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encounter issues of measurement in

the context of the collection and organization of

both primary and secondary sources of data.

Census-based data, including Severe Acute Respiratory

Syndrome (SARs), offer sociologists a

rich resource for the measurement of a range of

social variables, such as socioeconomic status and

poverty, quality of life, and well-being, and other

social indicators.

The measurement of socioeconomic status is a

central activity for sociologists and policymakers

alike. However, the precise methods by which

socioeconomic status are measured is, at the

outset, a reflection of a particular theoretical approach

to understanding socioeconomic status

and social class. Divergent methods of measuring

socioeconomic status tend to be, in turn, based on

divergent theoretical approaches. For instance,

Marxist and Weberian approaches tend to produce,

respectively, categorical and categorial/continuous

variables. That is, the very qualities of the

underlying dimension may alter, according to the

theoretical approach taken. Measures developed

using a Weberian framework, which emphasizes

a three-fold definition of socioeconomic status

(ownership of wealth-producing enterprises and

materials; skills, credentials, or qualifications;

and social prestige) tend to conceptualize this

dimension as either a categorical (discrete) or a

continuous variable. In contrast, measures

constructed using a Marxist or neo-Marxist approach

produce, without exception, categorical, or

discrete, variables. This is a product of the centrality

of the criterion of ownership or non-ownership

of the means of production. Marxist and neo-

Marxist measures accordingly take the form of at

least three distinct class groups: large employers;

the self-employed; and workers.

Thus socioeconomic status may, in practice, be

calculated from either a single measure or from

several closely related variables. Single measures

measurement measurement


tend to be based upon the classification of occupational

status. Multiple measures may be drawn

from a range of sources, including educational

attainment, father’s (and increasingly) mother’s

occupation, income, possessions, and home ownership.

Multiple measures are often treated as

more reliable measures of socioeconomic status

than single measures, as these correlate more

strongly with such closely related variables as

school achievement.

However, even single measures based on occupation

may be refined. Some systems of measurement

(for example the 501 categories of the

United States Census Occupational Classification)

are capable of classifying occupations into hundreds

of categories. These categories, when hierarchically

ranked according to criteria such as the

prestige, income, entry-level qualifications, and

typical workplace injury rates associated with

each occupation, may be transformed into instances

of a continuous variable, which in turn

enables a greater range of statistical operations

to be conducted on such data.

Within sociology, measurement has long been a

topic of critical reflection. In Method and Measurement

in Sociology (1964), Aaron Cicourel developed a

critique of the unacknowledged reliance of the

sociologist as a coder – responsible for assigning

numerical values to social phenomena – on

“common sense knowledge”:

if we must rely on human judges, then we should

know as much as possible . . . about how the “human

computer” goes about encoding and decoding

messages . . . Instead it is often assumed that such

meanings are self-evident, that native-speakers of a

language are more or less interchangeable, that the

manifest content is sufficient for study, or that

judges are interchangeable. The structure of

common-sense knowledge remains a barely

recognizable problem for sociological investigation.

Further, the order created by the use of formal

instruments is, according to critics, often created

by the very administration of such scales and the

comparability between units of measurement that

they produce. Thus, scales measuring a certain

social variable may correlate with other measures

of related variables (thus demonstrating construct,

or convergent validity) but may bear little

resemblance to the lived orderliness of respondents’

lives (thus lacking ecological validity).

More recently, Michael Lynch, in his “Method,”

in G. Button (ed.), Ethnomethodology and the Human

Sciences (1991), studied ordinary and scientific measurement

as ethnomethodological phenomena.

Lynch has examined the practical accomplishment

of categorization and classification. He argued

that an ethnomethodological approach to the practice

of measurement, following Harold Garfinkel

and Harvey Sacks’s formulation of “ethnomethodological

indifference,” would operate to place

matters of methodology back into the everyday

settings they emerge from, as “ethnomethodological

indifference turns away from the foundationalist

approach to methodology and that gives

rise to principled discussions of validity, reliability,

rules of evidence, and decision criteria.” However,

as he notes, many sociologists may find the upshot

of these debates unsettling.


measurement levels

– see measurement.


