Speaking of the Columbia sociological school, Hanan C. Selvin says: “We were satellites, not of one sun, but of two”. I substantially agree with this view and the story I try to tell in the book starts with an excursus on the interests and works of Merton and Lazarsfeld before they met at Columbia University. Very often the writings on the intellectual collaboration between Merton and Lazarsfeld deal with its strangeness: Merton was first of all a theorist, Lazarsfeld a scholar oriented to methodology and empirical research; they were called at Columbia to follow two different directions. In the first chapter of my book I try to point up some factors that made their strange collaboration possible: the interest of Merton for methodological themes (namely, for problems of data collections); the correspondences between the Lazarsfeldian empirical study of action and the Mertonian functionalism, that – according to my opinion – differs from the functionalism a là Durkheim or Parsons for the role it give to individual. The second and third chapters are specifically dedicated to the analysis of the empirical productions of the Bureau. In 2001 I spent 5 months at Columbia as a Visiting Scholar; in that period I interviewed Bureau people (Merton, Katz, Kadushin, Sills and others), content-analyzed some 300 Bureau research reports and read unpublished materials referring to the main Bureau researches. The second chapter is subject-organized: I analyzed the Bureau researches grouping them by their main substantial theme: communication, consumer action, community studies, professions and education. In the third chapter I try a more methodological and theoretical analysis; the main thesis of the chapter is that – regardless to the specific subject of the researches – the Bureau approach gradually shifts from an atomistic / individualistic framework in the first years to a more authentically sociological framework in the golden period (the 50s). In the chapter I try to show the conceptual and methodological tools by which the social context was included in the framework of analysis of the Bureau researchers. Finally, in the last chapter I try a sociological analysis of the Columbia school. Particularly, I draw on the concept of marginality, largely used in studies of sociology of science. Very often the concept of marginality was applied to study the figure of Lazarsfeld; as well he speaks of himself as a marginal man. Here I apply the concept of marginality to study an institution. In some published and unpublished writings the condition of marginality of the Bureau in the Columbia setting was treated as a limit. I’m convinced that some aspects of its marginality contribute to made the Bureau the important sociological school that we know. In the chapter I thoroughly analyze these aspects.
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