National Obituary Review

Dead Person of the Day February 23 – Robert Merton

0 Comments 23 February 2012


Robert Merton is the reason modern day Americans can go to college and study sociology then get jobs at the Gap afterwards. BUT, the current void of critical thinking skills isn’t his fault. Merton helped popularize sociology as a legitimate science.

By concentrating on “middle range” theory — rather than grand scale or abstract speculation — Merton established concepts that reached into everyday life. He coined the phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy,” developed the idea of role models and created, with his colleagues, the “focused interview” that was used in “focus groups” — now a staple of contemporary business albeit a distortion of Merton’s intention.

A true sociologist – Merton generated many of his ideas through human interaction and observation.

Often, Merton’s work had consequences that broke down the stuffy wallsof academia, including his study of successfully integrated communities, which helped shape the case of “Brown v. Board of Education,” and led to the Supreme Court’s ruling to desegregate public schools. His influential work on social structure and anomie sought to explain that criminality – and other deviant behavior- results from the existence of social structures that dangle universal goals in front of people but do not offer all members the opportunity to achieve them. Shocking right?

Eugene Garfield, an information scientist, wrote that much of Mr. Merton’s work was ”so transparently true that one can’t imagine why no one else has bothered to point it out.”

Well the book was around for thousands of years before they decided to put page numbers in there. What a world!

Its obit time!

Robert K. Merton, Versatile Sociologist and Father of the Focus Group, Dies at 92

Published: February 24, 2003

Robert K. Merton, one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century, whose coinage of terms like ”self-fulfilling prophecy” and ”role models” filtered from his academic pursuits into everyday language, died yesterday. He was 92 and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Merton gained his pioneering reputation as a sociologist of science, exploring how scientists behave and what it is that motivates, rewards, and intimidates them. By laying out his ”ethos of science” in 1942, he replaced the entrenched stereotypical views that had long held scientists to be eccentric geniuses largely unbound by rules or norms. It was this body of work that contributed to Mr. Merton’s becoming the first sociologist to win a National Medal of Science in 1994. Continue 

- who has written 512 posts on The Shade.

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