– see mass media and communications.


– see distribution.


– see mass media and communications.

medical dominance

Defined as the enormous social, financial, and

political power medicine has over the organization

and practice of health care, medical dominance

is a concept that has been used to explain

why doctors asymmetrically have more power

than patients in their interactions, but also why

doctors have more power than allied health-care

professionals such as nurses, social workers, and

therapists who use alternative or complementary


Medicine gains much of its power through its

exclusive knowledge about the operation of certain

mechanisms of the body. The emphasis

placed on specialist medical knowledge, as opposed

to the subjective opinions of an untrained

lay person, is central to medical dominance. The

notion that medical diagnoses are scientific, objectively

verifiable, and replicable, and the way

health care is hierarchically organized, reinforce

medical dominance.

The professional nature of a career in medicine

profoundly affects the interactions between

doctors and patients and may reinforce medical

measurement medical dominance


dominance. For instance, the professional can control

the amount of time spent with a patient, can

interrupt the patient’s conversation, or can control

the flow of information to a patient in a way

which exacerbates inequalities in their relationship.

The power to label a patient is also a fundamental

source of medical power. As well, doctors

have significant power over patients because of

their position as gate-keepers of entitlement to

certain welfare benefits and ability to influence

medical costs and insurance payments.

Some authors, such as Paul Starr in The Social

Transformation of American Medicine (1982), suggest

that changes in the organization of the healthcare

industry, including the corporatization of

medicine and the rise of managerialism, may

result in a decline in medical dominance, because

doctors’ clinical decisions are influenced by corporate

goals of profitability and efficiency.


medical model

– see medicalization.


Defined as the way in which the scientific knowledge

of medical science is applied to behaviors or

conditions which are not necessarily biological,

this concept was developed (originally in the

United States) in the early 1970s, associated with

the view of medicine as an instrument of social


Critics of the medical model, particularly in the

last decades of the twentieth century, suggested

that this model was increasingly being applied in

situations where it was not appropriate. Historically,

it is common for the medical model of the

culture and period to find application in wide

areas of life beyond the body and its diseases.

Nevertheless it is true that the twentieth century

saw the increasing attachment of medical labels

to behaviors then regarded as morally or socially

undesirable (alcoholism, delinquency, and homosexuality)

as well as to many normal stages of life

(such as pregnancy and old age).

Ivan Illich (1926–2002) in his Medical Nemesis

(1976) promulgated the idea that society was becoming

increasingly medicalized. Doctors were

becoming the new priesthood, and modern medicine

was creating overdependence on technical

fixes. Irving Zola in his article “Medicine as

an Institution of Social Control” in The Sociological

Review (1972) analyzed the increasing pervasiveness

of medicine in terms of: (1) expansion

into more and more areas of life; (2) absolute

control over techniques; (3) access to intimate

areas of life; and (4) medical involvement in

ethical issues.

For instance, the medicalization of behavior

extends the concept of addiction to include a variety

of activities such as shopping, gambling, and

promiscuous sexual activity. Alcoholism offers a

particularly clear example of the effects of this,

with some divergence of attitude between experts

about behavioral models of the condition and the

addiction model, which sees it in physiological or

psychological terms.

The medicalization thesis has been particularly

important to feminist sociologists, who have seen

expansionist tendencies in medicine applied

to women’s bodies and women’s lives, defining

natural processes such as pregnancy and childbirth,

menstruation and menopause, as illness

conditions. Recognition of the major part which

medical technology has had in reducing maternal

and infant mortality has gone hand in hand

with longstanding dissatisfaction with maternity

services. Feminist criticisms, such as the British

sociologist Ann Oakley in her book The Captured

Womb (1984), have accused a medicalized system

of ignoring women’s own preferences and experiences.

In other contexts, women are similarly seen

as the object of patriarchal medical control, for

instance over drugs (especially the prescription of

tranquillizers) and surgery, and in general the

treatment of women within the medical system

is accused of serving to enforce passivity and


The labeling of problems as “disease” may have

the positive consequence that the individual is

absolved of moral responsibility, and offers the

prospect of treatment or help. Sociologists point

out, however, that the labels do carry moral evaluation

with them, defining behaviors which may

be normal in particular circumstances as things

which should be cured.

