genuine merit can get ahead." Add to this, his occasional
recognition that "he didn't have the same chance as others, no matter what
they say," and one perceives the enormous psychological pressure upon him
for "evening up the score" by finding some means, whether strictly legal
or not, for moving ahead. All this provides the structural and derivatively
psychological background for the "socially induced need" in some groups
to find some accessible avenue for social mobility (1968, p. 131).
This, then, represents a third type of function performed
for a distinctive subgroup. This function, it may be noted in passing,
is fulfilled by the sheer existence and operation of the political machine,
for it is in the machine itself that these individuals and subgroups find
their culturally induced needs more or less satisfied. It refers to the
services which the political apparatus provides for its own personnel.
But seen in the wider social context we have set forth, it no longer appears
as merely a means of self-aggrandizement for profit-hungry and power-hungry
individuals, but as an organized provision for subgroups otherwise excluded
from or handicapped in the race for "getting ahead" (1968, p. 132).
Just as the political machine performs services for "legitimate"
business, so it operates to perform not dissimilar services for "illegitimate"
business: vice, crime and rackets. Once again, the basic sociological role
of the machine in this respect can be more fully appreciated only if one
temporarily abandons attitudes of moral indignation, to examine in all
moral innocence the workings of the organization. In this light, it at
once appears that the subgroup of the professional criminal, racketeer
or gambler has basic similarities of organization, demands and operation
to the subgroup of the industrialist, man of business or speculator. If
there is a Lumber King or an Oil King, there is also a Vice King or a Racket
King. If expansive legitimate business organizes administrative and financial
syndicates to "rationalize" and so to "integrate" diverse areas of production
and business enterprise, so expansive rackets and crime organize syndicates
to bring order to the otherwise chaotic areas of production of illicit
goods and services. If legitimate business regards the proliferation of
small business enterprises as wasteful and inefficient, substituting, for
example, the giant chain stores for hundreds of corner groceries, so illegitimate
business adopts the same businesslike attitude and syndicates crime and
vice (1968, p. 133).
Finally, and in many respect, most important, is the basic
similarity if not near-identity, of the economic role of "legitimate" business
and of "illegitimate" business. Both are in some degree concerned with
the provision of goods and services for which there is an economic demand.
Morals aside, they are both business, industrial and professional enterprises,
dispensing goods and services which some people want, for which there is
a market in which goods and services are transformed into commodities.
And, in a prevalently market society, we should expect appropriate enterprises
to arise whenever there is a market demand for certain goods or services
(1968, p. 133).
The distinctive function of the political machine for
their criminal, vice and racket clientele is to enable them to operate
in satisfying the economic demands of a large market without due interference
from the government. Just as big business may contribute funds to the political
party war-chest to ensure a minimum of governmental interference, so with
big rackets and big crime. In both instances, the political machine can,
in varying degrees, provide "protection." In both instances, many features
of the structural context are identical: (1) market demands for goods and
services; (2) the operators' concern with maximizing gains from their enterprises;
(3) the need for partial control of government which might otherwise interfere
with these activities of businessmen; (4) the need for an efficient, powerful
and centralized agency to provide an effective liaison of "business" with
government (1968, p. 134).
Without assuming that the foregoing pages exhaust either
the range of functions or the range of subgroups served by the political
machine, we can at least see that it presently fulfills some functions
for these diverse subgroups which are not adequately fulfilled by culturally
approved or more conventional structures (1968, p. 134).
First, the foregoing analysis has direct implications
for social engineering. It helps explain why the periodic efforts at "political
reform," "turning the rascals out" and "cleaning political house" are typically
(though not necessarily) short-lived and ineffectual. It exemplifies a
basic theorem: any attempt to eliminate an existing social structure without
providing adequate alternative structures for fulfilling the functions
previously fulfilled by the abolished organization is doomed to failure
(1968, p. 135).
Since the machine serves both the businessman and the
criminal man, the two seemingly antipodal groups intersect. This points
to a more general theorem: the social functions of an organization help
determine the structure (including the recruitment of personnel involved
in the structure), just as the structure helps determine the effectiveness
with which the functions are fulfilled. In terms of social status, the
business group and the criminal group are indeed poles apart. But status
does not fully determine behavior and the inter-relations between groups.
Functions modify these relations. Given their distinctive needs, the several
subgroups in the large society are "integrated," whatever their personal
desires or intentions, by the centralizing structure which serves these
several needs. In a phrase with many implications which require further
study, structure affects function and function affects structure (1968,
This review of some salient considerations in structural
and functional analysis has done little more than indicate some of the
principal problems and potentialities of this mode of sociological interpretation.
Each of the items codified in the paradigm require sustained theoretic
clarification and cumulative empirical research. But it is clear that in
functional theory, stripped of those traditional postulates which have
fenced it in and often made it little more than a latter-day rationalization
of existing practices, sociology has the beginning of a systematic and
empirically relevant mode of analysis (1968, p. 136).
Chapter VI, "Social Structure and Anomie," was first published
in 1938, but has been more recently extended and revised. It exemplifies
the theoretic orientation of the functional analyst who considers socially
deviant behavior just as much a product of social structure as conformist
behavior. This orientation is directed sharply against the fallacious premise,
strongly entrenched in Freudian theory and found also in the writings of
such Freudian revisionists as Fromm, that the structure of society primarily
restrains the free expression of man's fixed native impulses and that,
accordingly, man periodically breaks into open rebellion against these
restraints to achieve freedom (1968, p. 175).
In contrast to such anarchistic doctrines, functional
analysis conceives of the social structure as active, as producing fresh
motivations which cannot be predicted on the basis of knowledge about man's
native drives. If the social structure restrains some dispositions to act,
it creates others. The functional approach therefore abandons the position,
held by various individualistic theories, that different rates of deviant
behavior in diverse groups and social strata are the accidental result
of varying proportions of pathological personalities found in these groups
and strata. It attempts instead to determine how the social and cultural
structure generates pressure for socially deviant behavior upon people
variously located in that structure (1968, pp. 175-176).
In this chapter, then, I am concerned primarily with extending
the theory of functional analysis to deal with problems of social and cultural
change. As I have noted elsewhere, the great concern of functional sociologists
and anthropologists with problems of "social order" and with the "maintenance"
of social systems has generally focused their scientific attention on the
study of processes whereby a social system is preserved largely intact.
In general, they have not devoted much attention to the processes utilizable
for determinate basic changes in social structure. If the analysis in Chapter
VI does not materially advance toward its solution, at the very least it
recognizes this as a significant problem. It is oriented toward problems
of social dynamics and change (1968, p. 176).
The key concept bridging the gap between statics and dynamics
in functional theory is that of strain, tension, contradictions, or discrepancy
between the component elements of social and cultural structure. Such strains
may be dysfunctional for the social system in its then existing form; they
may also be instrumental in leading to changes in that system. In any case,
they exert pressure for change. When social mechanisms for controlling
them are operating effectively, these strains are kept within such bounds
as to limit change of the social structure (1968, p. 176).
