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Sociology and the Unintended

Robert Merton Revisited


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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Part I: Unintended Consequences– Refinements and Redefinitions


Part I: Unintended Consequences – Refinements and Redefinitions Introduction Adriana Mica The contribution of this section’s articles should be read as a continuation of the dis- cussion opened in the Introduction regarding the development and critical appraisal of Merton’s work, as well as the non-Mertonian input to “sociology and the unintended”. Raymond Boudon’s paper advances the consequential argument as framed within the theory of ordinary rationality – i.e. “puzzling social macrophenomena” are de- picted as the unintended outcomes of rational individual actions and/or beliefs. The paper builds on the research findings of the author’s work, and refines theoretical ar- guments advanced earlier regarding the relationship between the theory of ordinary rationality and unintended consequences. Interestingly, parts of the paper which aid in putting forward Boudon’s argument could also be read as pointing to theoretical short- comings, or even deconstructing, to a certain extent, the general ambitions of a would- be consequential sociology. Such a passage concerns the analysis of the explanatory potential (in terms of the general validity) of three models of individual social action which pertain to three types of psychology: consequential, causal and rational respec- tively. The former type is illustrated by rational choice theory, which “assumes that actors are motivated by the consequences they imagine their actions will likely pro- duce”. Although Boudon takes issue with this theory in the context of its rivalry with the perspective of ordinary rationality he supports, the arguments can also be followed up when discussing the potential as well as the limitations of...

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