Mertonís Five Types of Adaptation


Merton (1968) presents a model classifying where individuals fit in the continuum of adopting cultural values. This is an operational definition of the socialization process.




Typology of Modes of Individual Adaptation

Modes of Adaptation

Culturally Defined Goals (values) Structurally Defined Means Explanation
Conformity + +

Conformity occurs when individuals accept the culturally defined goals and the socially legitimate means of achieving them. Merton suggest that most individuals, even those who do not have easy access to the means and goals, remain conformists. 

Innovation + -

Innovation occurs when an individual accepts the goals of society, but rejects or lacks the socially legitimate means of achieving them. Innovation, the mode of adaptation most associated with criminal behavior, explains the high rate of crime committed by uneducated and poor individuals who do not have access to legitimate means of achieving the social goals of wealth and power.

Ritualism - +

The ritualist accepts a lifestyle of hard work, but rejects the cultural goal of monetary rewards. This individual goes through the motions of getting an education and working hard, yet is not committed to the goal of accumulating wealth or power.

Retreatism - -

Retreatism involves rejecting both the cultural goal of success and the socially legitimate means of achieving it. The retreatist withdraws or retreats from society and may become an alcoholic, drug addict, or vagrant.

Rebellion +/- +/-

Rebellion occurs when an individual rejects both culturally defined goals and means and substitutes new goals and means. For example, rebels may use social or political activism to replace the goal of personal wealth with the goal of social justice and equality.

Key + = acceptance of/access to, - = rejection of/lack of access to, -/+ = rejection of culturally defined goals and structurally defined means and replacement with new goals and means





Merton, R. K. (1968). Social theory and social structure. New York: The Free Press.





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