Until recently, and all the more so before then, one could
speak of a marked tendency in psychological and sociological theory to
attribute the faulty operation of social structures to failures of social
control over man’s imperious biological drives. The imagery of the relations
between man and society implied by this doctrine is as clear as it is questionable.
In the beginning, there are man’s biological impulses which seek full expression.
And then, there is the social order, essentially and apparatus for the
management of impulses, for the social processing of tensions, for the
"renunciation of instinctual gratifications," in the words of Freud. Nonconformity
with the demands of a social structure is thus assumed to be anchored in
original nature. It is the biologically rooted impulses which from time
to time break through social control. And by implication, conformity is
the result of an utilitarian calculus or of unreasoned conditioning (1968,
With the more recent advancement of social science, this
set of conceptions has undergone basic modification. For one thing, it
no longer appears so obvious that man is set against society in an unceasing
war between biological impulse and social restraint. The image of man as
an untamed bundle of impulses begins to look more like a caricature than
a portrait (1968, p. 185).
For whatever the role of biological impulses, there still
remains the further question of why it is that the frequency of deviant
behavior varies within different social structures and how it happens that
the deviations have different shapes and patterns in different societies
(1968, p. 185).
The framework set out in this essay is designed to provide
one systematic approach to the analysis of social and cultural sources
of deviant behavior. 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 (1968, p. 186).
If we can locate groups peculiarly subject to such pressures,
we should expect to find fairly high rates of deviant behavior in these
groups, not because the human beings comprising them are compounded of
distinctive biological tendencies but because they are responding normally
to the social situation in which they find themselves. Our perspective
is sociological. We look at variations in 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 in question (1968, p. 186).
Among the several elements of social and cultural structures,
two are of immediate importance. These are analytically separable although
they merge in concrete situations. The first consists of culturally defined
goals, purposes and interests, held out as legitimate objectives for all
or for diversely located members of the society. The goals are more or
less integrated—the degree is a question of empirical fact—and roughly
ordered in some hierarchy of value. Involving various degrees of sentiment
and significance, the prevailing goals comprise a frame of aspirational
reference. They are the things "worth striving for" (1968, pp. 186-187).
A second element of the cultural structure defines, regulates
and controls the acceptable modes of reaching out for these goals. Every
social group invariably couples its cultural objectives with regulations,
rooted in the mores of institutions, of allowable procedures for moving
toward these objectives. These regulatory norms are not necessarily identical
with technical or efficiency norms. Many procedures which from the standpoint
of particular individuals would be most efficient in securing desired values—the
exercise of force, fraud, power—are ruled out of the institutional area
of permitted conduct. At times, the disallowed procedures include some
which would be efficient for the groups itself—e.g., historic taboos on
vivisection, on medical experimentation, on the sociological analysis of
"sacred" norms—since the criterion of acceptability is not technical efficiency
but value-laden sentiments (supported by most members of the group or by
those able to promote these sentiments through the composite use of power
and propaganda). In all instances, the choice of expedients for striving
toward cultural goals is limited by institutionalized norms (1968, p. 187).
To say, moreover, that cultural goals and institutionalized
norms operate jointly to shape prevailing practices is not to say that
they bear a constant relation to one another. The cultural emphasis placed
upon certain goals varies independently of the degree of emphasis upon
institutionalized means. There may develop a very heavy, at times a virtually
exclusive, stress upon the values of particular goals, involving comparatively
little concern with the institutionally prescribe means of striving toward
these goals. The limiting case of this type is reached when the range of
alternative procedures is governed only by technical rather than by institutional
norms. Any and all procedures which promise attainment of the all-important
goal would be permitted in this hypothetical polar case. This constitutes
one type of malintegrated culture (1968, p. 187).
A second polar type is found in groups where activities
originally conceived as instrumental are transmuted into self-contained
practices, lacking further objectives. The original purposes are forgotten
and close adherence to institutionally prescribed conduct becomes a matter
of ritual. Sheer conformity becomes a central value. For a time, social
stability is ensured—at the expense of flexibility. Since the range of
alternative behaviors permitted by the culture is severely limited, there
is little basis for adapting to new conditions. There develops a tradition-bound,
‘sacred’ society marked by neophobia (1968, pp. 187-188).
Between these extreme types are societies which maintain
a rough balance between emphases upon cultural goals and institutionalized
practices, and these constitute the integrated and relatively stable, though
changing, societies (1968, p. 188).
It is, indeed, my central hypothesis that aberrant behavior
may be regarded sociologically as a symptom of dissociation between culturally
prescribed aspirations and socially structured avenues for realizing these
aspirations (1968, p. 188).
Of the types of societies that result from independent
variations of cultural goals and institutionalized means, we shall be primarily
concerned with the first—a society in which there is an exceptionally strong
emphasis upon specific goals without a corresponding emphasis upon institutionalized
procedures (1968, p. 188).
No society lacks norms governing conduct. But societies
do differ in the degree to which the folkways, mores and institutional
controls are effectively integrated with the goals which stand high in
the hierarchy of values. The culture may be such as to lead individuals
to center their emotional convictions upon the complex of culturally acclaimed
ends, with far less emotional support for prescribed methods of reaching
out for these ends. With such differential emphases upon goals and institutional
procedures, the latter may be so vitiated by the stress on goals as to
have the behavior of many individuals limited only by considerations of
technical expediency. In this context, the sole significant question becomes:
Which of the available procedures is most efficient in netting the culturally
approved value? The technically most effective procedure, whether culturally
legitimate of not, becomes typically preferred to institutionally prescribed
conduct. As this process of attenuation continues, the society becomes
unstable and there develops what Durkheim called "anomie" (or normlessness)
(1968, pp. 188-189).
The process whereby exaltation of the end generates a
literal demoralization, i.e., a de-institutionalization, of the means occurs
in many groups where the two components of the social structure are not
highly integrated (1968, p. 190).
Contemporary American culture appears to approximate the
polar type in which great emphasis upon certain success-goals occurs without
equivalent emphasis upon institutionalized means (1968, p. 190).
In some large measure, money has been consecrated as a
value in itself, over and above its expenditure for articles of consumption
or its use for the enhancement of power. "Money" is peculiarly well adapted
to become a symbol of prestige. As Simmel emphasized, money is highly abstract
and impersonal. However acquired, fraudulently or institutionally, it can
be used to purchase the same goods and services. The anonymity of an urban
society, in conjunction with these peculiarities of money, permits wealth,
the sources of which may be unknown to the community in which the plutocrat
lives or, if known, to become purified in the course of time, to serve
as a symbol of high status. Moreover, in the American Dream there is no
final stopping point. The measure of "monetary success" is conveniently
indefinite and relative (1968, p. 190).
To say that the goal of monetary success is entrenched
in American culture is only to say that Americans are bombarded on every
side by precepts which affirm the right or, often, the duty of retaining
the goal even in the face of repeated frustration. Prestigeful representatives
of the society reinforce the cultural emphasis. The family, the school
and the workplace—the major agencies shaping the personality structure
and goal formation of Americans—join to provide the intensive disciplining
required if an individual is to retain intact a goal that remains elusively
beyond reach, if he is to be motivated by the promise of a gratification
which is not redeemed (1968, pp. 190-191).
