Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Merton and the KKK

Robert Merton expounded upon Parsons concept of society as a system of interconnected parts, by offering that the components of the system may not always work in unison and that the outcome of a system of action is not always predictable (Appelrouth & Edles, 2008). Merton explained that a system of action serves two functions. First, an action can have a manifest function, which is the observable, intended purpose of the action. Second, an action can have a latent function, which is the underlying, unintended purpose of the action (Appelrouth & Edles, 2008). He argues that the latent function of an action can sometimes be the more significant purpose, offering group, social, or cultural cohesion as in Merton’s example of the Hopi Indian rain dance. The ceremony may not bring rain, but it serves the purpose as a function of cultural empowerment (Appelrouth & Edles, 2008).
I saw an immediate parallel between Merton’s example of the Hopi rain dance and some of the ritual actions of terror groups. The Ku Klux Klan, for instance, will set crosses ablaze in front of the homes of people they wish to intimidate. Often, the action evokes anger, not fear, from the target party, thus the intended manifest function of the action has failed. However, this acts as a social ritual for members of the Klan; it can be viewed as a bonding action. The same is true for the rallies where they attempt to draw attention and recruit. They may fail at recruiting or drawing attention from society, but the latent function of creating camaraderie has been fulfilled.

What other actions within modern groups (terror groups, social cliques, etc.) might serve a more latent than manifest function?

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