Robert K. Merton

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Date of Birth July 4, 1910
Place of Birth Pennsylvania
Date of Death Feb 23, 2003 (92)
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Robert K. Merton

Robert King Merton was an American sociologist who is considered a founding father of modern sociology, and a major contributor to the subfield of criminology. He spent most of his career teaching at Columbia University, where he attained the rank of University Professor. In 1994 he was awarded the National Medal of Science for his contributions to the field and for having founded the sociology of science. Merton developed notable concepts, such as "unintended consequences", the "reference group", and "role strain", but is perhaps best known for the terms "role model" and "self-fulfilling prophecy". The concept of self-fulfilling prophecy, which is central element in modern sociological, political, and economic theory, is one type of process through which a belief or expectation affects the outcome of a situation or the way a person or group will behave.

Born: Meyer Robert Schkolnick, July 4, 1910, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died: February 23, 2003, New York City, New York, U.S.
Fields: Sociology
Alma mater: Harvard University (MA) (PhD), Temple University (BA)
Other academic advisors: Talcott Parsons, Lawrence Joseph Henderson, George Sarton
Doctoral students: Peter Blau, Lewis Coser, Barney Glaser, Alvin Gouldner
Other notable students: Richard Cloward, Jonathan R. Cole, Stephen Cole, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Nathan Glazer
Known for: Self-fulfilling prophecy, Self-defeating prophecy, Merton's strain theory of deviance, Role model, Reference group, Mertonian norms, Merton thesis, Matthew effect
Notable awards: John Desmond Bernal Prize (1982), National Medal of Science (1994)
Spouse: Harriet Zuckerman, Suzanne Carhart
Children: Vanessa Merton, Robert C. Merton, Stephanie Merton Tombrello

About Robert K. Merton

Columbia University sociologist who created the concepts of unintended consequences and the self-fulfilling prophecy. He spent most of his career researching and developing theories on social roles and coined the term "status set" to describe the collection of social statuses an individual might hold.

Before Fame

One of his works was on the sociology of science, which focused on Purtian society and their relationship to science.


Looking into the social structure of the U.S., he found that when group don't have the opportunity to achieve the 'American dream,' the result can be criminal behavior.

Family Life

He grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, into a working class immigrant family from Easter Europe.


Alfred Adler was another prominent social scientist, researching the inferiority complex.

Information related to Robert K. Merton

  • Robert K. Merton Category
  • Logology (science of science) - Logology is the study of all things related to science and its practitioners—philosophical, biological, psychological, societal, historical, political, institutional, financial.
  • Multiple discovery - The concept of multiple discovery is the hypothesis that most scientific discoveries and inventions are made independently and more or less simultaneously by multiple scientists and inventors.
  • Narcotizing dysfunction - Narcotizing dysfunction is a theory that as mass media inundates people on a particular issue, they become apathetic to it, substituting knowledge for action. It is suggested that the vast supply of communication Americans receive may elicit only a superficial concern with the problems of society.
  • Role set - According to Erving Goffman a role set is the various kinds of relevant audiences for a particular role. Robert K. Merton describes "role set" as the "complement of social relationships in which persons are involved because they occupy a particular social status."
  • Sociology of scientific knowledge - The sociology of scientific knowledge is the study of science as a social activity, especially dealing with "the social conditions and effects of science, and with the social structures and processes of scientific activity."
  • Strain theory (sociology) - In sociology and criminology, strain theory states that social structures within society may pressure citizens to commit crime.
  • Sociologists of science
  • Jewish sociologists
  • Public administration scholars
  • Presidents of the American Sociological Association
  • Functionalism (social theory)
  • Jewish American social scientists
  • Historians of science
  • National Medal of Science laureates
  • Temple University alumni
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Latest information about Robert K. Merton updated on March 02, 2021.

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