The Political Flexibility of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Keywords:Robert K. Merton, Brown v. Board of Education, Racial segregation, Flexibility, Expert report
The article analyzes Robert K. Merton’s theory of the self-fulfilling prophecy, focusing on how the theory was used in US legal proceedings after 1954 concerning how state authorities should enforce racial desegregation in public schools. In those encounters, Merton's theory was used to support both immediate integration of schools and a much more gradualist reform program. The article argues that the self-fulfilling prophecy served opposite political ends because of its endogenous properties, notably its generality and ambiguity, and because of certain exogenous factors, notably the adversarial nature of U.S. court proceedings and the different political cultures that theory users inhabited.
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