From diverse sources there flows a continuing pressure
to retain high ambition…Coupled with this positive emphasis upon the obligation
to maintain lofty goals is a correlative emphasis upon the penalizing of
those who draw in their ambitions. Americans are admonished "not to be
a quitter" for in the dictionary of American culture, as in the lexicon
of youth, "there is no such world as ‘fail.’" The cultural manifesto is
clear: one must not quite, must not cease striving, must not lessen his
goals, for "not failure, but low aim, is crime." (1968, pp. 192-193).
Thus the culture enjoins the acceptance of three cultural
axioms: First, all should strive for the same lofty goals since these are
open to all; second, present seeming failure is but a way-station to ultimate
success; and their, genuine failure consists only in the lessening or withdrawal
of ambition (1968, p. 193).
It is in these terms and through these processes that
contemporary American culture continues to be characterized by a heavy
emphasis on wealth as a basic symbol of success, without a corresponding
emphasis upon the legitimate avenues on which to march toward this goal.
How do individuals living in this cultural context respond? And how do
our observations bear upon the doctrine that deviant behavior typically
derives from biological impulses breaking through the restraints imposed
by a culture? What, in short, are the consequences for the behavior of
people variously situated in a social structure of a culture in which the
emphasis on dominant success-goals has become increasingly separated from
an equivalent emphasis on institutionalized procedures for seeking these
goals? (1968, p. 193).
Turning from these cultural patterns, we now examine types
of adaptation by individuals within the culture-bearing society. Though
our focus is still the cultural and social genesis of varying rates and
types of deviant behavior, our perspective shifts from the plane of patterns
of cultural values to the plane of types of adaptation to these values
among those occupying different positions in the social structure (1968,
A TYPOLOGY OF MODES OF INDIVIDUAL ADAPTATION
Modes of Adaptation Cultural
Goals Inst. Means
(1968, p. 194).
Examination of how the social structure operates to exert
pressure upon individuals for one or another of these alternative modes
of behavior must be prefaced by the observation that people may shift from
one alternative to another as they engage in different spheres of social
activities. These categories refer to role behavior in specific types of
situations, not to personality. They are types of more or less enduring
response, not types of personality organization (1968, p. 194).
It is a primary assumption of our typology that these
responses occur with different frequency within various sub-groups in our
society precisely because members of these groups or strata are differentially
subject to cultural stimulation and social restraints (1968, p. 194).
Great cultural emphasis upon the success-goal invites
this mode of adaptation [innovation] through the use of institutionally
proscribed but often effective means of attaining at least the simulacrum
of success—wealth and power. This response occurs when the individual has
assimilated the cultural emphasis upon the goal without equally internalizing
the institutional norms governing ways and means for its attainment (1968,
From the standpoint of psychology, great emotional investment
in an objective may be expected to produce a readiness to take risks, and
this attitude may be adopted by people in all social strata. From the standpoint
of sociology, the question arises, which features of our social structure
predispose toward this type of adaptation, thus producing greater frequencies
of deviant behavior in one social stratum than in another? (1968, p. 195).
On the top economic levels, the pressure toward innovation
not infrequently erases the distinction between business-like strivings
this side of the mores and sharp practices beyond the mores. As Veblen
observed, "It is not easy in any given case—indeed it is at times impossible
until the courts have spoken—to say whether it is an instance of praiseworthy
salesmanship or a penitentiary offense. The history of great American fortunes
is threaded with strains toward institutionally dubious innovation as is
attested by many tributes to the Robber Barons (1968, p. 195).
Several researches have shown that specialized areas of
vice and crime constitute a "normal" response to a situation where the
cultural emphasis upon pecuniary success has been absorbed, but where there
is little access to conventional and legitimate means for becoming successful.
The occupational opportunities of people in these areas are largely confined
to manual labor and the lesser white-collar jobs. Given the American stigmatization
of manual labor which has been found to hold rather uniformly in all social
classes, and the absence of realistic opportunities for advancement beyond
this level, the result is a marked tendency toward deviant behavior. The
status of unskilled labor and the standards of worth with the promises
of power and high income from organized vice, rackets, and crime (1968,
For our purposes, these situations exhibit two salient
features. First, incentives for success are provided by the established
values of the culture and second, the avenues available for moving toward
this goal are largely limited by the class structure of those of deviant
behavior. It is the combination of the cultural emphasis and the social
structure which produces intense pressure for deviation. Recourse to legitimate
channels for "getting in the money" is limited by a class structure which
is not fully open at each level to men of good capacity. Despite our persisting
open-class-ideology, advance toward the success-goal is relatively rare
and notably difficult for those armed with little formal education and
few economic resources. The dominant pressure leads toward the gradual
attenuation of legitimate, but by and large ineffectual, strivings and
the increasing use of illegitimate, but more or less effective, expedients
(1968, pp. 199-200).
Of those located in the lower reaches of the social structure,
the culture makes incompatible demands. On the one hand, they are asked
to orient their conduct toward the prospect of large wealth—"Every man
a kind," said Marden and Carnegie and Long—and on the other, they are largely
denied effective opportunities to do so institutionally. The consequence
of this structural inconsistency is a high rate of deviant behavior (1968,
Within this context, Al Capone represents the triumph
of amoral intelligence over morally prescribed "failure," when the channels
of vertical mobility are closed or narrowed in a society which laces a
high premium on economic affluence and social ascent for all its members
(1968, p. 200).
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 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 (1968, p. 200).
Goals are held to transcend class lines, not to be bounded
by them, yet the actual social organization is such that there exist class
differentials in accessibility of the goals. In this setting, a cardinal
American virtue, "ambition," promotes a cardinal American vice, "deviant
behavior" (1968, p. 200).
Poverty as such and consequent limitation of opportunity
are not enough to produce a conspicuously high rate of criminal behavior.
Even the notorious "poverty in the midst of plenty" will not necessarily
lead to this result. But when poverty and associated disadvantages in competing
for the culture values approved for all members of the society are linked
with a cultural emphasis on pecuniary success as a dominant goal, high
rates of criminal behavior are the normal outcome (1968, p. 201).
This orientation toward chance and risk-taking, accentuated
by the strain of frustrated aspirations, may help explain the marked interest
in gambling—an institutionally proscribed or at best permitted rather than
preferred or prescribed mode of activity—within certain social strata (1968,
In societies such as our own, then, the great cultural
emphasis on pecuniary success for all and a social structure which unduly
limits practical recourse to approved means for many set up a tension toward
innovative practices which depart from institutional norms. But this form
of adaptation presupposed that individuals have been imperfectly socialized
so that they abandon institutional means while retaining the success-aspiration.
Among those who have fully internalized the institutional values, however,
a comparable situation is more likely to lead to an alternative response
in which the goal is abandoned but conformity to the mores persists (1968,
The strong disciplining for conformity with mores reduces
the likelihood of Adaptation II [innovation] and promotes the likelihood
of Adaptation III [ritualism]. The severe training leads many to carry
a heavy burden of anxiety. The socialization patterns of the lower middle
class thus promote the very character structure most predisposed toward
ritualism, and it is in this stratum, accordingly, that the adaptive pattern
III should most often occur (1968, p. 205).
