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Sociology and the Unintended

Robert Merton Revisited


Edited By Adriana Mica, Arkadiusz Peisert and Jan Winczorek

This collection of essays aims to revive the sociological debate on the unintended, unanticipated and unexpected consequences of social action, as started by Robert K. Merton in a classic study of 1936. The contributing authors provide insights on both Merton’s work and the reception it received in the academia. They also go beyond his original formulations to encompass new theoretical perspectives and empirical interests that have emerged in the intellectual circumstances different from, or opposed to, his functionalist theory. The contributing authors delve into fields as diverse as education, law, politics, financial markets, consumption, risks and accidents, systemic transformation, organizations and institutional work, innovations, and Polish studies.


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Introduction; Adriana Mica, Arkadiusz Peisert, Jan Winczorek


Introduction Adriana Mica, Arkadiusz Peisert, Jan Winczorek The term “sociology and the unintended” is used in this book at its broadest. The con- tributing authors and editors express, in this way, their general interest in the unin- tended, unanticipated or unexpected consequences of social action, interaction and collective decisions. In spite of this broad interpretation, the volume treats Merton’s (1936; 1968; see also 1998) noted contributions to the debate on the unintended, as both the point of departure and the most important reference. By doing this, the book aims to revitalise the discussion on the subject in a number of ways. It invites the reader to return to the Mertonian framing of the issue. It investigates the main lines of critical discussion which followed Merton’s original concepts. It discusses other ac- counts of the unintended that have emerged in the theoretical circumstances different from Mertonian functionalism. It provides new accounts of both Merton’s input and unintended consequences of social action in general. Finally, it presents some of the research fields that have traditionally dealt with the unintended, as well as those that might potentially entertain such studies. While The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action can be seen as the first manifest sociological initiative to institutionalize “sociology as the analysis of the unexpected” (see Portes 2000 paraphrasing Popper), it must be observed that the interest in such phenomena has deeper roots and a longer tradition. It could be argued that the recognition of the unintended as the theoretical problem has...

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