Robert K. Merton | Sociology UPSC Notes

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Robert K. Merton | Sociology UPSC Notes

Conformity and deviation, Latent and Manifest functions, Reference Groups:

Merton is an American sociologist who once studied with Talcott Parsons and is known for his criticism of him. The most important ideas he has added are about the nature of sociological theory and a new way to look at the functional approach. Most of what he has written has been in the form of an essay. “The Social Theory and Social Structure,” which is a collection of some of these articles, is an important book. He was a well-known sociologist who is probably best known for coming up with the phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy.” He also came up with many other common phrases, like “role model” and “unintended consequences.” Pitrim Sorokin had a big impact on him. Sorokin tried to find a balance between big ideas and a strong interest in empirical study and statistical studies. Merton became interested in middle-range theories because of this and Paul Lazarsfeld.

Merton began to criticise Parson’s functional method or building sociological theory. At the heart of his criticism, Merton said that Parsons’s goal of making a system of ideas that covers everything would be both useless and pointless. Merton thinks that these big theoretical plans are too soon because the theoretical and empirical groundwork needed to finish them hasn’t been done. Without these foundations, Merton thinks that sociological theory is just a general orientation towards data that suggests types of variables that sociologists must somehow take into account, rather than clear statements of the relationships between specific variables.

Merton says that sociology needs ideas of the

Middle Range. Such theories would be based on real-world facts and should use concepts that are well-defined and easy to understand. Middle-range theories are made so that they can be used to come up with specific, testable hypotheses that can then be tested in the real world. Merton also suggested that the functional method would be used to make middle-range theories. So, for Merton, the functional approach was mostly a way to do study in sociology in order to build theories.

Merton laid out the steps of the functional method in a way that was easy to follow. This is called the functional paradigm.

Theories of the Middle Range:

1. R.K. Merton’s middle-range theories came as a rejection of Parsonian sociology’s giant theory. His theory says that academic speculation and intellectual violence should not be used to build sociology theories. Sociological ideas can’t be random, unrealistic, based on jargon, or just plain logical. Sociology, on the other hand, uses ideas to organise the facts in a way that makes sense. Because of this, sociological ideas should be based on facts. Social ideas should be based on facts so that they can explain the facts in a logical way. Sociology shouldn’t worry about “mega-hypotheses” that there is a social system with trade, negotiation, convergence, and, as a result, control and integration. Instead, it should focus on the real problems and issues that come up in real life.

2. During the 1960s in the United States, there was a lot of government corruption, ethnic conflict, and bad behaviour. Merton was interested in studying these things, and he used simple theoretical frameworks to explain all of them. After that, he called these ideas “middle range theories.” As a response to giant theories, Merton says that these theories are based on a lot of speculation and don’t match the facts. They try to study every aspect of social fact that sociology can’t. When choosing ideas for these kinds of theories, the level of abstraction is quite high. Because of this, these kinds of “mega theories” don’t help us understand the core of social reality very well. So, sociology needs to get rid of big theories and replace them with middle range theories.

3. Merton doesn’t like it when sociologists use ideas from the natural sciences. He thinks that theories in natural science come from the study that a large group of scientists from different places and times have done on the same problem over time. It is possible for a natural scientist to change or revise the ideas of his predecessors by applying them to problems and issues in the present. Since natural phenomena don’t change, researchers can learn more about them over time. When researchers studying the same problem come to the same conclusions, this leads to the growth of unified ideas in the field of natural sciences.

4. Sociology looks at how capitalism works, how democracy works, and what the role of the family is as a group. All of these things change over time and place. So, cumulative research should focus a lot on how different things are and how different their structure and roles are. Mega theories may be necessary in natural science, but they have no place in sociological research. Sociology needs to focus on middle-of-the-road theories instead of trying to become a science by bringing theories from other fields into its study. Sociology shouldn’t be put in the same category as the natural studies. Merton takes important ideas from Weber’s sociology, because the main problem with the ideal type construct is that it says sociology can’t study the whole of reality, so sociology must study the heart of reality. To Merton, sociology has a problem that needs to be solved: figuring out what the problems are that need to be studied. Weberian sociology focuses on large-scale problems that are hard to study in every detail. If sociological research is based on the idea that it must address microscopic structures, then it won’t be hard for sociologists to understand different aspects of a given social reality. This is why Merton is interested in studying political corruption and “machine politics,” since these issues are thoroughly studied by scientists.