Just as Adaptation I (conformity) remains the most frequent,
Adaptation IV (the rejection of cultural goals and institutional means)
is probably the least common. People who adapt (or maladapt) in this fashion
are, strictly speaking, in the society but not of it. Sociologically, these
constitute the true aliens. Not sharing the common frame of values, they
can be included as members of the society (in distinction from the population)
only in a fictional sense (1968, p. 207).
In this category [retreatism] fall some of the adaptive
activities of psychotics, autists, pariahs, outcasts, vagrants, vagabonds,
tramps, chronic drunkards and drug addicts. They have relinquished culturally
prescribed goals and their behavior does not accord with institutionalized
norms (1968, p. 207).
Defeatism, quietism and resignation are manifested in
escape mechanisms which ultimately lead him to "escape" from the requirements
of the society. It is thus an expedient which arises from continued failure
to near the goal by legitimate measures and from an inability to use the
illegitimate route because of internalized prohibitions, this process occurring
while the supreme value of the success-goal has not yet been renounced.
The conflict is resolved by abandoning both precipitating elements, the
goals and the means. The escape is complete, the conflict is eliminated
and the individual is asocialized (1968, pp. 207-208).
The social structure we have examined produces a strain
toward anomie and deviant behavior. The pressure of such a social order
is upon outdoing one’s competitors. So long as the sentiments supporting
this competitive system are distributed throughout the entire range of
activities and are not confined to the final result of "success," the choice
of means will remain largely within the ambit of institutional control.
When, however, the cultural emphasis shifts from the satisfactions deriving
from competition itself to almost exclusive concern with the outcome, the
resultant stress makes for the breakdown of the regulatory structure. With
this attenuation of institutional controls, there occurs an approximation
to the situation erroneously held by the utilitarian philosophers to be
typical of society, a situation in which calculations of personal advantage
and fear of punishment are the only regulating agencies (1968, p. 211).
This strain toward anomie does not operate evenly throughout
the society. Some effort has been made in the present analysis to suggest
the strata most vulnerable to the pressures for deviant behavior and to
set forth some of the mechanisms operating to produce those pressures.
For purposes of simplifying the problem, monetary success was taken as
the major cultural goal, although there are, of course, alternative goals
in the repository of common values. The realms of intellectual and artistic
achievement, for example, provide alternative career patterns which may
not entail large pecuniary rewards. To the extent that the cultural structure
attaches prestige to these alternatives and the social structure permits
access to them, the system is somewhat stabilized. Potential deviants may
still conform in terms of these auxiliary sets of values (1968, p. 211).
It should be apparent that the foregoing discussion is
not pitched on a moralistic plane. Whatever the sentiments of the reader
concerning the moral desirability of coordinating the goals-and-means phases
of the social structure, it is clear that imperfect coordination of the
two leads to anomie. In so far as one of the most general functions of
social structure is to provide a basis for predictability and regularity
of social behavior, it becomes increasingly limited in effectiveness as
these elements of the social structure become dissociated. At the extreme,
predictability is minimized and what may be properly called anomie of cultural
chaos supervenes (1968, pp. 213-214).
As initially developed by Durkheim, the concept of anomie
referred to a condition of relative normlessness in a society or group.
Durkheim made it clear that this concept referred to a property of the
social and cultural structure, not to a property of individuals confronting
that structure. Nevertheless, as the utility of the concept for understanding
diverse forms of deviant behavior became evident, it was extended to refer
to a condition of individuals rather than of their environment (1968, p.
The sociological concept of anomie, as developed in the
preceding pages, presupposes that the salient environment of individuals
can be usefully thought of as involving the cultural structure, on the
one hand, and the social structure, on the other. It assumes that, however
intimately connected these in fact are, they must be kept separate for
purposes of analysis before they are brought together again. In this connection,
cultural structure may be defined as that organized set of social relationships
in which members of the society or group are variously implicated. Anomie
is then conceived as a breakdown in the cultural structure, occurring particularly
when there is an acute disjunction between the cultural norms and goals
and the socially structured capacities of members of the group to act in
accord with them. In this conception, cultural values may help to produce
behavior which is at odds with the mandates of the values themselves (1968,
On this view, the social structure strains the cultural
values, making action in accord with them readily possible for those occupying
certain statuses within the society and difficult or impossible for others.
The social structure acts as a barrier or as an open door to the acting
out of cultural mandates. When the cultural and the social structure are
malintegrated, the first calling for behavior and attitudes which the second
precludes, there is a strain toward the breakdown of the norms, toward
normlessness. It does not follow, of course, that this is the sole process
making for the social condition of anomie; further theory and research
are directed toward searching out other patterned sources of a high degree
of anomie (1968, pp. 216-217).
An effort has been made to catch up the psychological
and sociological concepts in a distinction between ‘simple’ and ‘acute’
anomie. Simple anomie refers to the state of confusion in a group or society
which is subject to conflict between value-systems, resulting in some degree
of uneasiness and a sense of separation from the group; acute anomie, to
the deterioration and, at the extreme, the disintegration of value-systems,
which results in marked anxieties. This has the merit of terminologically
ear-marking the often stated but sometimes neglected fact that, like other
conditions of society, anomie varies in degree and perhaps in kind (1968,
Having identified some of the processes conducing to anomie,
the preceding chapter sets out a typology of adaptive responses to this
condition and the structural pressures making for a greater or less frequency
of each of these responses among the several strata of the class structure.
The underlying premise here is that class strata are not only differentially
subject to anomie but are differentially subject to one or another type
of response to it (1968, p. 217).
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 goals-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 a Don Juan—will attenuate conformity
to the institutional norms governing behavior designed to achieve the particular
form 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 (1968, p. 220).
But what makes American culture relatively distinctive
in this regard and what was taken as central to the analysis of this case
in the foregoing chapter is that this is "a society which places a high
premium on economic affluence and social ascent for all its members" (1968,
It is only that in pulpit and in press, in fiction and
in motion pictures, in the course of formal education and of informal socialization,
in the various public and private communications which come to the attention
of Americans, there is a comparatively marked emphasis for monetary success
and achieving it (1968, p. 222).
This leads naturally to the subsidiary theme that success
or failure are results wholly of personal qualities; that he who fails
has only himself to blame, for the corollary to the concept of the self-made
man is the self-unmade man. To the extent that this cultural definition
is assimilated by those who have not made their mark, failure represents
a double defeat: the manifest defeat of remaining far behind in the race
for success and the implicit defeat of not having the capacities and moral
stamina needed for success. Whatever the objective truth of falsity of
the doctrine in any particular instance, and it is important that this
cannot be readily discovered, the prevailing definition exacts a psychic
toll of those who do not measure up. It is in this cultural setting that,
in a significant proportion of cases, the threat of defeat motivates men
to use of those tactics, beyond the law or the mores, which promise ‘success’
(1968, pp. 222-223).
The moral mandate to achieve success thus exerts pressure
to succeed, by fair means if possible and by foul means if necessary. The
moral norms of course continue to reiterate the rules of the game and to
call for ‘fair play,’ even while behavior departs from the norm. On occasion,
however, even success-manuals urge men "to go in and win’ by making use
of all available means of scrambling ahead of competitors," as in the understandably
anonymous tract of 1878, How to Become Rich (1968, p. 223).
