Ritualism in Sociology: Bureaucratic and Other Types

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Deborah Teasley

Deborah has 4 years of teaching experience and a master's degree in program development & management.

Ritualism in sociology occurs when someone doesn't adhere to traditional cultural values but continues on the path to achieving those values. Explore strain theory, bureaucratic ritualism and other types and examples of ritualism. Updated: 11/11/2021

Definition of Ritualism

Deron is a family man with a wife and four kids at home. He also is a hard worker and is at the middle-management level at his local marketing firm. Deron is not preoccupied with wealth the same way his co-workers are. He knows that it is unlikely that he will ever become rich, and that's okay. He believes that money isn't everything and that his fortune is his family. Nonetheless, Deron continues to work hard and climb the corporate ladder.

Deron's lifestyle is a good reflection of ritualism. Ritualism is when someone rejects traditional cultural goals, but still adheres to the usual steps to obtaining those goals. Deron is not preoccupied with the idea of wealth because he does not believe that he could ever become rich with his current occupation. However, he still continues to work hard and get promoted.

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  • 0:00 Definition Of Ritualism
  • 0:54 Strain Theory
  • 1:48 Bureaucratic Ritualism
  • 2:55 Examples Of Ritualism
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Strain Theory

Ritualism comes from a theory developed by the sociologist Robert Merton. In this theory, he explored how people respond to cultural values and how they are supposed to achieve them. Merton noted that not all members of a culture were always given equal opportunities to attain these ideals and as a result experienced stress. He eventually named his theory Strain Theory. Within this theory, he highlighted the five different models of how people adapt to a value system.

  • Conformity accepts goals and institutionalized means of obtaining them
  • Innovation accepts goals and rejects institutionalized means of obtaining them
  • Ritualism rejects goals and accepts or adheres to institutionalized means of obtaining them
  • Retreatism rejects both goals and means of obtaining them
  • Rebellion creates new goals and new means of obtaining them

Bureaucratic Ritualism

As Merton continued his work, he realized that the idea of ritualism could be applied in other scenarios too. He recognized this culture specifically within bureaucracies. Bureaucracies often have excessive, rigid, and sometimes petty rules and regulations that can impede decision-making. When an organization focuses on the rules so much that it prevents them from reaching the overall goal, it's called bureaucratic ritualism.

For example, Shelly is a 65-year-old woman whose three children are now grown up. After her last child, she had a tubal ligation done to prevent her from getting pregnant again. Last week, Shelly was notified by her health insurance company that they were dropping her policy because she wasn't covered for pregnancy, which is now mandatory. They told her that they could change her policy, but the price would go up substantially. This is an excellent example of bureaucratic ritualism. Shelly is obviously not going to have any more children, but due to the rules of her health insurance company she will either lose her policy or have to pay a lot more money to keep it.

Examples of Ritualism

We can see forms of ritualism played out in many facets of our everyday life. For example, Julie is not satisfied with the economic state of her country but is not interested in politics. Despite this, she still thinks it is important to vote. Every election year she votes for the same political party even though they are not focused on creating new jobs. This is an example of political ritualism.

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