5. Middle-range sociological theories say that facts are more important than theories when it comes to sociological study. It makes things happen where the facts speak for themselves. These theories are small, easy to understand, and not controversial. They are based on an empirical situation and can be used to explain the same or different types of scenarios without any ambiguities or disagreements. Some examples of middle-range theories are reference group theory and the idea of a “in-group” or “out-group.” These theories can help guide sociological study in time and space.

Paradigm for functional analysis:

Merton laid out the steps of the functional method in a way that was easy to follow. This is called the functional paradigm. Merton starts his talk by going over the mistakes that Malinowski and Radcliffe Brown, two of the early functionalists, made. Merton thought that functional theory was based on three shaky assumptions:

• The way social studies work together

• The usefulness of social things for everyone and

• The fact that functional parts of social processes can’t be left out.

1. The functional unity postulate: Merton says that, so far, functionalists have often turned the idea that social systems may show social integration into a need or condition for social integration. Even though it’s hard to argue that human culture doesn’t have some integration. To say that a social system must have a high level of functional unity is to say that it can’t be tested in the real world. Because of this assumption about a high degree of functional unity, the functional method has come to have a conservative bias and an ideological tint that can be seen in the works of functionalists from Durkheim to Talcott Parsons. So, it should be possible to find out how much functional unity there is in the social system through experiments.

2. THE POSTULAT OF FUNCTIONAL UNIVERSALITY: Because the early functionalists put a lot of stress on a high degree of functional unity, they thought that if a social thing is part of a system that is still going on, it must have been good for the system as a whole. In its most extreme form, Malinowski’s way of thinking led him to say that every custom, thing, idea, and thought serves some important purpose. Merton, on the other hand, thinks that it would be clear that there are many empirical options if real systems were looked at.

• First of all, things can work well for a system or a part of a system, but they can also be bad for either the part or the whole system. Second, some effects, whether they are working or not, are intended and known by the systems, so they are visible. Other effects, on the other hand, are neither intended nor known, so they are hidden. So, a functional analysis should come up with a net sum of the effects of the part of the social system being looked at.

3. The postulate of functional indispensability: If we assume that “all parts are functional,” then it follows that all parts must exist for the social order to stay together. So, all parts are needed for the whole thing to work. Merton says very strongly that these conclusions, which many functionalists have taken for granted, are not true, as can be seen from the facts. When you look at the real world, it’s pretty clear that different frameworks can be used to meet the same needs in similar and different social systems. Because of this, Merton says that different kinds of functional alternatives or functional substitutes in social systems are important for functional analysis. Also, when looking for functional options, it’s important to think about the range of things that could serve as functional equivalents within the social systems that are already in place.

Merton offers the following steps for his functional paradigm after he has carefully looked at the problems with functional analysis. He says that functional analysis should start with a simple account of what the people and groups being looked at do. By describing the way the units under study interact and do things, it will be easy to see which social items need to be subjected to functional analysis. Such explanations can also tell us a lot about what these patterns of behaviour are for.

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But there are more steps that need to be taken for these tasks to become more clear:

1. The first step is for agents to list the main possibilities that can’t be true because a certain pattern is so strong. Such a description of the options that were ruled out shows the structural context in which an observed pattern first appeared and is still present. This gives more information about what the item might do or what effects it might have on other items or on the system as a whole.

2. The second step of analysis, which goes beyond just describing something, is to figure out what the action means or how it makes the person feel. When you talk about what these words mean, you may be able to get a sense of why the person is doing what they are doing. This may help you figure out the Manifest and Latent functions of an activity.

