ROBERT K. MERTON: REFRENCE GROUPS
It is the relationship of the individual with the group. Sociologists call any group that individuals use as a standard for evaluating themselves and their own behaviour a reference group. Reference groups are used in order to evaluate and determine the nature of a given individual or other group’s characteristics and sociological attributes.
The concept of reference group was first developed by Hayman. He explains the inter relationship between individual and group using the concept of reference group. He rejects Durkheim’s theory that considers that in every normal social situation, individual and group are strongly embedded to each other. As result, harmony is persistent in social life. Hayman considers that every individual compares his own group with other groups. He always intends to improve his status, striving for better social recognition. Individual’s relationship with group is always not harmonic. When a member of the group manifest behaviour not prescribed by the group, it leads to role conflict, and social isolation of the individual from that group.
Furthermore, Muzzafer Sherrif introduces the concept of reference group to explain how an actor identifies reference points within his own group. Thereby imitating their behavioural pattern to ensure that in the future he obtains social status like his point of reference. He considers that one’s own group can be the reference group for an individual.
MERTON’S CONCEPT OF REFRENCE GROUP:
Merton, taking inspirations from theories like above and introduces the concept of anticipatory socialization. He considers that this concept is useful to explain social mobility in the class structure, assimilation of ethnic minorities into the culture of dominant groups. Anticipatory socialization explains how it leads to role strain, role conflict in different structural situation. In forwarding his concept of reference group he rejects Parsonian theory of value consensus, integration and social continuity.
For members of a particular group, another group is a reference group if any of the following circumstances prevail:
1) When members of the first aspire to membership in the second group, the second group serves as the reference group of the first.
2) When members of the first group strive to be like the members of the second group in some respect, the second group serves as the reference group of the first. It is to be noted here that the first group wants to be like the second group simply because the first group cannot secure the membership of the second group.
3) When the members of the first group derive some satisfaction from being unlike the members of the second group in some respect, and even strive to maintain the difference between themselves and the members of the second group, later group is the reference group of the first.
An individual may compare his own group with the other group to understand his relative position, status advantage or disadvantage, openness or closeness of the group therefore comparative reference group always operates as foundation to individual’s perception of relative deprivation and remedies to it. A person can have multiple reference groups and he may selectively borrow elements from them. One’s own group can also be reference group to an individual.
Merton explains reference group behaviour under the following head
- Identification of reference group
- Understanding of comparative advantage or disadvantage i.e. gathering information about reference group
- Identification of reference points
- Acceptance of the values and culture of reference group (acculturation)
- Internalization of reference group behaviour
- Role conflict within one’s own group
- Resolution to role conflict within one’s own group
- Entry into reference group
- Resolution of conflict with reference group
- Assimilation with reference group
- Reference group is converged into new in-group
Merton’s study of reference groups bring forward new concepts in sociology like
- Role conflict
- Role strain
- Anticipatory socialization
- Marginal man
- Relative deprivation; what he calls serendipity.
REFRENCE GROUP IN THE INDIAN CONTEXT
This theory is applied to Indian society by M. N. Srinivas. His theory of Sanskritization is a form of anticipatory socialization that provides space for tribes, lower cates to experience mobility in their caste position in search of a superior caste status.
In the field of sociological research. The outcomes of research is not planned. Therefore sociological research is different from natural science research in the true sense. Therefore Merton is truly a sociologist who establishes connectivity between theory and facts and liberating sociology from the bondage of extreme empiricism and extreme form of determinism.