The French social philosopher Michel Foucault

saw medicalization not as the simple exercise

of personal power by a profession intent on

extending its boundaries, but as a historical process

deriving from the power of clinical knowledge

and the redefinition of medicine to include

psychological, economic, and social “health.” Although

the development of holistic medicine is

generally welcomed, all aspects of life become

medicalized, in need of continual monitoring,

self-examination, and education. The British

sociologist David Armstrong, in Political Anatomy

of the Body (1983), described this as a shift from

the biological anatomy of disease to the political

medical model medicalization


anatomy of disease in which medicine focuses on

social life.

In late modern society, it is now generally

agreed that a degree of demedicalization is taking

place, whereby lay knowledge and experience are

being given a more important place, and lay

people’s knowledge about the body allowed more

legitimation. MILDRED BLAXTER

men’s health

– see health.

mental health

– see health.


– see credentialism.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1908–1961)

A French philosopher who held professorships at

the University of Lyon and the Sorbonne, Merleau-

Ponty was the editor of the journal Les Temps modernes

which had been founded by Jean-Paul Sartre

(1905–80). He broke with Sartre and the Communist

Party after the Korean War, becoming increasingly

detached from politics.

He developed the phenomenology of the everyday

world, and was concerned to understand

human consciousness, perception, and intentionality.

His work was original in applying the phenomenology

of Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) to

intentional consciousness but from the perspective

of corporeal existence. He wanted to describe

the lived world without using the conventional

dualism between subject and object. Hence,

Merleau-Ponty was critical of the dualism between

mind and body. He developed the idea of the

“body-subject” that is always situated in a social

reality. He sought to develop an epistemology that

would avoid the dualism between realism and

social constructionism. He also rejected behavioral

and mechanistic approaches to the human

body, and worked towards the development of a

phenomenology of the body as a lived experience

of the everyday world. He attempted to show that

identity and consciousness of self cannot be divorced

from our embodiment. For sociologists,

his most influential work was Phenomenology of

Perception (1945 [trans. 1962]), which has been important

for contemporary approaches to the sociology

of the body, and therefore his approach is

often contrasted with Michel Foucault’s treatment

of the body in his concept of governmentality.


Merton, Robert K. (1910–2003)

Born in Philadelphia, Meyer Schkolnick changed

his name to Robert Merlin in adolescence when he

was already a gifted magician in need of a stage

name. Robert King Merton came later, but his

youthful talents for plying the line between the

apparent and the real were a promise of things to

come. After education in the public schools and

libraries of South Philadelphia, Merton attended

Temple University where he discovered sociology

(BA, 1931). His graduate studies were at Harvard

(PhD, 1936), where he distinguished himself both

in sociology and the history of science. As a graduate

student he published eight articles in the

leading journals in academic sociology and science

studies, which were the groundwork for his

first major book, Science, Technology and Society in

Seventeenth-Century England (1938), and his most important

scholarly article, “Social Structure and

Anomie” (1938).

Merton’s place in the history of twentieth-century

science and culture is assured by four among

his many accomplishments: (1) the founding of

the sociology of science; (2) his leadership (with

Paul Lazarsfeld) of one of academic sociology’s

most important centers of training and research

at Columbia University; (3) the introduction of

theoretical ideas, always empirically grounded,

that simultaneously turned American sociology

into a mature social science and renewed its appreciation

of the European traditions; and (4) by

writing the English language with such clarity

and elegance that concepts of his invention (such

as “self-fulfilling prophecy,” “focus group” and

“role model”) entered the vernacular. Merton’s

genius is most simply described as a devotion to

empirical social science conveyed without sacrifice

of his formidable learning in literature,

history, and philosophy.