3. The third step in analysing these statements is to figure out the different reasons why people conform or don’t conform. But if you know how the reasons for conformity and deviation among players are set up, you can figure out what psychological needs a pattern meets or doesn’t meet. This gives you more information about how the pattern in question works.

4. So, the last step in the analysis is to describe how the patterns being looked at show regularities that the people involved don’t see but that seem to have effects on both the people and the system.


1. Recognising the important parts for real functions: First, the viewers should only include things in their study that are useful and needed for related tasks. Don’t bring in things that aren’t needed. From his learning materials and patterns, he can figure out how important things are. So, a study of the growth of rural structures should include both infrastructures and awareness campaigns.

2. Merton says that in a single action, there are both functional and dysfunctional parts, and an observer should find a balance between the two based on objectivity. Net balance = function + disorder. For example, TV is a good way to get information and learn new things, and it’s also one of the best ways to have fun. On the other hand, it makes people spend more money and do rude and dangerous things. So, the observer should keep an eye on the net amount.

3. Ideas about units in functions:

• Functions: These are things that are based on what has been seen to happen and help make the right changes in the system/associative elements.

• Dysfunction: Those noticed effects that made it harder for the system to adapt and change are bad for the system and are called “dysfunctional.”

• Manifest Function: The effects that can be seen and that keep the system working well. And are what the system wants. It means that everyone knows the same things about what is going on.

• Latent: These are functions that aren’t meant to be there and aren’t used by the system. It means that people rarely notice these things. Basically, they are the results of functions that are already known.

Latent and Manifest Functions:

Robert Merton says that manifest Functions are those that are meant and known. These are jobs that people think institutions should do and expect them to do. For example, schools are supposed to teach kids what they need to know and how to do things. The obvious tasks are recognised and liked by most people. Latent functions are functions that are not known or weren’t meant to be used. These are the things that organisations don’t plan for. For example, schools don’t just teach kids, they also entertain a lot of people. Latent functions of an institution or part of a building can help the visible functions. For example, religious institutions in modern society have latent functions like giving young people places to hang out and date. Latent functions may not have anything to do with visible functions. For example, the big events that schools put on may not have anything to do with the goal of education. Latent functions may even undermine visible functions. For example, the clear purpose of civil service rules is to make sure that the government has a team of skilled, dedicated workers who can do their jobs well. But the civil service system may have a hidden goal of making bureaucrats more rigid. The difference between manifest and latent processes is not an absolute, but more of a relative one. Some people in the social system may see a role as clear, while others may see it as hidden.

Merton thinks that the difference between Manifest function and Latent function is so important that it shows many parts of the system that were previously hidden. Merton has explained the difference like this:

  1. Functional tasks become more logical. To show what he means, Merton used the rain ceremony of the American Hopi Indians. People meet in one spot and sprinkle water on the ground as part of this ceremony. They do this in the hopes that clouds will do the same thing and it will rain. At first look, this seems like an irrational thing to do. However, Merton’s work shows that when people gather in one place, they strengthen their group identity, unity, and solidarity. This study shows that an action that seems illogical can become logical and make sense.

2. It helps you learn more about other people: To understand this, we can look at Veblen’s theory of the leisure class. In the part of the book where he talks about conspicuous consumption, he says that people buy things to make their lives more comfortable, but if there are a lot of these things in one house, that shows conspicuous consumption. By which they show off their social standing. Aside from that, these things also affect the rate of inflation, which hurts the budget of the country. An interesting thing is that a sociologist can give the government this kind of information. For example, the government of Singapore has set up very nice ways to get around. Still, if someone wants to buy a car, he will have to pay twice as much as before.

3. Open up new areas for research: A sociologist looks for hidden effects in any obvious function, and by doing so, he or she gives himself and others new ways to do research that could be useful and effective for society in the future.