These recent studies thus confirm what has often been
noticed before: that an extreme cultural emphasis on the goal of success
attenuates conformity to institutionally prescribed methods of moving toward
this goal. "Ambition" comes to approximate the meaning of it etymological
origins: "to run around" and not only in the form practiced by the little
politicians of ancient Rome who solicited votes from one and all in their
‘precincts’ and used all manner of devices to ensure a plenty of appropriate
votes. It is in this way that the culturally established goal moves toward
sanctifying all those means which enable one to attain it. This is what
was meant in the foregoing essay by the process of ‘demoralization,’ in
which norms are robbed of their power to regulate behavior, and the ‘normlessness’
component of anomie ensues (1968, p. 223).
But if the communications addressed to generations of
Americans continue to reiterate the gospel of success, it does not follow
that Americans in all groups, regions and class strata have uniformly assimilated
this set of values. There is no swift and unbroken passage from the values
expressed in the popular culture to the values by which men actually live.
It would be equally mistaken, however, to assume that the two are wholly
unrelated simply because they are not identical. It is a matter for inquiry,
not a matter of supposition, to find out how widely the values under examination
have been assimilated (1968, p. 224).
On the hypothesis under review, deviant behavior is still
the subsidiary pattern and conformity the modal pattern. It is therefore
sufficient that a sizable minority of the lower strata assimilate this
goal for them to be differentially subject to this pressure as a result
of their relatively smaller opportunities to achieve monetary success (1968,
For it is the disjunction between culturally induced high
aspirations and socially structured obstacles to realization of these aspirations
which is held to exert distinct pressure for deviant behavior. By a ‘substantial
number,’ then, is meant a number sufficiently large to result in a more
frequent disjunction between goals and opportunity among the lower-class
strata than among the more advantaged upper-class strata (1968, p. 228).
Just as classifying enormously varied conditions and processes
under the one heading of disease, rather than distinct theories of disease
led some zealous medical systematists to believe that it was their task
to evolve a single over-arching theory of disease, so, it seems the established
idiom, both vernacular and scientific, of referring to ‘juvenile delinquency’
as though it were a single entity, leads some to believe that there must
be a basic theory of ‘its’ causation. Perhaps this is enough to suggest
what is meant by referring to crime or juvenile delinquency as a blanket-concept
which may get in the way of theoretical formulations of the problem (1968,
The foregoing theory of anomie is designed to account
for some, not all, forms of deviant behavior customarily described as criminal
or delinquent (1968, p. 232).
Owing to their objectively disadvantaged position in the
group as well as to the distinctive personality configurations, some individuals
are subjected more than others to the strains arising from the discrepancy
between goals and effective access to their realization. They are consequently
more vulnerable to deviant behavior. In some proportion of cases, again
dependent upon the control-structure of the group, these departures from
institutional norms are socially rewarded by ‘successful’ achievement of
goals. But these deviant ways of achieving the goals occur within social
systems. The deviant behavior consequently affects not only the individuals
who first engage in it but, in some measure, it also affects other individuals
with whom they are inter-related in the system (1968, pp. 233-234).
A mounting frequency of deviant but ‘successful’ behavior
tends to lessen and, as an extreme potentiality, to eliminate the legitimacy
of the institutional norms for others in the system. The process thus enlarges
the extent of anomie within the system so that others, who did not respond
in the form of deviant behavior to the relatively slight anomie which first
obtained, come to do so as anomie spreads and is intensified. This, in
turn, creates a more acutely anomic situation for still other and initially
less vulnerable individuals in the social system. In this way, anomie and
mounting rates of deviant behavior can be conceived as interacting in a
process of social and cultural dynamics, with cumulatively disruptive consequences
for the normative structure, unless counteracting mechanisms of control
are called into play. In each specific case under examination, then, it
is essential, as we have said before, to identify the control mechanism
which "minimize the strains resulting from seeming [or actual] contradictions
between cultural goals and socially restricted access" to them. (177) (1968,
As was said in the initial exposition of the theory, "monetary
success was taken as a major cultural goal only "for purposes of simplifying
the problem…although there are, of course, alternative goals in the repository
of common values." (211) In terms of the general conception, any cultural
goals which receive extreme and only negligibly qualified emphasis in the
culture of a group will serve to attenuate the emphasis on institutionalized
practices and make for anomie (1968, p. 235).
From the standpoint of sociology, other forms of departure
from regulatory norms may have little or nothing to do with violation of
the established law of the land (1968, p. 235).
Finally, by way of preamble to this review of other types
of deviant behavior, it should be noted once again that, from the standpoint
of sociology, not all such deviation from the dominant norms of the group
is necessarily dysfunctional for the basis values and adaptation of the
group. Correlatively, strict and unquestioned adherence to all prevailing
norms would be functional only in a group that never was: a group which
is completely static and unchanging in a social and cultural environment
which is static and unchanging (1968, p. 236).
A particular pattern of behavior which departs from the
dominant norms of the group may be dysfunctional in lessening the stability
of the group or in reducing its prospect of achieving the goals it values.
But, judged by one or another set of ethical standards, it may be the norms
of the group which are at fault, not the innovator who rejects them (1968,
All this would require no repetition were it not for the
occasional and, it seems, increasingly frequent, assumption that deviant
behavior is necessarily equivalent to social dysfunction, and social dysfunction,
in turn, to violation of an ethical code. In the history of every society,
presumably, some of its culture heroes have been regarded as heroic precisely
because they have had the courage and the vision to depart form norms then
obtaining in the group. As we all know, the rebel, revolutionary, nonconformist,
individualist, heretic or renegade of an earlier time is often the culture
hero of today (1968, p. 237).
It should also be said again, since it is so easily forgotten,
that to center this theory upon the cultural and structural sources of
deviant behavior is not to imply that such behavior is the characteristic,
let alone the exclusive, response to the pressures we have been examining.
This is an analysis of varying rates and types of deviant behavior, not
an empirical generalization to the effect that all those subject to these
pressures respond by deviation. The theory only holds that those located
in places in the social structure which are particularly exposed to such
stresses are more likely than others to exhibit deviant behavior. Yet,
as a result of countervailing social mechanisms, most even of these stressful
positions do not typically induce deviation; conformity tends to remain
the modal response (1968, p. 237).
Among the countervailing mechanisms, as has been suggested
in the preceding chapter, is access to "alternative goals in the repository
of common values….To the extent that the cultural structure attaches prestige
to these alternatives and the social structure permits access to them,
the system is somewhat stabilized. Potential deviants may still conform
in terms of these auxiliary sets of values. " (211) (1968, p. 237).
In quick summary, then, it should be evident that (1)
the theory under review deals with culturally emphasized goals of diverse
kinds and not only with the goal of monetary success which was examined
for the purpose of illustration; (2) that it distinguishes forms of deviant
behavior which may be far removed from those which represent violations
of the law; (3) that the deviant behavior is not necessarily dysfunctional
to the effective operation and development of the group; (4) that the concepts
of social deviation and social dysfunction do not harbor concealed ethical
premises; and (5) that alternative cultural goals provide a basis for stabilizing
the social and cultural systems (1968, p. 238).
