Sociology Index

Robert King Merton

Among distinguished sociologists, Robert King Merton is included among the founding fathers of modern day sociology. A Columbia UniversityProfessor Merton won the National Medal of Science. Robert King Merton developed concepts such as "unintended consequences", the "reference group", and "role strain", "role model" and "self-fulfilling prophecy." Role theory was a central piece of Merton's theory of social groups. Robert King Merton's work was similar to that of David Emile Durkheim in his work 'Suicide' or Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Robert King Merton believed that middle range theories bypassed the failures of larger theories.

According to Robert King Merton, middle-range theory starts its theorizing with clearly defined aspects of social phenomena, rather than with broad, abstract entities such as society as a whole. Theories of the middle range should be firmly supported by empirical evidence data. Robert King Merton's work on the "role model" first appeared in his study on the socialization of medical students at Columbia, a term that grew from his theory of a reference group.

Robert King Merton came to publish about 50 papers in the sociology of science. He also contributed to the theory of deviant behavior. Robert King Merton admired Talcott Parsons' work because it introduced him to European methods of theory, but unlike Parsons, Robert King Merton preferred more limited, middle-range theories.

Robert King Merton Quotes

“Most institutions demand unqualified faith, but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.”

“A cardinal American virtue, 'ambition,' promotes a cardinal American vice, 'deviant behavior.”

“Anticipatory plagiarism occurs when someone steals your original idea and publishes it a hundred years before you were born.”