4. Shows the flaws in institutions by doing something wrong. Merton has shown how it works by using the American political system as an example. America is a democratic country where everyone has the same chances, but there are many people who don’t have those chances and live in poverty because of it. However, there is a group that Merton calls the “political machine” that works illegally (they steal, smuggle, etc.) and shares the money they’ve made among themselves to meet the basic needs of those people. In this way, people get the skills they need to take advantage of chances.

5. Merton says that the American political system does what democracy couldn’t do. The real result of these kinds of actions is that the democratic government should learn from them and work to improve the lives of poor people. This would be very useful for society as a whole.

Limination of Merton’s theory of functionalism :

1. Lack of logic: Merton hasn’t said what’s working and what’s not, especially in a modern culture. It is a hard question that Merton did not answer. Aside from that, the relevance of objective consequences is also questionable because it’s hard to tell logically how functional or dysfunctional an action is.

2. Lack of perspective and generalisation: Like Brown and Malinowski, Merton used the Hopi Indians as an example of a simple society. So, it’s not clear how general he is. He also gave the example of a group (the political engine) that he was a part of. It means that studies have been flawed by personal situations. So it can’t be seen as a whole. Aside from that, a political machine that does things that are against the law can’t be accepted in all societies, which makes its universality doubtful.

Conformity and Deviance:

An Analysis of Deviance Before Merton:

Biological Theorist:

1. The subject of Biology was one of the first to try to explain differences. In the late 1800s, Dr. Lombroso, an Italian, tried to figure out why people did strange things by looking at their biology. Deviance was measured by things like jaw size, arm length, body shape, etc.

2. Sheldon and Eleanor Gleuck: They think that people with a certain body type, called mesomorphs, are wrong. A study done in Britain on criminals who were in jail found that some of them had an extra Y-chromosome. High security jail was the percentage of extra Y Chromosome. They came to the conclusion that deviance is caused by biological causes.

Psychological theories say that disorder is caused by: 1. inherited mental abnormalities, 2. improper socialisation, or 3. bad experiences in social life.

4. The British scientist Hans Eysenck found a type of person, which he called “extraversion.” It’s a trait that runs in the family. People like this want to do something exciting. They do strange things and become outcasts because of it.

5. Neo-Freudians link deviants to a failure to socialise or an insufficient amount of socialisation. In his study of 44 young thieves, John Bowlby found that chronic recidivists (also called youth delinquents) tend to commit crimes over and over again. Even if they are punished, they will still break the law. He found that most kids who turn out to be bad as teens had close relationships with their mothers when they were young. They stop caring about the pain and suffering of other people.

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Robert G. Andry: Boys who have a bad relationship with their father are generally mean to other people. Hitler was someone like this. Hitler hated his father very much as a child because his father hurt his mother.

Sociologists often have doubts about the above ideas. Because they thought that being a deviant in a normal society was weird. This sets the stage for the theories stated above. Durkheim was one of the first sociologists to talk about people who don’t fit in with society. He says that there will always be people who don’t follow the rules. There is no such thing as full socialisation. Conscience group is not something that everyone can fully follow. Deviance is also normal and healthy, and there may be some deviation if the group mind is too strict. It could stop change and new ideas from happening.

Merton starts with the idea that people do bad things because of the way society is set up and the culture it has. Merton starts with the functionalist idea that everyone in a society needs to agree on the same values for it to work well. But because people are in different places in the social structure—for example, they are in different classes—they don’t all have the same chance to see that they share the same values. This situation can make people act differently. Merton said, “The social and cultural structure put pressure on people in different parts of the structure to act in ways that were against the rules.”

1. Merton says that the social system may be in a state of anomie. One kind of anomie is when there isn’t a good fit between widely accepted goals and the ways that society lets people reach these goals. Members of the society who are in different places in the social system may respond to this situation in different ways.For example, most Americans share the goal of being successful in American culture, which means being rich and well-known. The “American Dream” says that everyone has the same chance of being successful and having a Cadillac, a house in Beverly Hills, and a lot of money in the bank. In every society, there are set ways to meet culturally defined goals that have been made official. In America, the accepted way to be successful is to have a good education, ability, work hard, be determined, and want to do well.

