And it is those negative consequences that could, in the long-term, create alterations in those original basic values. Finally, there is Merton's self-defeating prophecy. Worry about being afraid of some consequence motivates people to take action before the problem exists. The non-occurrence of that problem they acted against, is not anticipated as a possibility.
It is interesting to note here that it is not improbable that the reader of this can place himself or herself in several of these situations and, therefore, see the accuracy, and the depth and complexity of Merton's postulations and conclusions.
Manifest and latent functions were first defined by Merton for the science of sociology. He was attempting to focus on the conceptual practices employed in a functional analysis. Functional analysis is the study of the individual elements of a functioning societal structure such as its customs, traditions and institutions. As Herbert Spencer, a 19th century English philosopher and sociological theorist, described it: a common analogy would be that the interrelated parts of society would be regarded as "organs" that work toward the proper functioning of the "body" as a whole.
Merton explained that manifest functions are the consequences that individuals either observe or anticipate. That consequence is specifically stated and understood by all participants in the action. He used the American Indian rain dance as an example of a manifest function of which the desired and intended outcome is rain and that is understood by all participating.
Latent functions are ones that are neither recognized nor intended. If we use Merton's example of the rain dance, the latent function might be to reinforce the "group identity" by providing a periodic occasion for the random and scattered members of a particular group to come together and engage in a common tradition or activity (Merton, 1957, pp. 60-69).
Berger, 1963, lists examples of the difference between manifest and latent functions. Christian missions in Africa manifest a consequence of converting the heathen natives to Christianity, while in a latent consequence, perhaps, destroying the ancient tribal cultures. Another example Berger gives is the Communist Party control over all segments of life in Russia having a manifest consequence of ensuring the continuance of its own party's dominance. Latently, it creates a new rich, fat-cat bureaucracy which is ever-more disinclined toward the very principles of self-denial upon which the party was founded (Berger, pp 40-41).
Merton emphasized attention to the latent functions as more important to and increasing the understanding of society than manifest functions. In his usual common sense manner of deductive reasoning, he concluded that the distinction between the two tends to force the science of sociology to look beyond the reasons individuals state for their actions or for the existence of tradition or custom, and tends to push them to explore other social consequences that allow a custom to become a custom, for instance.
Strain Theory (Theory of Deviance)
Social deviance interested Merton to a great extent. His "strain theory" argues that deviant, or anti-social behavior, up to and including felony crimes, is not caused solely by any sudden shift in social status or social change of a general nature. More, Merton said, deviant activity is caused by a society that held out goals such as wealth and power to all, but does not give all of society equal means, like jobs and education, to attain those goals.
Strain, to Merton, refers to either the societal system-level practices that cascade down and have an impact on how a person recognizes his or her needs, or it means the pressures and frustrations an individual feels when they attempt to acquire satisfaction for their needs. So that, an individual may focus more on actually attaining those needs rather than on the methods used.
Crime aspires to increase in the imbalance between what the system insists is success and the individual's ability or means to come anywhere close to achieving it. Merton attempts, with his strain theory, to define why crime is more prevalent among the poorer classes who have the least chance of meeting society's definition (O'Connor).
Occupation, education and level of income all seem to be primary indicators of the level of strain. To Merton, they indicate the extent to which goals are blocked. When a person desires a certain level of income, for instance, but does not have the education to acquire it, strain occurs.
Merton's Thesis -- The Sociology of Science
Before Merton, there was no sociology field of science. He created both the framework of concept and theory, and the tools, as well as a program or goal for research. He developed his Merton Thesis to define the causes of the scientific revolution as well as creating a set of Mertonian norms of science to assist scientists as they seek the knowledge of their field.
Merton's Thesis sought a link between the increase of Protestant emphasis on leading a good Christian life, and experimental science, somewhat similar to Max Weber's suggestion that a correlation existed between the Protestant ethic and capitalism's growth.
Merton theorized that changes in the characteristics of science are owing to an ever-increasing accumulation of observations, as well as better experimental techniques. He also suggested that society's interest in science in 17th century England could be explained by a link between Protestantism and the "idealistic" historical interpretation of scientific values (Merton, Robert K., Newworldencyclopedia.org...).
Though it now seems mundane, at the time it was unique. What Merton was proposing was a link between science of the time, and religion and the impact one had on the other. Religion, he said, was important to the original creation of the scientific revolution. Later, he admitted that the two parted ways after science maintained its legitimacy on its own, and that the two -- religion and science -- later became opposites, reigning in the influence of religion.
In establishing his Mertonian Thesis of science, he also suggested "norms" for the study of science that scientists should be held to: that science is an open field, that science does not discriminate, that science favors outward objectivity, and that all ideas must be tested and subjected to community examination -- ideals that are (hopefully) upheld today by "most" scientific endeavor.
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