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Merton, Robert K. (1910–2003)

American sociologist Robert K. Merton may be best known in communication studies, as well as sociology, for having urged researchers to concentrate on “middle range” problems: Instead of trying to develop broad, abstract, “grand theories” that attempt to explain numerous social phenomena but are difficult or impossible to test, Merton argued social scientists would be better off working on smaller, more manageable problems where empirical data can be gathered.

The familiar idea of “agenda setting” that was developed later on by mass communication scholars might be considered a middle range theory; for example, the notion that the media's issue agenda influences the popular issue agenda is an example of a theory focused on a narrow range of phenomena that has been clearly demonstrated by empirical ...

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