Robert K. Merton was one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th Century. His writing on the principles and importance of middle-range theory as well as his own theories of self-fulfilling prophecies and Matthew effects have been important sources of inspiration for the emergence of analytical sociology. Merton attended the first analytical-sociology/social mechanism conference held at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm in 1996, and he remained a strong supporter of analytical sociology throughout the rest of his career.
The Robert K. Merton Award for the best paper in analytical sociology is an annual award announced at the annual INAS conference. The award is based on a thorough selection process. Nominations are sought from the international scholarly community and the decision is made by a committee of leading scholars appointed at the INAS meeting.
Christopher Muller and Daniel Schrage receive the 2023 Robert K. Merton Award. We congratulate them for their excellent paper on "The political economy of incarceration in the cotton south, 1910–1925".
This article brings novel empirical analysis and evidence to bear on a classic question in the political economy of punishment. Social theorists have long argued that increases in incarceration are linked to contractions in labor demand. But prior work is largely descriptive, lacking analytical clarity about the mechanisms that give rise to this association as well as causal evidence. The authors elegantly resolve these issues by combining rich historical data on mechanisms with a natural experiment on a boil weevil infestation in Georgia. In doing so, they advance a conditional theory of the political economy of punishment that can be extended to other times and places.
The topic is important. The article is written free of obscure jargon. The study combines methodological rigor with a clear and convincing causal design and a meticulous data collection. The theoretical mechanisms that link labor demand with incarceration are carefully described and rigorously assessed. Importantly, the authors also establish scope conditions establishing the conditions under which the observed relationship between incarceration and labor demand would not hold. Overall, this is an exemplary demonstration of how the tools of causal inference and the richness of historical data can be integrated with the theoretical aims of analytical sociology.
The 2023 Award Committee
- Elizabeth Bruch (chair)
- Martin Arvidsson (2022 Robert K. Merton Award winner)
- Amir Goldberg
- Ozan Aksoy