2. In a balanced society, both traditional goals and institutional means are given the same amount of attention, and people are happy with both. But this may not be the case in an anomic scenario. People would deal with the anomic situation in different ways. The apathy comes from the fact that the normal American can’t reach the success goal just by working hard, getting an education, and being determined. Merton talks about five ways to deal with this state of anomie.The first answer, which is also the most popular, is “conformity.” Members of society follow both the expected goals for success and the expected ways to reach them. They try to be successful in ways that are known to work.

• The second answer could be “innovation.” This answer rejects the normal ways to achieve success and instead uses non-normal ways to reach success goals. So, a public worker who takes a bribe to get rich quickly is doing something new and wrong. So does the politician who gets a cut of a sale of guns. Merton says that people from more respectable parts of society are most likely to choose this path. They have the least chance of succeeding through normal means. So, there is more pressure on them to go against the rules because they don’t have many traditional and legal ways to get ahead. Since they can’t get where they want to go, they come up with new ideas and turn to crime, which pays better than legal ways. Merton says that they give up institutionalised ways of getting things done, but they still want to be successful.

• Merton uses the word “ritualism” to talk about the third possible answer. People who choose this option are weird because they make a big deal out of the means and stick to them even if it means they lose sight of the goals. People in the lower middle class are under the most pressure to choose this option. Their jobs give them fewer chances to be successful than those of other middle-class people. But compared to people in the working class, they have been socialised more to follow the rules than people in the working class. This keeps them from going to wrong ways to get what they want. Since they can’t come up with new ideas and are stuck in jobs with few chances for growth, their only option is to give up on their success goals. Merton describes the average lower middle class ritualist in the following way. He is a low-level worker who is very good at his job but stuck in a rut. He follows all the rules to the letter, sticks to red tape, and looks like a respectable middle-class person, but he has given up trying to be successful. The ritualist is an outcast because he doesn’t share the same goals for success as most people.The fourth type of reaction is what Merton calls “retreatism.” It applies to people who are crazy, artists, outcasts, vagrants, tramps, people who drink too much, and drug users. They have deeply internalised both the culture goals and the institutional means, but because of the anomic situation, they are still unable to achieve success. They get out of their situation’s tension by giving up both their goals and the ways to reach them. They can’t handle life, so they drop out of society and give up, accepting that they’ve failed. They don’t follow the rules in two ways. They have turned down both the cultural goals and the organised ways to get there. Merton doesn’t connect Retreatism to one’s social class.”Rebellion” is the fifth type of reaction. It is a refusal of the success goals and the ways of getting there that have been set up by institutions. In their place, new goals and ways of getting there are put in place. Those who choose this option want to start a new kind of society. Lenin, Christ, and Gandhi are all examples of rebels who went against the rules. Even terrorists in different kinds of societies are examples of rebel types of deviants. Merton says that people who are part of a rising class are more likely to fight than people who are at the bottom of society. These people organise the angry into a revolutionary group, he says.

To sum up, Merton says that his research shows how the culture of a society creates deviance because the cultural goals and institutionalised means made by the state of economic are not in sync with each other. This tendency puts pressure on people to be different, and the amount of pressure depends on where a person is in the class system. How the person reacts to this pressure will also rely on where he stands in the social hierarchy. So, he explains deviance in terms of the nature of society rather than the nature of the person. His theory is a sociological theory of deviance because it explains deviance in terms of the nature of society. After that, Merton’s theory of deviance has been changed to explain other kinds of behaviour that don’t fit the norm.

Analysis of Deviance after Merton:

1. According to ALBERT COHEN, Merton’s ideas can only explain Pecuniary deviance, which means behaviour that is done to make money. It doesn’t explain violence, theft, or other bad behaviour that has nothing to do with money. This kind of deviation is a way to keep from getting too upset. Mainstream cultural goals are useless for people who are poor and live in slums because they are unhappy with their standing. For them, being different is a safety value.

