Thursday, July 14, 2011

Social Thinker - Robert K Merton

(e) Robert K. Merton- Latent and manifest functions, conformity and deviance, reference groups.

Meaning of Function

A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, the noted social anthropologist, used this connotation in social sciences. ‘The function of any recurrent activity’, according to Radcliffe-Brown, ‘is the part it plays in the social life as a whole and therefore the contribution it makes to the maintenance of structural continuity’.

According to Malinowski, another noted anthropologist, the function of social or cultural items is the part they play within the integral system of culture by the manner in which they are related to each other within the system.

Objective Consequences and Subjective Dispositions

For instance, someone is about to get married and you ask her why is she getting herself into it. What is its function? It is quite possible that she, the participant, may tell you that she is marrying for the fulfilment of her human needs and her need for love. But, then,

Merton would say that the participant is confusing her own subjective motives with the real, objective function of marriage. The objective function of marriage or family is not love but the socialisation of the child.

That is why, says Merton, the concept of function involves the standpoint of the observer, not necessarily that of the participant. In other words, social function refers to observable objective consequences, not subjective dispositions. A school child may think that he goes to school because he finds his friends there; but the function of school is something else; it is to add to and aid in the growth of knowledge that the society needs in order

to sustain itself.

Function, Dysfunction, Manifest Function and Latent Function

It is now clear that functions are those observed consequences, which make for the adaptation or adjustment of a given system. But, then not everything is functional. Not everything helps to make for the adaptation of a system.

So Merton uses another concept called dysfunction. Dysfunctions, according to Merton, are those observed consequences, which lesson the adaptation or adjustment of the system.

Imagine your own society.

Modern India, you would agree, intends to be mobile, democratic, participatory and egalitarian. In such a society the institution of caste, far from having a function, has dysfunctions. Instead of intensifying the democratic ideal, caste tends to lessen the degree of mobility, democratisation and participation. That is why, castes may be classified as dysfunctional.

With these clarifications it is no longer difficult for you to come to the main problem, manifest function and latent function. Be it a manifest function or a latent function, it is the objective, observed consequence which makes for the adaptation or adjustment of a given system. There is, however, only one difference and it goes to the credit of Merton that he is able to bring it out sharply and intelligently. Whereas the participants are aware of the manifest function, they are not aware of the latent function. In other words, the latent function is neither intended nor recognised.

Why is this so? This is because the participants can see what is immediately isible; they cannot always see the deeper or latent meaning of what they do. But for social scientists, the task is to go beyond the common sense perception of the participants and see the latent consequences of social practices.

Think of Emile Durkheim’s famous analysis of the social functions of punishment. Its immediate, manifest function is obvious. Everyone knows it. It reminds the criminal that society would not permit his deviance. But, then, it has a latent function too, which is not generally recognised. The latent function of punishment, Durkheim would argue, is not what happens to the criminal; instead, it is deeper; it intensifies society’s faith in its

collective conscience; the punishment of the criminal is an occasion that reminds the society of its force and its collective morals.

What is reference group?

A reference group is one to which you always refer in order to evaluate your achievements, your role performance, your aspirations and ambitions. It is only a reference group that tells you whether you are right or wrong, whether whatever you are doing, you are doing badly or well.

Take an example. You are a student. You remain burdened with your course materials and examinations. You are really working hard and you have no time to relax. Then you come to know an altogether different group, say, a group of cricketers who are as young as you are. Yet, you see that cricketers play cricket, go abroad, enjoy life, earn money, and newspapers write about them. The ‘success story’ of the group of cricketers fascinates you. While

comparing yourself with them you feel that as a student you are deprived. The cricketers, then, begin to act like your reference group. As a result, you begin to give more time to cricket than to your course materials with a hope that one day you too would become a cricketer and lead that kind of life.

The fact, therefore, is that not solely membership groups, even non membership groups act like reference groups. Human beings look at themselves not solely through the eyes of their group members, but also through the eyes of those who belong to other groups.

Concept of relative deprivation

It can be easily understood from the given example.

An Indian student in a prestigious university in the United States may have sufficient reasons to feel happy. He has access to a better academic atmosphere - more books, more research materials, more seminars, and so on. But if he refuses to remain contented with this academic world and thinks of an alternative scale of evaluation which values above all else a

home life with his parents, brothers and sisters then his ‘happiness’ would begin to disappear. So while comparing himself with his Indian friends enjoying the intimate company of their family members, he may feel deprived.

Concept of Group and Group Membership

i) First, there is an objective criterion, viz., the frequency of interaction. In other words, the sociological concept of a group refers to a number of people frequently interact with one another.

ii) A second criterion is that the interacting persons define themselves as members. In other words, they feel that they have patterned expectations or forms of interaction, which are morally binding on them and on other members.

iii) The third criterion is that the persons in interaction are defined by others as ‘belonging to the group’. These others include fellow members as well as non-members.

Concept of Non-Membership

non-members can be divided into three categories.

i) Some may aspire to membership in the group

ii) Others may be indifferent toward such affiliation

iii) Still others may be motivated to remain unaffiliated with the group.

