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Sociology and the Unintended

Robert Merton Revisited

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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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Part II: Case Studies of the Unintended

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Introduction Arkadiusz Peisert It would hardly be original to note that unintended consequences are a field of study where an interdisciplinary approach to social research is of particular importance. Combining unintended consequences with sociology in the title of this book, its editors suggest that such is, indeed, the aim of sociology itself: to draw up an intellectual map of the field of social sciences. Beyond doubt, this is how Merton viewed its role when working on his first article on unexpected consequences. Sociology can also be per- ceived as a source of inspiration for research carried out by a broad range of other, more practical social sciences, such as pedagogy; two articles from this field appear in Part II of the book. Part II opens with a text by Mike Zajko that explores how the unintended conse- quences of human influence on the climate are made visible, attributed and contested. For its advocates, interpreting extreme weather events as a consequence of climate change seems to be an effective means of attracting media and public attention. A long-established pattern of treating extreme weather events as the focal point of dis- putes over the reality of climate change can be attributed to the ease with which they can be made meaningful in various discourses of climate change, as well as to the in- herent difficulty of producing scientific evidence of causality. Beck’s risk society the- sis offers a considerable potential for exploring these issues, but remains, as Zajko concludes, inadequate in its...

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