Organizational Deviance: Robert Merton's Insights
I’m very pleased to have found this exclusive oral history interview with the late and great sociologist, Robert Merton.
Merton was intrigued by functional analysis’ original emphasis on the positive consequences of social structures and individual actions. This exploration led him to scrutinize dysfunctions, borrowing from medicine and biology, to understand the adverse effects of social structures on specific segments of individuals.
Merton also emphasized the dysfunctions of bureaucracy, a departure from Max Weber's tradition, which primarily highlighted its positive functions. Similarly, in exploring social conformity, he questioned the lack of attention to deviant behavior. This led him to unravel the factors contributing to deviance, especially the disparate rates among different segments of the population.
Merton's focus on the internal dynamics of societies, like the interplay between the American dream and deviance, shows his broad perspective. Social Structure and Anomie theory extends beyond deviant behavior, and goes into the differential access across diverse opportunity structures, where social, class, and ethnic structures play important roles.
Practical applications of Merton's theory emerged in white-collar crime and organizational deviance. The introduction of the term "white-collar crime" challenged conventional assumptions about crime statistics; this reshaped our understanding.
Merton described the complex dynamics of organizational reward systems. Here, growth is a central evaluative factor, whether reflected in stock price increases or other metrics. Negotiating this reward system intensifies short-term pressure, exacerbated by an emphasis on goal definition. This places substantial demands on people both within the organization and those overseeing its outcomes. The collective aspiration to drive organizational progress occasionally leads to responses manifesting as organizational misbehavior. Contrary to being a mere historical contingency, this phenomenon resembles social structure and anomie theory; it suggests the persistence of certain pressures over time.