Of more direct relevance is the study of the behavior
of bureaucrats by Peter M. Blau. He suggests that observed cases of overconformity
are "not due to the fact that ritualistic adherence to existing operating
procedure had become an inescapable habit" and that "ritualism results
hot so much from overidentification with rules and strong habituation to
established practices as from lack of security in important social relationships
in the organization." It is, in short, when the structure of the situation
does not allay the status-anxiety over the capacity to measure up to institutionalized
expectations that individuals in these organizations respond with over-compliance
(1968, p. 239).
Generally, however, retreatism seems to occur in response
to acute anomie, involving an abrupt break in the familiar and accepted
normative framework and in established social relations, particularly when
it appears to individuals subjected to it that the condition will continue
indefinitely. As Durkheim noted with characteristic insight, such disruptions
may be found in the ‘anomie of prosperity,’ when Fortune smiles and many
experience radical upward shifts from their accustomed status, and not
only in the ‘anomie of depression,’ when Fortune frowns and apparently
exits for good. Much the same anomic condition often obtains in those patterned
situations which ‘exempt’ individuals from a wide array of role-obligations,
as, for example, in the case of ‘retirement’ from the job being imposed
upon people without their consent and in the case of widowhood (1968, p.
We have had frequent occasion to note that criminal ‘rackets’
and sometimes associated political machines persist by virtue of the social
functions they perform for various parts of the underlying population who
constitute their acknowledged and unacknowledged clientele. It should be
expected, therefore, that as legitimate structural alternatives for performing
these functions develop, this would result in substantial changes in the
social distribution of deviant behavior (1968, p. 246).
Finally, and ironically, in view of the close connection
of Roosevelt with the large urban political machines, it is a basic structural
change in the form of providing services, through the rationalized procedures
of what some call ‘the welfare state,’ that largely spelled the decline
of the political machine. It would be figurative but essentially true to
say that it was the system of ‘social security’ and the growth of more-or-less
bureaucratically administered scholarships which, more that direct assaults
of reformers, have so greatly reduced the power of the political machine
(1968, pp. 247-248).
On bureaucratic structure and personality:
As in the analysis of deviant behavior in the two preceding
chapters, functional theory is utilized in the analysis of bureaucratic
structure and personality in Chapter VIII. Again, I assume that the structure
constrains individuals variously situated within it to develop cultural
emphasis, social patterns and psychological bents. And once again, I assume
that this holds true for social deviations and dysfunctions as it does
for social conformity and functions. Deviations are not necessarily dysfunctional
for a social system, as we have seen, any more than conformity is necessarily
functional (1968, p. 177).
From the functional analysis of bureaucratic structure,
it is clear that, under determinant conditions, conformity to regulations
can be dysfunctional both for realizing the objectives of the structure
and for various groups in the society which the bureaucracy is intended
to serve. Regulations are in such cases applied even when the circumstances
which initially made them functional and effective have so materially changed
that conformity to the rule defeats its purpose. If only in the light of
biblical distinctions between the letter and the spirit, it is obvious
that this is anything but a new observation (1968, pp. 177-178).
In this chapter, bureaucratic dysfunctions are regarded
as stemming not only from an overly-close and static adjustment to a set
of conditions which no longer obtain, but also from the breakdown of ordinarily
self-regulating social mechanisms (e.g., the orientation of bureaucratic
officials toward a well-ordered career may in due course make for excessive
caution and not merely for the technically most efficient measure of conformity
to regulations) (1968, p. 178).
A formal, rationally organized social structure involves
clearly defined patterns of activity in which, ideally, every series of
actions is functionally related to the purposes of the organization. In
such an organization there is integrated a series of offices, of hierarchized
statuses, in which inhere a number of obligations and privileges closely
defined by limited and specific rules. Each of these offices contains an
area of imputed competence and responsibility. Authority, the power of
control which derives from an acknowledged status inheres in the office
and not in the particular person who performs the official role. Official
action ordinarily occurs within the framework of preexisting rules of the
organization. The system of prescribed relations between the various offices
involves a considerable degree of formality and clearly defined social
distance between the occupants of these positions. Formality is manifested
by means of a more or less complicated social ritual which symbolizes and
supports the pecking order of the various offices. Such formality, which
is integrated with the distribution of authority within the system, serves
to minimize friction by largely restricting (official) contact to modes
which are previously defined by the rules of the organization. Ready calculability
of others’ behavior and a stable set of mutual expectations is thus built
up. Moreover, formality facilitates the interaction of the occupants of
offices despite their (possibly hostile) private attitudes toward one another.
In this way, the subordinate is protected from the arbitrary action of
his superior, since the actions of both are constrained by a mutually recognized
set of rules. Specific procedural devices foster objectivity and restrain
the "quick passage of impulse into action." (1968, p. 249).
As Weber indicates, bureaucracy involves a clear-cut division
of integrated activities which are regarded as duties inherent in the office.
A system of differentiated controls and sanctions is stated in the regulations.
The assignment of roles occurs on the basis of technical qualifications
which are ascertained through formalized, impersonal procedures (e.g.,
examinations). Within the structure of hierarchically arranged authority,
the activities of "trained and salaried experts" are governed by genera,
abstract, and clearly defined rules which precludes the necessity for the
issuance of specific instructions for each specific case. The generality
of the rules requires the constant use of categorizations, whereby individual
problems are treated accordingly. The pure type of bureaucratic official
is appointed, either by a superior or through the exercise of impersonal
competition; he is not elected (1968, p. 250).
With increasing bureaucratization, it becomes plain to
all who would see that man is to a very important degree controlled by
his social relations to the instruments of production. This can no longer
seem only a tenet of Marxism, but a stubborn fact to be acknowledged by
all, quite apart from their ideological persuasion. Bureaucratization makes
readily visible what was previously dim and obscure. More and more people
discover that to work, they must be employed. For to work, one must have
tools and equipment. And the tools and equipment are increasingly available
only in bureaucracies, private or public. Consequently, one must be employed
by the bureaucracies in order to have access to tools in order to live.
It is in this sense that bureaucratization entails separation of individuals
from the instruments of production, as in modern capitalistic enterprise
or in state communistic enterprise (of the midcentury variety), just as
in the post-feudal army, bureaucratization entailed complete separation
from the instruments of destruction. Typically, the worker no longer owns
his tools nor the soldier, his weapons. And in this special sense, more
and more people become workers, either blue collar or white collar or stiff
shirt. So develops, for example, the new type of scientific worker, as
the scientist is "separated" from his technical equipment—after all, the
physicist does not ordinarily own his cyclotron. To work at his research,
he must be employed by a bureaucracy with laboratory resources (1968, pp.
Bureaucracy is administration which almost completely
avoids public discussion of its techniques, although there may occur public
discussion of its policies. This secrecy is confined neither to public
nor to private bureaucracies. It is held to be necessary to keep valuable
information from private economic competitors or from foreign and potentially
hostile political groups (1968, p. 251).
