Robert K. Merton

Robert King Merton (born Meyer Robert Schkolnick; 4 July 1910 – 23 February 2003) 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.[1][lower-roman 1]

Robert K. Merton
Born
Meyer Robert Schkolnick

(1910-07-04)July 4, 1910
DiedFebruary 23, 2003(2003-02-23) (aged 92)
Alma mater
Known for
Spouse(s)
Children
Awards
Scientific career
FieldsSociology
Doctoral advisorPitirim Sorokin
Other academic advisorsTalcott Parsons, Lawrence Joseph Henderson, George Sarton
Doctoral students
Other notable students

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".[2] The concept of self-fulfilling prophecy, which is a 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.[3][4] More specifically, as Merton defined, "the self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior, which makes the originally false conception come true".[5]

Merton's concept of the "role model" first appeared in a study on the socialization of medical students at Columbia University. The term grew from his theory of the reference group, the group to which individuals compare themselves but to which they do not necessarily belong. Social roles were central to Merton's theory of social groups. Merton emphasized that, rather than a person assuming just one role and one status, they have a status set in the social structure that has, attached to it, a whole set of expected behaviors.[6]