The Robert K. Merton Award in Analytical Sociology 2017 is awarded to the article “Disorder, social capital, and norm violation: Three field experiments on the broken windows thesis”, Rationality and Society 27: 96-126.
The article can be found here.
"By studying minor norm violations, the authors address an ubiquitous and fascinating social problem. Their paper takes on a theory - the broken windows theory - that is already well-known and well-studied, but nevertheless manages to further improve the theory.
They do so by making two contributions. First, they provide new scope conditions, by showing that its key mechanisms of spreading disorder only apply under specific conditions in which the costs of deviance are sufficiently low. Second they extend the theory, by highlighting how local social capital interacts with the informativeness of signals of disorder.
Building on rational choice theory, the paper outlines clear mechanisms that provide new and informative hypotheses on these issues.
Empirically, the paper nicely demonstrates the usefulness of field experiments in sociology. Through a series of clever experimental designs, the authors are able to convincingly test their hypotheses and establish the causal mechanisms that underly the spread of social disorder.
In the end, the study not only contributes to a general theory of norms, but also nicely demonstrates how an analytical approach that accounts for individual incentives, actions, and social interaction, can fruitfully explain social phenomena."