For reasons which we have already noted, the bureaucratic
structure exerts a constant pressure upon the official to be "methodical,
prudent, disciplined." If the bureaucracy is to operate successfully, it
must attain a high degree of reliability of behavior, an unusual degree
of conformity with prescribed patterns of action. Hence, the fundamental
importance of discipline which may be as highly developed in a religious
or economic bureaucracy as in the army. Discipline can be effective only
if the ideal patterns are buttressed by strong sentiments which entail
devotion to one's duties, a keen sense of limitation of one's authority
and competence, and methodical performance of routine activities (1968,
Adherence to the rules, originally conceived as a means,
becomes transformed into an end-in-itself; there occurs the familiar process
of displacement of goals whereby "an instrumental value becomes a terminal
value." Discipline, readily interpreted as conformance with regulations,
whatever the situation, is seen not as a measure designed for specific
purposes but becomes an immediate value in the life-organization of the
bureaucrat. This emphasis, resulting from the displacement of the original
goals, develops into rigidities and an inability to adjust readily. Formalism,
even ritualism, ensues with an unchallenged insistence upon punctilious
adherence to formalized procedures (1968, p. 253).
Such inadequacies in orientation which involve trained
incapacity clearly derive from structural sources. The process may be briefly
recapitulated. (1) An effective bureaucracy demands reliability of response
and strict devotion to regulations. (2) Such devotion to the rules leads
to their transformation into absolutes; they are no longer conceived as
relative to a set of purposes. (3) This interferes with ready adaptation
under special conditions not clearly envisaged by those who drew up the
general rules. (4) Thus, the very elements which conduce toward efficiency
in general produce inefficiency in specific instances. Full realization
of the inadequacy is seldom attained by members of the group who have not
divorced themselves from the meanings which the rules have for them. These
rules in time become symbolic in cast, rather than strictly utilitarian
(1968, p. 254).
The bureaucrat's official life is planned for him in terms
of a graded career, through the organizational devices of promotion by
seniority, pensions, incremental salaries, etc., all of which are designed
to provide incentives for disciplined action and conformity to the official
regulations. The official is tacitly expected to and largely does adapt
his thoughts, feelings and actions to the prospect of this career. But
these very devices which increase the probability of conformance also lead
to an over-concern with strict adherence to regulations which induces timidity,
conservatism, and technicism. Displacement of sentiments from goals onto
means is fostered by the tremendous symbolic significance of the means
(rules) (1968, pp. 254-255).
Another feature of the bureaucratic structure tends to
produce much the same result. Functionaries have the sense of a common
destiny for all those who work together. They share the same interests,
especially since there is relatively little competition in so far as promotion
is in terms of seniority. In-group aggression is thus minimized and this
arrangement is therefore conceived to be positively functional for the
bureaucracy. However, the esprit de corps and informal social organization
which typically develops in such situations often leads the personnel to
defend their entrenched interests rather than to assist their clientele
and elected higher officials (1968, p. 255).
Another feature of the bureaucratic structure, the stress
on depersonalization of relationships, also plays its part in the bureaucrat's
trained incapacity. The personality pattern of the bureaucrat is nucleated
about the norm of impersonality. Both this and the categorizing tendency,
which develops from the dominant role of general, abstract rules, tend
to produce conflict in the bureaucrat's contacts with the public or clientele.
Since functionaries minimize personal relations and resort to categorization,
the peculiarities of individual cases are often ignored. But the client
who, quite understandably, is convinced of the special features of his
own problem often objects to such categorical treatment. Stereotyped behavior
is not adapted to the exigencies of individual problems. The impersonal
treatment of affairs which are at times of great personal significance
to the client gives rise to the charge of "arrogance" and haughtiness"
of the bureaucrat (1968, p. 256).
Still another source of conflict with the public derives
from the bureaucratic structure. The bureaucrat, in part irrespective of
his position within the hierarchy, acts as a representative of the power
and prestige of the entire structure. This often leads to an actually or
apparently domineering attitude, which may only be exaggerated by a discrepancy
between his position within the hierarchy and his position with reference
to the public. Protest and recourse to other officials on the part of the
client are often ineffective or largely precluded by the previously mentioned
esprit de corps which joins the officials into a more or less solidary
in-group (1968, p. 257).
Moreover, in this case, tension is increased because of
a discrepancy between ideology and fact: the governmental personnel are
held to be "servants of the people," but in fact they are often super-ordinate,
and release of tension can seldom be afforded by turning to other agencies
of the necessary service. This tension is in part attributable to the confusion
of the status of bureaucrat and client; the client may consider himself
socially superior to the official who is at the moment dominant (1968,
Thus, with respect to the relations between officials
and clientele, one structural source of conflict is the pressure for formal
and impersonal treatment when individual, personalized consideration is
desire by the client. The conflict may be viewed, then, as deriving from
the introduction of inappropriate attitudes and relationships are substituted
for the structurally required impersonal relationships. Conflict within
the bureaucratic structure arises from the converse situation, namely,
when personalized relationships are substituted for the structurally required
impersonal relationships (1968, p. 258).
The trend towards increasing bureaucratization in Western
Society, which Weber had long since foreseen, is not the sole reason for
sociologists to turn their attention to this field. Empirical studies of
the interaction of bureaucracy and personality should especially increase
our understanding of social structure (1968, p. 259).
Bureaucratization involves an accent on rationality of
procedure (within limited contexts) which requires intellectually specialized
personnel. In increasing numbers, young intellectuals in the United States
have been recruited by public bureaucracies for at least the last generation.
Two aspects of this development deserve attention: (1) its implications
for a change in the values of younger intellectuals and (2) the ways in
which the bureaucracy converts politically-minded intellectuals into technicians
(1968, p. 266).
Many intellectuals have become alienated from the assumptions,
objectives and rewards of private enterprise. Such estrangement from business
class values is a reflection of the institutional dislocations which breed
insecurity and uncertainties. The experience of recurrent economic depressions
makes itself felt in a withdrawal of allegiance from the prevailing power
structure. Intellectuals become imbued with values and standards which,
they believe, are not consistent with a place in the business world (1968,
There is, in the lure of Washington for the intellectual,
a symptom, perhaps, of the belief that the locus of effective control in
our society is shifting; shifting, let us say, from Wall Street to Constitution
Avenue. That this may not be the case, that, as Walton Hamilton has suggested,
it may be rather the case of Wall Street having transferred its headquarters
to the capital, is not here in question. But alienated intellectuals working
in governmental bureaucracy do not generally conceive their career as an
indirect contribution to the business class. They are more likely to view
the government and their role, great or small, in it as an instrument for
modifying the business power system from which they have become alienated.
For these persons, government service represents a frontal attack on the
interest groups who have hitherto made the significant decisions (1968,
Intellectuals who may have previously pledged their allegiance
to political movements seeking to modify our economic and political structure
have now in increasing numbers, it would seem, adopted the alternative
of seeking to work these changes through constituted governmental authority
(1968, p. 267).
