This theory paper will provide a comparison of Robert K. Merton and Erving Goffman. These two theorists are very different. Merton is considered to be a functionalist and Goffman is an interactionist. These two different trajectories led these thinkers to have very different theories and ideas about the social world. The contrasts can be seen in some of their well known theories including Merton’s theories of the middle range and Goffman’s theories of impression management and total institutions.
Merton valued a positivistic cumulative science and believed that social science should build upon previous research. He believed that sociological theory should specify the relationships between variables. Having specific and testable classifications was important for Merton (Lecture 2: Functionalism-Merton). These values led Merton to develop what he called theories of the middle range. Merton defines these as theories that lie between day to day hypothesis and the all-inclusive systematic efforts to develop a unified theory that will explain all the observed uniformities of social behavior, social organization, and social change (ibid).
For sociological theory to advance significantly Merton believed that two things were necessary. One involved developing specific theories form which to develop hypotheses that can be empirically investigated and the second was by evolving, rather than suddenly disclosing, a more general conceptual scheme to unite the theories into one specific group (Elwell, 2016).
For Merton middle range theory involves several attributes. These theories are comprised of limited sets of assumptions. From these specific hypotheses can be obtained and substantiated by empirical investigation. Emp...
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...themselves in social situations (Williams, 1986 pp. 348–351). Goffman has been critiqued for neglecting issues of morality and motivation (Stones, 2008 pp 194)
In conclusion in can be see that Merton and Goffman are two theorists who both generated many poignant and important theories though both have areas that could be more developed. Many juxtapositions can be found in the theorists that have been examined and the theories which they generated. Merton was a positivist and valued precise definitions, large bodies of evidence and falsifiable hypothesis. This can be seen in his conception of his theories of the middle range. Goffman uses a dramaturgical approach which is highly based on metaphors. This can be seen in his theories of interaction management and total institutions. These theories demonstrate the clear contrasts between Merton and Goffman.
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