Definition of Ritualism and Theory of Ritualism by Robert Merton

Ritualism is derived from Robert Merton’s strain theory. According to him tension in the society arises from the fact that the resources in the society are to equally divided among people to achieve cultural values and goals. when one does not have the resources to reach goals, they adopt other ways to attain goals, based on this Merton gave five responses that people use to adapt to the structure of the society, namely; conformity (which is to accept the cultural goals and values and use institutionalized means to achieve them), innovation (this is to accept the cultural goals and values  however no using the institutionalized means to achieve them), rebellion ( create new goals and ways of achieving these goals), retreatism ( rejecting both goals and ways to achieve them, due to lack of success and adopting ways of coping with them) and the last one is ritualism (which is rejecting the goals but however continuing to work within an institutionalized framework)

Ritualism is the acceptance of the fact that due to their position in the society they might not able to gain complete access to material resources, thus instead of rebelling or engaging in any sort of illegal way of attaining success, they simply reject those goals, choose not to aspire them anymore, however they continue working in the traditional way and put in the same amount of hard work that they would have in order to achieve the goals.

Often ritualism may be seen as a kind of deviance from the normative ways of working and attaining goals, this is in the sense that here the people are rejecting goals. E.g. one may not aspire to get ahead in society by working to earn money. Ritualism still ensures that the status quo is maintained as people continue to carry out daily life practices even when they do not aspire the goal.

Another kind of ritualism was observed in bureaucracies, this was known as the bureaucratic ritualism. It steams from the greater importance that is given to the rules and regulations that one has to follow in the formal organization. Obeying such rules becomes more important than the overall goals, such that it leads to the alienation of the individuals from their goals. The importance is given to the slightest of details.

Another type of ritualism which had been observed is political ritualism, often we may find that the people are not very keen on bringing the existing candidates to power as they are not satisfied with their work or think that the political system is broken and cannot achieve its goals, however, these people continue to participate in the process of voting due. Here the rejection of the goal is the desire to not bring any existing candidate to power, whereas still participating in the voting process becomes the traditional way of doing work.

Thus we can say that ritualism is a kind of deviance from the conformity of accepting goals and carrying out work, however, this deviance is not negative.


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