Anomie Theory

Topics: Sociology, Émile Durkheim, Anomie Pages: 5 (1616 words) Published: July 17, 2013
Anomie theory is important for explaining whether crime is a normal or abnormal (pathological) social phenomenon (Cartwright, 2011). It describes a lack of social norms, lawlessness and normlessness (Cartwright, 2013). In detail, it is a breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community. This theory was first coined by Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist in his book Suicide published in 1897 (Cartwright, 2013). Later on, Robert Merton, the President of American Sociological Association, developed the link between anomie and social structure. Unlike Durkheim, Merton used the notion from Durkheim’s anomie theory and explains that social structure could exert pressure on an individual and directly cause deviance (Cartwright, 2011). This theory is better known as the Anomie-Strain Theory. Furthermore, in 1994, Steven Messner and Richard Rosenfeld, like Merton, brought more attention to social organization and social institutions instead of focusing on individuals when analysing crimes (Cartwright, 2011), so the Institutional-Anomie Theory was developed. In order to understand the anomie theory better, the developments of this theory from Emile Durkheim to Steven Messner and Richard Rosenfeld should all be considered. For Emile Durkheim, his main concern about anomie was social solidarity (Cartwright, 2011). Based on this concern, he divided solidarity into two categories: mechanical solidarity, which maintains low adaptation skills; and to the contrary, organic solidarity whose inertia sensitively needs changes (Cartwright, 2013). Durkheim observed that these two groups would co-exist. The reason is that anomie is impossible when solidarity is organic. Their sensitivity to change leads to evolution among this form of labour. Later in 1897, Durkheim pointed out that the suicide rates were due to the dramatic economic changes, such as economic depression and the sudden growth of the economy (Cartwright, 2011). “According to Durkheim, these periods of anomie –times of normlessness, lawlessness, and unregulated choice – made individuals more susceptible to committing suicide or engaging in deviant behaviour” (Cartwright, 2011, p.6). In this study, Durkheim associated anomie with the influence of a lack of the norms. In Durkheim’s study of anomie theory, two notions should not be neglected. Firstly, Emile Durkheim referred to society much like a functioning organism (Cartwright, 2011), evidence for the theory can be easily found in his referring to the society as “the social organism” or “the functions of the central organ” (Cartwright, 2011, p.6). In order to maintain the continuation of the organism, each of the integrated parts has to be working well. Secondly, Durkheim discussed crime as an “abnormal” activity, which indicates that a certain proportion of crimes are normal and happens in most societies, (Cartwright, 2011). f in the steps of Durkheim’s study, Robert Merton described more about the relationship between social structure and anomie theory, later known as the anomie-strain theory. The definition of the word “strain” in the verb form means to subject to tension or stress. This meaning is very similar to the strain theory. The theory indicates that the social structure of a society may pressure or force the citizens to commit crimes, due to the failure to provide many individuals’ with “the conventional means necessary to realize those culture goals”, which also means that the individual lacks access to cultural goals, such as money, job, or education (Merton, 1938). In Merton’s publication Social Structure and Anomie, he provides a good example that explains his theory. For example, in the USA, the society’s general goal is wealth; therefore, in order to achieve this certain goal, the institutionalized manner is to be hard-working or obtaining education (Merton, 1938). Based on this theory, Merton identifies five modes of adaptation, including conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and...


References: Cartwright, B. (2011). The Normal and the Pathological. Social Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp. 5-7). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.
Cartwright, B (2011). Social Structure and Anomie. Social Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp.20-22). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.
Cartwright, B (2011). Crime and the American Dream. Social Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp.51-53). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.
Cartwright, B. (2013). “Introduction to Anomie-Strain Theory.” Criminology 104 Lecture, delivered ar Simon Fraser University on January 15, 2013.
Cheng, H. (2012). Cheap Capitalism. The British Journal of Criminology, 52(2), 254-273.
Merton, R.K. (1938). Social Structure and Anomie. In B. Cartwright (Ed.), Social Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp.20-32). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.
Messner, S.F. and Rosenfeld, R. (2011). Crime and the American Dream: an Institutional Analysis. In B. Cartwright (Ed.). Social Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp.53-73). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.
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