2. CLOWARD and OHLIN also said bad things about Merton. For them, his theory doesn’t explain why some people become thinkers, people who like to follow rules, etc. They talked about the crime subculture, which is the only thing that makes people act strangely.

WALTER MILLAR says that criminals aren’t always people who missed out on real opportunities. They might do bad things to get a thrill, like pickpocketing, boxing, and so on.

4. DAVID MATZA says that there isn’t much difference between murderers and other people. Even people who don’t follow the rules believe in the ideals of society. Most of the time, they try to blame someone else. For example, they might say, “Everyone is corrupt, but I’m the one who got caught.” By using the “neutralisation technique,” deviants show that they accept some of society’s rules. Matza’s idea of delinquent drift says that young people tend to keep doing bad things. People start to commit crimes as a way to get over a feeling of helplessness.

5. HOWARD BECKER: In his “Labelling Theory,” he says that people are given labels based on how they act. When other people call an action bad, it becomes bad. For example, if you call a dog a bad name, he is likely to live up to that reputation.

6. EDWIN M. LEMART made a difference between main and secondary deviation Primary deviance is when someone does something wrong before it is known to the public. Secondary deviance is how a person or group reacts to how society reacts.

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7. In his study of Baltimore, BERNARD LANDER of the Chicago School found that social disorganisation is the key to understanding bad people.

Reference Group:

A reference group is one to which you always look to judge your accomplishments, how well you do your job, and your hopes and dreams. Only a reference group can tell you if what you are doing is right or wrong, if you are doing well or badly.

So, you could say that the groups you are a part of are your reference groups.

1. Even groups you don’t join to, called “non-membership groups,” can act as reference groups. This doesn’t really come as a big surprise. Because life moves, and you often learn about the lives and ways of people who are not in your group. At times, this makes you wonder why other people are more powerful and well-known than you are…

2. This makes you feel like you don’t have as much as other people. You want to join a group that you don’t already belong to but that is more powerful or well-known. So, this time, to evaluate your achievements and performance, you turn to a group that you are not a part of. So, what this means is that not only groups with members but also groups without members act like reference groups. People don’t only see themselves through the eyes of people in their own group. They also see themselves through the eyes of people in other groups.

3. Merton’s view of relative hardship is closely linked to how he looks at reference groups and how they act. Merton mostly talks about relative poverty when he looks at “The American Soldier,” a book that came out in 1949. In this work, an attempt was made to look at how the American soldiers saw themselves and judged how well they did their jobs, what they had accomplished in their careers, etc.”When a married soldier looked at his single Army friends, he could see that they had to make more sacrifices to join, and when he looked at the other married soldiers, he could see that he had to make sacrifices that single soldiers didn’t have to make at all.” Here is where Merton’s idea of “relative deprivation” comes down to earth.

4. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Happiness and lack are not absolutes; they depend on how they are measured and what they are compared to. The married soldier isn’t asking what he gets and what other married soldiers like him get. Instead, he wants to know what he has lost.

5. Now, his army friends who aren’t married have more freedom. Since they don’t have wives and kids, they don’t have the responsibilities that married soldiers can’t get away from. In other words, married troops don’t have the same freedom as their friends who aren’t married. In the same way, the married soldier feels deprived when he thinks about his married citizen friend. Because my friend in the regular world can live with his wife and kids and do what he needs to do. So, the married soldier feels like he is missing out because, as a soldier, he can’t afford to live a regular family life like a civilian.

6. The married soldier feels like he doesn’t have enough because of the kind of people he compares his life to. As another study shows, the same is true. “Compared to the soldier who stayed at home, the soldier who went overseas had to give up more of his home life and many of the comforts he was used to.”

Concept of Group Membership & group Non-Membership:

Merton talks about three things about groups and people who belong to them:

First, there is an objective measure, which is how often people talk to each other. In other words, a group in sociology is a group of people who associate with each other often.

