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Robert K. Merton's Contribution to Sociology

Certainly, Merton's latent and manifest functions have shed much light on sociological processes and the contradictions therein, and he should be credited for that work.

Charles Horton Cooley believed that the self and the society are so closely connected that the "objects of the social world

. . . are constitutive parts of the subject's mind and the self" (Coser 305). This is the same as saying that the individual self cannot even exist outside of its connections to society, and society cannot exist outside of its content of human individual selves.

The "looking-glass self" refers to Cooley's belief that each member of society reflects others he or she comes in contact with, and each is reflected by the others. This looking-glass self is made up of "the imagination of our appearance to the other person, the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification" (Coser 306).

Erving Goffman set forth the theory that members of society are like actors on a stage who try to present the most favorable self-images to others and to keep hidden those parts of the self that others will not like or approve. Other sociologists and psychologists have certainly argued that we are affected by others and that we pretend, now and again, to be something or somebody that we are not.

Goffman, however, goes much further than others, declaring that we are always playing a role to fit the expectations we think others have of us:

We are forever on stage, even when we may believe that we are most spontaneous and sincere in our responses to others. We can never manage, even in madness, to escape the presence of others and the prepotent tendency to shape ourselves according to their expectations (Coser 576-577).

There is a close parallel between the ideas of Goffman and Cooley in one regard, but there is also a clear difference. Both sociologists believe that the individual is sha...

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Robert K. Merton's Contribution to Sociology. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 04:44, September 21, 2017, from
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