Rebellion in Sociology: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What is Rebellion?
  • 0:50 Five Modes of Adaptation
  • 2:32 Causes and Effects of…
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Rebellion is the most extreme form of deviance according to American sociologist Robert Merton. Rebellion can lead to crime, violence, and terrorism. Learn the definition of rebellion and the causes and effects of rebellion in this lesson.

What Is Rebellion?

Chris grew up in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood. He strived to do well in elementary school, motivated by his dream to live in a wealthy neighborhood with a big house and fancy car. After academic struggles and personal hardship throughout elementary school, Chris slowly gave up the idea that he would ever do well in school and be wealthy. When he met gang members in middle school, his new goal became earning status and respect in the gang. The means to doing this was by committing crimes. This example of Chris highlights the epitome of rebellion from a sociological standpoint.

Rebellion is when a person rejects culturally and society-defined goals and means and actively replaces them with culturally unacceptable ones.

Five Modes of Adaptation

Rebellion is the most extreme form of sociologist Robert K. Merton's classification of types of deviance. Merton claimed that deviance can be determined by two factors: 1. How motivated someone is to achieve culturally accepted goals and 2. If that person perceives the means to obtain those goals as reachable. Here, we will review Merton's five modes of adaptation:

  1. Conformity- This is the antithesis of deviance. It means accepting cultural goals and socially acceptable means to get those goals. For example, an adult in the United States going after the ''American dream'' by going to college, getting a good-paying job, marrying, and having kids.
  2. Innovation- This is when one accepts the cultural goals, but they reject the traditional or legal means to obtain them. For example, an entrepreneur wants to buy a nice house and have a lot of money, but utilizes illegal methods to obtain that money.
  3. Ritualism- This involves rejection of cultural goals but acceptance of the means of achieving those goals. An example of this would be a factory worker in China who doesn't agree with the government's low wages of factory workers, but continues to work hard at his job day in and day out.
  4. Retreatism- This is rejection of cultural goals and means required to obtain those goals. An example would be a teenager who gives up on school and the prospect of college/work by smoking marijuana and getting high every day.
  5. Rebellion- This differs from retreatism because not only does a person reject both culturally accepted goals and means, but they actively replace them with completely different goals and means.

Causes and Effects of Rebellion

The cause of rebellion can be explained in part by Robert Merton's strain theory. The strain theory states that people may deviate or rebel if there is an inconsistency between culturally defined goals and the accessible means to obtain those goals. This discrepancy can cause strain that can lead to the crime, violence, and murder that are the effects of rebellion.

Let's look at some examples.

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