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Merton’s Modes of Adaptation

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Look at Merton’s Modes of Adaptation. Give at least one example of how someone, perhaps someone in the criminal justice system, uses each mode.

Robert K. Merton’s “Social Structure and Anomie” (1938). People adapt in many different ways. Just as part of a river that suddenly finds it, self blocked by an obstacle and may split and find a new way to the ocean. Merton outlines five ways in which people adapt to society’s goals and means and they are as follows:

1) Conformity – Adherence to the practices or beliefs of the majority. The most common form of adaptation. Conformists are the individuals who want seek the “American Dream” by reaching their goals through honest hard work. They are law-abiding people and use only means of legitimacy to get what they want out of life.

One example is I. At one time, I was going down the path of ritualism but I got so tired of standing still in one position. I just feel like I can do more with my life and I am headed straight for reaching the “American Dream. I am working very hard to reach that goal and nothing will stop me or get in my way of reaching them!

Conformity is the tendency to adjust one’s thinking or behavior toward group norms or standards. In some professions, such as lawyers, dressing in a shirt and tie, suit, is an expected behavior. Many people conform to obtain a sense of belonging and to avoid social rejection. In addition, when a judge, lawyer, and prosecutor, and the defendant conform to an agreement on a sentence. In addition, examples are Bill Gates and Colin Powell

2) Innovation – 1.origination: the act or process of inventing or introducing something new

2. New idea or method: something newly invented or a new way of doing things. Prevalent among lower-class people. Primary focus of Merton’s theory.

Innovation occurs in part as a response to blocked opportunities. It is a person in which the “ends” of material success are valued far more than the “means” or rules of getting there. For example “winning the game” is often more important than “playing with by the rules.” This leads to a form of cheating and hurting one’s competitor who is playing by the rules. The innovator reaches the “American Dream” but does not have the same goals or means that the law-biding person does to reach them. In addition, the innovator will adapt a different route to obtain the same goals but going down the criminal path to reach them. Example is the CEO of the former Enron Corporation, he cheated out every one of his employee’s that worked for the company by taking stealing money from their retirement plans and pocketing the money in his own bank account with out any of the employees knowing a thing about it until it was too late. He was “winning the game” and did not “play by the rules” until he was caught.

Another example of this may be an employee working at the same company for 20 years and still people that get hired are making more money doing the same thing he has been doing for 20 years, decides the only way to make that money that he is not receiving is to skim money from the company. Other examples: selling drugs and other street crimes.

3) Ritualism – adherence to rituals: a devotion or adherence to rituals. Frequently found among lower and middle class people who lower their level of expectations and goals to one that is more easily obtained. People who adapt by ritualism abandon their goals that they once believed in, and decide to stick with what they have. They settle for less than what they desire. Ritualism is the person that realizes they will never reach their anticipated goals these individuals hold jobs that they may never advance at but they still perform their daily tasks in conformity with social expectations.

Some one that may decide for less than what they desire might be a prosecutor who wants the defendant to get the death penalty but has to settle for maybe 1st degree murder with a lighter sentence. Some other examples may be blue-collar workers, Mother Theresa, and the Amish.

Another example is an individual who is very content with their job and bi-weekly paycheck and has no desire to climb the corporate ladder.

4) Retreatism – withdrawal, opting out of socially defined desirable behavior, e.g. alcoholics, addicts. Retreatism is the individual who reject both the goals advanced by society and its accepted means that get them to these goals. Such individuals effectively drop out of society and their rejection can be deviant and legal (becoming a hermit or submitting to alcohol abuse) or they may be subdued to criminal activities (illegal drug use or abuse).

Some examples are vagrants and alcoholics. It is someone who retreats from traditional lifestyle into the world of alcoholism, drug addiction, or other forms of escape. One example may be a detective that works homicide and just can’t cope with the job of looking at dead people any more may drink to try to relieve the stress and he thinks that the images will just go away if he drinks enough. Another example is an individual who may be going through a divorce or has a lot of stress in their lives and just cannot cope with it and turns to alcohol or illegal drug use, whether it is occasionally or habitually.

5) rebellion – not only rejection of goals and means but a positive attempt to replace them with alternative values, e.g. political revolutionaries, religious prophets, militia groups, 3rd party political organizations. Rebellion unlike the other modes of response is a group response, seeking to replace goals and/or the institutional means of an unequal social system. The presence of such an attitude represents a failure of a society to maintain and reproduce itself. Those who do not benefit from society’s orderings and laws do not adapt by taking individual responsibility. They indicate their desire to replace the existing system of socially approved goals and means with some other system more to their liking.

Examples are Ku Klux Klan, which is a white supremacy group that does not believe in blacks, Jews or non-whites should have any rights under our government laws, neo-Nazi skinheads and Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.

Killer cults tend to be led by charismatic megalomaniacs who pit themselves and their churches against the rest of the world. They are usually apocalyptic visionaries drunk with lust and power that have physical and sexual control over their followers. In most cases, their beliefs stem from twisted interpretations of established doctrines. These self-proclaimed divinities usually amass a large arsenal of weapons before bringing forth their personal day of reckoning.

Charles Manson – helter skelter. Manson’s odd interpretation of the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” warned of a coming race war in which “blackie” would win. Charlie did not like the Beatles song, but he did “hear what it relates… It says rise– it says kill.” Helter Skelter was to be the last war on earth: “It would be all the wars that have been fought built one on top of the other, something that no man could conceive of in his imagination. You can’t conceive of what it would be like to see every man judge himself and then take it out on every other man all over the face of the earth.”

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