If there was a single handbook for sociological

theory and research in sociology in the middle of

the twentieth century, it was Merton’s Social Theory

and Social Structure (1949), in which he developed

concepts like manifest and latent functions,

anomie as a structural effect, theories of the

middle range, the self-fulfilling prophecy, and reference

group theory, among others, including the

key ideas upon which the sociology of science was

established. Though he is thought of as aligned

with Talcott Parsons as a structural functionalist,

Merton’s thinking was first and foremost structuralist:

for example, in “Social Structure and

Anomie,” he revised E´mile Durkheim’s theory of

anomie to demonstrate how structures can invent

men’s health Merton, Robert K. (1910–2003)


new, if deviant, forms of social behavior when

society fails to provide the normal institutional

means. He was, thus, the master of discerning the

hidden behind the apparent.

Merton published some thirty books between

1938 and the year of his death in 2003, the last

of which, The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity

(2003), stands with On the Shoulders of Giants: A

Shandean Postscript (1965) as a work that will long

be read by literary and cultural critics as well as by

sociologists. Among his many distinctions were

twenty-nine honorary degrees, a MacArthur Prize

Fellowship (1983–8), a presidency of the American

Sociological Association (1957), and the National

Medal of Science (1994). Merton was a man of

consummate generosity who helped countless

people with their work and lives.



This was a controversy over the method and epistemology

of economics in the late 1880s to 1890s

between supporters of the Austrian School led by

Carl Menger (1840–1921) and the German Historical

School of Gustav von Schmoller (1838–1917).

The Historical School argued that economists

could develop social laws from the collection and

study of statistics and historical materials, and

distrusted theories not derived from historical


The Austrian School believed that economics

was the work of philosophical logic and could

only ever develop by deriving abstract, universally

valid rules of conduct from first principles.

Human motives and other causes for concrete

interaction were far too complex to be amenable

to statistical analysis. At a general level the Methodenstreit

was a question of whether there could

be a science, apart from history, which could explain

the dynamics of human action. The dispute

began in 1884 with Schmoller’s critical review of

Menger’s Principle of Economics (1871) and Menger’s

reply, The Errors of Historicism in the German Political

Economy (1884). It subsequently involved thinkers

such as Lujo Brentano (1844–1931), Max Weber,

and Werner Sombart for the Historical School,

and Eugen von Bo¨hm-Bawerk (1881–1914), Friedrich

Wieser (1851–1926), and Ludwig von Mises

(1881–1973) for the Austrian School. Politically

there were overtones of a conflict between the

classical liberalism of the Austrian School and

the advocacy of welfare state provisions by the

Historical School. In sociology the issues were central

to Weber’s approach, which attempted to

steer a pragmatic course between the pursuit of

generalizations and historically grounded and

specific analysis. LARRY RAY

methodological individualism

This concept was introduced by the philosopher of

science Karl Popper in his influential work The

Poverty of Historicism (1957), one of the two most

influential books in the twentieth-century history

of the philosophy of the social sciences. The main

thesis of this book, developed in the 1930s, was an

attack on the notions of the forces of history and

ideas of historical inevitability in fascism and

Communism, but also in the thinking of academic

scholars such as Karl Mannheim and, before him,

Ernst Troeltsch, who employed similar “holist” or

supra-individual concepts and argued that they

referred to concrete realities of a special kind.

The use of these concepts was typically associated

with the philosophical claim that understanding

these concrete phenomena required a special

kind of knowledge or methodology beyond that of

science. Popper’s point was that such things as

society were theoretical constructions, of a kind

familiar from science, which were abstract concepts

used to interpret our experience, but that

the experience which they construct can be adequately

captured in the terms that apply to individuals,

such as attitudes, expectations, decisions,

and relations. This did not imply, however, methodological

psychologism, the claim that sociology

could be reduced to the laws of psychology.

Max Weber is the most prominent and consistent

methodological individualist in the history of

sociology. In recent years the term has been associated

with rational choice theorists who have

argued that many social processes formerly explained

in terms of society could be better understood

as the product of individual choices or

decisions which produce collective results

through the processes of an “invisible hand.”



This term refers to the specialist study of procedures

of empirical investigation. Traditionally, in

sociology as in other sciences, it is the reliability

of the research method which is thought to assure

the validity of the research data and the generalizability

of the research findings: it is methodology

that differentiates sociology from mere anecdotage.

A distinction is regularly made between quantitative

and qualitative methods. Quantitative

methods are primarily those of censuses and

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