Merton’s five modes of adaptation involve conformity, ritualism, innovation, retreatism, and rebellion. Conformity relates to abiding by certain rules that have already been defined culturally. If certain goals are to be achieved in life, individuals will follow what their culture dictates. For instance, in certain cultures to achieve success in life involves going to school, securing a good job, await promotion, and at the same time look for a suitable partner to marry once someone has sufficient income.
However, in most cases conforming does not necessary translate to achieving the desired goals. As such, individuals may seek unconventional means, and this is what Merton refers to as innovation. Currently, schooling does not necessary guarantee a career, job, or even success in life. Innovation is aimed at achieving the same desired goals as conformity but the ways applied to achieve the desired goals may be illegal or criminal. For instance, most of the criminal behavior can be associated with innovation such as selling drugs, robbing the rich and other forms of criminal activities.
Ritualism has the same means of achieving goals as a conformist would use but does not necessary achieve the desired goals. A good example of this situation is students in colleges and universities that attend classes but do not achieve good grades. Individuals that follow ritualism will aim lower in terms of achieving cultural goals. Furthermore, one can conclude ritualistic behavior aims at doing things because other people are doing them but not necessary focusing or placing much attention to what they are doing. Goals, in this case, do not matter. Most of individual that result in ritualism mostly develops from the lack of being competitive in any setting. According to Einstadter and Henry (166), society’s emphasis on success is a major contributor in many individual developing a laid-back mentality that leads to ritualistic behavior. Ritualism is also common in organizations where employees may tend to confirm with the rules and regulations of the organization but do not want to take risks that may help them to grow. In most cases, the individuals learn to play it safe where they avoid annoying their bosses (Einstadter and Henry 166).
In situations where an individual does not desire to achieve goals, neither does not focus on applying ways to achieve them, Merton calls this mode of adaptation as retreatism. As the name suggests, the individual does not do anything. College students who instead of attending classes opt to watch movies or play video games best expresses an example of such a situation. Furthermore, people who have given up on living the normal way such as drug addicts and alcoholics express this form of adaptation to the society. According to Einstadter and Henry (167), individuals exhibiting retreatism tend to be lazy and end up living in standards the society consider disrespectful or pathetic.
Metron’s final mode of adaptation is rebellion. Rebellion in most cases involves ways and goals that are contrary or different to the conventional standards (Einstadter and Henry 167). This form of adaptation seeks to cause a hostile environment or a new society within the old that has its own conventional means and goals (Einstadter and Henry 167). A weakness associated with Merton’s theory is that it does not provide a clear explanation why individuals that have undergone the same struggles may adapt differently. On the other hand, the theory provides an explanation as to why individuals may become criminals to achieve success and also how individuals may apply different approaches to try and better or change their situation or not.
Einstadter, Werner J, and Stuart Henry. Criminological Theory: An Analysis of Its Underlying Assumptions. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. Print.