Press Releases

Monday, August 06, 2007

SSRC to Host Robert K. Merton Conference at Columbia U.

Robert K. Merton (1910-2003) was among the most influential sociologists of the 20th century. Yet sociologists of today have yet to come to terms with the full scope of Merton's work let alone its continuing implications for their field. To encourage a renewed engagement with Merton's work, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), together with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Columbia University's Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP), will be hosting a two-day conference, August 9-10, at Columbia's Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Ave., New York City. Download conference agenda (PDF: 84KB, 2 pages).

"Robert Merton is one of the towering figures on whose shoulders contemporary sociology rests," said SSRC President and leading sociologist Craig Calhoun, adding that a reexamination of Merton should not only be of historical interest but should also provide an opportunity to advance key intellectual agendas in sociology and related fields.

"Merton's work speaks helpfully to a variety of issues in contemporary sociology and social science more generally," Calhoun explained. "While this conference will provide an occasion to appreciate the considerable importance of Merton's own research and theory, it should also help us formulate current issues more clearly -- such as the relationships between 'basic' and 'applied' research, between theory and empirical research, between the 'history' and the 'systematics' of theory, and between the institutional and cultural contexts of knowledge production and the knowledge produced."

Calhoun is to deliver the conference's opening and closing remarks along with Columbia's Provost, Alan Brinkley, ISERP head Peter Bearman, and Merton's widow, the sociologist Harriet Zuckerman, now serving as a vice president at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The conference itself consists of four sessions with presentations by prominent sociologists including Charles Tilly, Alejandro Portes, and Cynthia Fuchs Epstein (recent president of the ASA and was formerly one of Merton's students). While topics cover a wide range of issues, discussions will center on a single question: How effectively can fundamental advances in theory, method, and substantive knowledge be integrated with the creation of knowledge that effectively informs practical action or the public understanding of social problems?

The conference is free and open to the public. For map and directions to the Italian Academy, go to: