Robert King Merton

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Merton, Robert King


Born July 5, 1910, in Philadelphia, Pa. American sociologist. Professor of sociology (1947) and assistant director of the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University. President of the American Sociological Association (1954).

Merton is an exponent of structural-functional analysis. He introduced the concept of dysfunction and made the distinction between manifest and latent, or hidden, functions. He also proposed the idea of middle-level theories, which are to link empirical research with a general theory of sociology.

Merton’s sociological analysis may be exemplified in his theory of anomie (a concept borrowed from E. Durkheim). According to Merton, anomie is a distinct moral and psychological state of the individual and the social consciousness and is characterized by the collapse of the system of moral values and by the vacuum of ideals. Merton considers the cause of anomie to be the contradiction between the individualistic, norm goals dominant in the culture of the USA (the striving for wealth, power, and success, which gives purpose and motivation to the individual) and the existing institutions and the sanctioned means of achieving these goals. According to Merton, established institutions in effect deprive the overwhelming majority of Americans of any possibility of achieving by legal means the goals that have been set for them.

According to Merton, this contradiction is what underlies crime (the revolt of the individualist against the restraining influence of institutionalized laws and regulations), apathy, and disillusionment in life (the loss of life goals). Merton regards this contradiction not as the product of the capitalist system but as a universal conflict, allegedly typical of industrial society. In a number of works, Merton emerges as a liberal-democratic critic of the bureaucratic and militaristic tendencies in the USA; however, he does not go beyond the boundaries of bourgeois ideology.

Merton is the author of empirical studies criticizing mass communication (radio, films, television, the press) in the USA, as well as works on the sociology of knowledge and the sociology of science.


Mass Persuasion. 1946. (With M. Fiske and A. Curtis.)
The Focused Interview. Glencoe [1956]. (Coauthor.)
Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth Century England, 2nd ed. New York, 1970.
Social Theory and Social Structure. New York, 1968.
On the Shoulders of Giants. New York, 1965.
On Theoretical Sociology. London, 1967.
Contemporary Social Problems. 3rd ed. New York, 1971. (Coedited with R. Nisbet.)
In Russian translation:
“Sotsial’naia struktura i anomiia.” In Sotsiologiia prestupnosti. Moscow, 1966.
“lavnye i latentnye funktsii.” In Strukturno-funktsionaVnyi analiz v sovremennoi sotsiologii, issue 1. Moscow, 1968.


Andreeva, G. M. Sovremennaia burzhuaznaia empiricheskaia sotsiologiia. Moscow, 1965.
Zamoshkin, lu. A. Krizis burzhuaznogo individualizma i lichnostl’ Moscow, 1967
Loomis, C. P., and Z. K. Loomis. Modern Social Theories. New York, 1961. (With bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.