Robert K. Merton: Confronting Complexity and Disorder – The Fusion of Social Science, Social Policy, Social Criticism, and Moral Responsibility


Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowships




This sociologically-informed biography of Robert K. Merton, a major figure in twentieth century US sociology, draws upon a vast array of archival materials and interviews that shed new light upon his career. In doing so, it both challenges and enriches interpretations previously offered by admirers and critics alike. These materials document Merton’s sensibility, interactions with scholars both near and far, and efforts, both public and behind the scenes, to forge the professional identity of sociology. Most particularly, this project demonstrates the impact of successive social and cognitive environments on his developing theoretical and substantive concerns. This study also reveals a common thread that informed Merton’s work throughout his career – the steadfast concern with issues of social justice and inequalities of all types. For Merton, working on “humanly significant problems” was a scholar’s moral obligation, but one that must be guided by sound, rigorous theory, and scrupulous empirical analyses.