Think of an example. Suppose your father is an industrialist owning a factory. Naturally, as far as the workers in the factory are concerned, you are a non-member. You do not belong to their group. There are, however, three possibilities. Suppose you are deeply sensitive, you have read Marx and you tend to believe seriously that it is the working class that alone can create a new world free from injustice and exploitation. In other words, despite being a non-member, you want to belong to the workers, share their experiences and, accordingly, alter your life-style. Then, as Merton would say, a non-membership group becomes a positive reference group for you.

Then, there is another possibility. You do not bother. You are contented with your contemporary existence and as a result the workers do not have any impact on your life. In other words, you remain a non-member and never do you want to belong to the group of the workers.

Now think of the third possibility. You remain a non-member, but instead of remaining indifferent you hate the workers, you feel that the workers are neither intelligent nor educated, and that there is nothing to admire in their culture. In order to retain your status and separate yourself from the workers, you evolve counter-norms. Then, the workers, Merton would say, constitute a negative reference group.

Conformity and Deviance

Deviance may be defined as non conformity to a given set of norms that are accepted by a significant number of people in community or society. No society as has already been stressed can be divided up in a simple way between those who deviate from norms and those who conform to them. Most of us on some occasions transgress generally accepted rules of behaviour. We may, for example have at some point committed minor acts of theft, like shoplifting or taking small items from work – such as office notepapers and pens – for personal use. At some time, we may have exceeded the speed limit, made phone calls or smoked marijuana.

Criminology – Criminology concerns itself with the forms of behaviour that are sanctioned by criminal law, criminologists are often interested in techniques for measuring crime, trends in crime rates and policies aimed at reducing crime within the community.

Sociology of Deviance draws on criminological research, but also investigates conduct which lies beyond the realm of criminal law. Sociologists studying deviant behaviour seek to understand why certain behaviours are widely as deviant and how these notions of deviance are applied differentially to people within society.

The study of deviance, therefore directs our attention to social power, as well as to the influence of social class – the divisions between rich and poor. When we look at deviance from or conformity to social rules and norms, we always have to bear in mind the question, whose rules? As we shall see, social norms are strongly influenced by division power and class.

Theories of deviance

Functionalist theories see crime and deviance as produced by structural tensions and lack of moral regulation with in the society. Durkhiem introduced the tem ‘Anomie’ to refer to a feeling of anxiety and disorientation that comes with the breakdown of traditional life in modern society.

Robert K. Merton extended the concept to include the strain felt by individuals whenever norms conflict with social reality. Sub cultural explanations draw attention to groups such as gangs that reject mainstream values and replace them with norms celebrating defiance, delinquency or non conformity.

Labelling theory (which assumes that labelling someone as deviant will reinforce their deviant behaviour) is important because it starts from the assumption that no act is intrinsically criminal (or normal). Labelling theorists are interested in how some behaviours come to be defined as deviant and why certain groups, but not others are labelled as deviant.

Conflict theories analyse crime and deviance in terms of the structure of society, competing interest between social groups and preservation of power among elites.

Control theorists posit that crime occurs when there are inadequate social or physical controls to defer it from happening. The growth of crime is linked to the growing number of opportunities and targets for crime in modern societies. The theory of broken windows suggests that there is a direct connection between the appearance of disorder and actual crime.

Rates of criminality are much lower for women than for men, probably because of general socialisation differences between men and women, plus the grater involvement of men in non domestic spheres. Unemployment and the crisis of masculinity have been linked to male crime rates. In some type of crime, women are overwhelmingly the victims, Rape is almost certainly much more common than the official statistics reveal. There is the sense in which all women are victims of rape, since they have to take special precautions for their protection and in a fear of rape. Homosexual men and women experience high levels of harassment, yet they are often seen as deserving of crime rather than innocent victims because of their marginalised position in society.

Conformity

Conformity is a change in behavior or belief toward a group standard as a result of the group’s influence on an individual. As this definition indicates, conformity is a type of social influence through which group members come to share similar beliefs

and standards of behavior. It includes the processes by which group members converge on a

given standard of belief or behavior as well as the pressures they exert on one another to uphold such standards. Compliance is behavioral conformity in order to achieve rewards or avoid punishments (Kelman 1958). Since one can behaviourally adhere to a group standard without personally believing in it, the term is often used to indicate conformity that is merely public rather than private as well. Compliance can also refer to behavioural conformity to the request or demand of another, especially an authority.

Conformity

Conformity is a change in behavior or belief toward a group standard as a result of the group’s influence on an individual. As this definition indicates, conformity is a type of social influence through which group members come to share similar beliefs

and standards of behavior. It includes the processes by which group members converge on a

given standard of belief or behavior as well as the pressures they exert on one another to uphold such standards. Compliance is behavioral conformity in order to achieve rewards or avoid punishments (Kelman 1958). Since one can behaviourally adhere to a group standard without personally believing in it, the term is often used to indicate conformity that is merely public rather than private as well. Compliance can also refer to behavioural conformity to the request or demand of another, especially an authority.

1 comment:

  1. bhai kuch to original likho ignou ka ditto copy kr dete ho

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