In contrast to these alienated intellectuals stands the
doubtlessly far larger aggregate of recruits to public bureaucracies: the
technicians who are professedly indifferent to any given social policies
but whose sentiments and values are broadly to those of prevailing power
groups. The technicians conceive their role as merely that of implementing
whichever policies are defined by policy-makers. The occupational code
of the technician constrains him to accept a dependency-relation to the
executive. This sense of dependency, which is hedged about with sentiment,
is expressed in the formula: the policy-maker supplies the goals (ends,
objectives) and we technicians, on the basis of expert knowledge, indicate
alternative means for reaching these ends (1968, p. 267).
So controlling and pervasive is this occupational code
that it has led technicians to abide by this sharp distinction of means
and ends, without recognizing that the verbal distinction itself can support
the technician's flight from social responsibility. He regards an end or
goal as the terminus of action. He may not see it as the occasion for further
consequences. He may not see that the action includes its consequences
(1968, p. 267).
Only when this information is assembled can we test the
hypothesis that bureaucracies provoke gradual transformations of the alienated
intellectual into the a-political technician, whose role is to serve whatever
strata happen to be in power (1968, p. 268).
It appears that the state bureaucracy exerts a pressure
upon the alienated intellectual to accommodate himself to the policies
of those who make the strategic decisions, with the result that, in time,
the role of the one-time alienated intellectual may become indistinguishable
from that of the technician (1968, p. 268).
In describing the process whereby the intellectual in
a bureaucracy is converted into a technician, we proceed on the assumption
that perspectives and outlooks are largely a product of social position.
Intellectuals are oriented toward more or less defined social circles and
accommodate their interests, attitudes, and objectives to these circles.
The demands and expectations inherent in a social position tend to shape
the behavior of occupants of that position. As Mead has so well indicated,
the social self arises through taking over the organized set of attitudes
of significant others. Moreover, this progressive importation of other's
evaluations and expectations is cumulative and commonly occurs without
the process entering into awareness, except at occasional points of conflict.
This view of the formation of role personalities at once directs our attention
to differences in the "significant others" for the bureaucratic and unattached
intellectual: in short, it requires us to examine the different clientele
of the two types of intellectual and the part they play in shaping the
intellectual's role (1968, pp. 268-269).
On self-fulfilling prophecy:
Although Chapter XIII, "The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy,"
was written originally for a lay audience, I have included it in this volume
because it deals with that much neglected sector of functional analysis
in sociology, the study of dynamic social mechanisms.
The reader will soon observe that the mechanism of the
self-fulfilling social belief, in which confident error generates its own
spurious confirmation, bears a close theoretical connection with the concept
of latent function. Both are types of unanticipated consequences of action
or decision or belief, the one producing the very circumstances erroneously
assumed to exist, the other producing results which were not intended at
all (1968, p. 182).
A third pattern of unanticipated consequences, that of
the self-destroying belief, is briefly mentioned but not developed at any
length in this chapter. This mechanism, picturesquely termed the "suicidal
prophecy" by the nineteenth century logician John Venn, involves beliefs
which prevent fulfillment of the very circumstances which would otherwise
come to pass. Examples of this are plentiful and familiar. Confident that
they will win a game or a war or a cherished prize, groups become complacent,
their complacency leads to lethargy, and lethargy to eventual defeat (1968,
The self-fulfilling prediction and the suicidal prediction
hold double interest for the social scientist. They represent not only
patterns which he wishes to investigate in the behavior of others, but
also patterns which create acute and very special methodological problems
in his own research. It makes most difficult the empirical testing of social
science predictions. For since these predictions can be taken into account
by the very people to whom they refer, the social scientist everlastingly
faces the possibility that his prediction will enter into the situation
as a new and dynamic factor, changing the very conditions under which the
prediction initially held true. This characteristic of predictions is peculiar
to human affairs. It is not found among predictions about the world of
nature (except as natural phenomena are technologically shaped by men)
(1968, p. 183).
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 not most, social processes (1968, p. 475).
The first part of the theorem provides an unceasing reminded
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 (1968, pp. 475-476).
The parable [a bank failure] tells us that public definitions
of a situation (prophecies or predictions) become an integral part of the
situation and thus affect subsequent developments. This is peculiar to
human affairs. It is not found in the world of nature, untouched by human
hands. Predictions of the return of Halley's comet do not influence its
orbit. But the rumored insolvency of Millingville's bank did affect the
actual outcome. The prophecy of collapse led to its own fulfillment (1968,
The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false
definition of the situation evoking a behavior which makes the originally
false conception come true. The specious validity of the self-fulfilling
prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual
course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning. (Yet
we know that Millingville's bank was solvent, that it would have survived
for many years had not the misleading rumor created the very conditions
of its own fulfillment.) Such are the perversities of social logic (1968,
It is the self-fulfilling prophecy which goes far toward
explaining the dynamics of ethnic and racial conflict in the America of
today (1968, p. 477).
So plain is the mechanism of the self-fulfilling prophecy
in these instances [race relations in the U.S.] that only those forever
devoted to the victory of sentiment over fact can take these specious evidences
seriously. Yet the spurious evidence often creates a genuine belief. Self-hypnosis
through one's own propaganda is a not infrequent phase of the self-fulfilling
prophecy (1968, p. 481).
This empirical study suggests that propaganda-of-the-deed
may be effective among the very people who are distrustful of propaganda-of-the-word.
Where there is social disorganization, anomie, conflicting values, we find
propagaditis reaching epidemic proportions. Any statement of values is
likely to be discounted as "mere propaganda." Exhortations are suspect.
But the propaganda of the deed elicits more confidence. Members of the
audience are largely permitted to draw their conclusions from the action--they
are less likely to feel manipulated. When the propagandist's deed and his
words symbolically coincide, it stimulates belief in his sincerity (1968,
The growing interest in the theory of propaganda as an
instrument of social control, for example, is in large part a response
to the changing historical situation, with its conflict of major ideological
systems, new technologies of mass communication which have opened up new
avenues for propaganda and the rich research treasuries provided by business
and government interested in this new weapon of war, both declared and
undeclared. But this shift is also a byproduct of accumulated facts made
available through such newly developed, and confessedly crude, procedures
as content-analysis, the panel technique and the focused interview (1968,
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).
Like most controversies in science, this dispute over
the allocation of intellectual resources among different kinds of sociological
work [middle range theory], involves social conflict and not merely intellectual
criticism. That is, the dispute is less a matter of contradictions between
substantive sociological ideas than of competing definitions of the role
of the sociologist that is judged most effective at this time (1968, p.
This controversy follows the classically identified course
of social conflict. Attack is followed by counter-attack, with progressive
alienation between the parties to the conflict. In due course, since the
conflict is public, it becomes a status-battle more than a search for truth.
Attitudes become polarized, and then each group of sociologists begins
to respond largely to stereotyped versions of what the other is saying.
Theorists of the middle range are stereotyped as mere nose-counters or
mere fact-finders or as merely descriptive sociographers. And theorists
aiming at general theory are stereotyped as inveterately speculative, entirely
committed to doctrines that are so formulated that they cannot be tested
(1968, pp. 53-54).
Merton, Robert K. 1957. Social Theory and Social Structure,
revised and enlarged edition. New York: Free Press of Glencoe.