International Institute of Sociology, Congress July 5-9, 2005, Stockholm, Sweden, Semi-plenary Session

Robert K. Merton: A Modern Master of Sociology

Thursday July 7, 11:00-12:40

Merton's Ambivalence towards Autonomous Theory -- and Ours

Donald N. Levine, University of Chicago (USA)

Whatever happened to middle-range theory?

Raymond Pawson, University of Leeds (UK)

Trust and Social Capital in Science: R. K. Merton’s Inspirations

Piotr Sztompka, Jagiellonian University in Krakow (Poland)

Chair: Hans L. Zetterberg, Valuescope

Good morning and welcome to our session onRobert K. Merton: A Modern Master of Sociology”

My name is Hans Zetterberg. I taught sociology at Columbia University for eleven years between 1953 and 1964. That is a good part of the golden days of a department ruled by two friends, Merton and Lazarsfelt, whose 35 years of collaboration stands out as a model for a scholarly partnership.

There are three big parts of Merton’s labor in sociology: his social theory, his sociology of knowledge, and his communication research. Our papers today deal with the first two: the middle-range theorist who ranged far and wide, and the father of sociology of science who taught us the workings of the scientific reward system, serendipity, and trust and intellectual capital in science.

We will not deal with his communication research to which he gave much of his first decade at Columbia in the 1940s in interplay with Paul Lazarsfelt. It is interesting to note, however, that The New York Times in writing his obituary in February 2002 gave the headline to his contribution to research methodology in communications. The headline reads “Robert K. Merton, Versatile Sociologist and Father of the Focus Group, Dies at 92.” The obituary tells how “his adoption of the focused interview to elicit the responses of groups to texts, radio programs and films led to the ‘focus groups’ that politicians, their handlers, marketers and hucksters now find indispensable. Long after he had helped devise the methodology, Mr. Merton deplored its abuse and misuse.” He treated it as an instance of a favorite theme of his 'the unplanned consequences of planned actions.' He also added, "I wish I'd get a royalty”

This is not a memorial session about Robert K. Merton in which obituaries are presented. We shall deal with the live ideas of Merton, how one must struggle with them and how they may continue to inspire. Two of our speakers have written important books about Merton: Professor Levine of the University of Chicago who will open our session and professor Sztompka of Jagiellonian University who will end the session. Between them we will listen to Professor Pawson from the University of Leeds who will take us with a British perspective through trials and tribulations with middle range theory.