2. The people who connect with each other must say that they are members. In other words, they feel like they have set rules or ways of interacting with each other that are absolutely binding on them and everyone else in the group.

The third factor is that the people interacting are seen as “part of the group” by other people. Some of these others are also part of the group, and some are not.

People’s everyday actions are more clearly and concretely shaped by the groups they belong to. In Members of a group are aware of who they are and what they should and should not do. So, for them, the rules of the group are morally binding.

Merton wants us to understand the mechanics of not being a member at this point. It’s true that people who don’t meet the interactional and definitional standards for membership are not members. But, as Merton says, not all people who are not members are the same. In general, there are three kinds of people who are not members.

Some people may want to join the group, while others may not care either way, and still others may have a reason to stay away from the group.

Anticipatory Socialisation:

1. Merton talks about anticipatory socialisation in the setting of reference groups in which the person is not a member. It’s like prepping for a group that a person wants to join but doesn’t belong to. It’s like taking on the beliefs and ways of life of a group that you don’t belong to. Merton says that anticipatory socialisation can help a person get into a group and make it easier for him or her to fit in once they are a part of it.

2. Let’s say that a country boy from a lower-middle-class family uses Indus World School boys as his group of reference. As a way to get ready for socialising, he starts to act like the “smart” boys at Indus World School. Now, if this boy from the village really does get into Indus World School, his socialisation would have been useful, and it would be easier for him to fit into his new job.

3.Merton says that anticipatory socialisation could have some good effects, but he doesn’t ignore the fact that it could also have bad effects. If the system is very closed, this boy from a town in the lower middle class would never be able to go to Doon School. In that case, he wouldn’t be able to use predictive socialisation well. There are two explanations.

4.First of all, he wouldn’t be able to join the group he wants to join……….And secondly, people in his own group would not like him because he was imitating the ideals of a group he was not a part of. This is called anticipatory socialisation. Merton says that he would become a “marginal man.” Because of this, anticipatory socialisation only helps the person “within a relatively open social structure that allows for mobility.” In a “relatively closed social structure,” it would be dysfunctional for the same reason.

5. Merton says something else that is interesting. In a closed system, it is rare that a person will choose a group that they do not belong to as a reference group. This is why, in a closed system where the rights, requirements, and obligations of each stratum are usually thought to be morally right, an individual would feel less deprived, even if his or her actual conditions are not good. For example, untouchables, schedule castes, and tribes in India would feel less deprived even though their actual conditions are not good.But a person will always be unhappy and discontented if he always compares his situation to those of relatively better off and more privileged non-membership reference groups.

Positive and Negative Reference Groups:

1. Merton says that there are two kinds of reference groups. First, a good reference group is one that you like and use to shape your behaviour and judge your accomplishments and performance. Second, there is also a negative reference group that one hates and rejects and that, instead of giving norms to follow, makes one create counter-norms.

2. According to Merton, “the positive type involves motivated assimilation of the norms or standards of the group as a basis for self-evaluation; the negative type involves motivated rejection, that is, not just not accepting norms but also making counter-norms.”

3. It’s not hard to come up with an example. Imagine how the people who were being ruled by the colonists would respond to them. Now, there are always some “natives” who are hypnotised by the success stories of the colonisers. They live like them, speak their language, and eat like them. In other words, the colonisers are like a good example group for them.

4. On the other hand, there are some locals who hate the colonisers because they took advantage of them, were rude, and were cruel. Instead of following the colonisers’ rules, they make up their own rules to set themselves apart. In other words, the colonisers serve as a bad reference group for them.

Prophecy that comes true: Robert K. Merton, a sociologist, said in 1957 that a self-fulfilling prophecy is a false description of a situation that is taken to be true. But people act as if that false meaning is correct. In the end, the wrong actions lead to answers that back up the wrong meaning. Merton said that the “tragic, often vicious, cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies can be broken” if the original definition that set the circle in motion is thrown out. The problem won’t get better until that definition is called into question and a new one is put in place.