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Social Anomie

Topics: Sociology / Pages: 5 (1205 words) / Published: Sep 18th, 2013
This essay is going to discuss the anomie theory by trying to define it. It will then look at Durkheim’s and Merton’s view of anomie and the difference between the two. It will look at culturally defined goals and the generally acceptable modes of achieving these goals and the creation of Merton’s typology of adaption’s as to how people respond to the disjunction of goals and means to achieve such goals. This paper will then examine social anomie in South Africa; racial differences in social anomie and whether the socio economic inequalities between races help to explain these differences; the possible relations between race, social inequality and anomie.
Anomie is the social instability caused by the erosion of standards and values. It is alienation and purposelessness experienced by a person or a class of persons as a result of lack of standards, values or ideals, ( The concept thus refers to the absence of clear social norms and values and to a lack of sense of social regulation. Merton focused on features of relative deprivation that cause anomie and Durkheim was interested in the link between rapid social change and social anomie, (Huschka & Mau, 2006).

Durkheim’s and Merton’s view of anomie. The difference between the two.
Durkheim’s conceptualization of anomie is based on a general assumption about the psychological or biological nature of individual human beings. He wrote that that the human “capacity or feeling is in itself an insatiable and bottomless abyss” ( 1951: 247). From his point of view, individual happiness and wellbeing depend on the ability of society to impose external limits on the potentially limitless passions and appetites that characterise human nature in general. Human desires are left unchecked and unbounded- the individual “aspires to everything and is satisfied with nothing” (19951:21). Thus the concept of anomie is used by Durkheim to explain a variety of facts.
Merton was primarily concerned with the disjunction between culturally devised goals and accepted means of achieving these ends, according to Merton’s theory it was the inability of groups to attain socially valued goals that caused anomie (Huschka & Mau, 469, 2006). Therefore Merton’s conception of anomie “refers to the lack of means to accomplish determined goals” (Tsahuridu, 2009). Merton bases his theory on sociological assumptions about human nature. Merton replaces Durkheim’s conception of insatiable passions and appetites with the assumption that human needs and desires are primarily the product of a social process that is cultural socialization (Merton, 672, 1957).
Culturally defined goals and the generally acceptable modes of achieving these goals and how do people respond to the disjunction of goals and means to achieve such goals.
Durkheim wrote that
No living being can be happy or even exist unless his needs are sufficiently proportioned to his means. In other words, if his needs require more than can be granted, or even merely something of a different sort, they will be under continual friction and can only function painfully. Movements incapable of production without pain tend not be reproduced. Unsatisfied tendencies atrophy, and as the impulse to live is merely the result of all the rest, it is bound to weaken as others relax. (246:1951)
Merton on the other hand felt that in order for a society to be socially integrative there must be a balance between aspirations and means to fulfil such aspirations and that a balance occurs as long as the individual feels that he or she is achieving the culturally desired goal by conforming to the institutionally accepted mode of doing so (Huschka & Mau, 469, 2006). Merton believed that every social group invariably couples its scale of desired ends with moral or institutional regulation of permissible and required procedures for attaining these ends but also however felt that moral imperatives and regulatory norms do not necessarily coincide with technical or efficiency norms (Merton; 673, 1957).
Merton firstly perceives a strain toward anomie in the relative lack of cultural emphasis on institutional norms, the established rules of the game as to say that regulate the legitimate means for obtaining success. Second, structural blockages that limit access to legitimate means for many members of society also contribute to anomic tendencies. Under such conditions, behaviour tends to be governed solely by considerations of expediency or effectiveness in obtaining the goal rather than by concern with whether or not the behaviour conforms to institutional norms (Merton; 675, 1957). Therefore people become defiant because they are blocked in their pursuit for success.
Merton’s typology
Merton presents an analytical typology, shown in the following table, of individual adaption’s to the discrepancy between culture and social structures. Merton's typology of individual adaptations to environmental pressures | Type of Adaptation | Cultural Goal | Institutionalized Means | I. Conformity | + | + | II. Innovation | + | – | III. Ritualism | – | + | IV. Retreatism | – | – | V. Rebellion | + | + | Note: + signifies acceptance, – signifies rejection, and + signifies rejection of prevailing goal or means and substitution of new goal or means. (Merton; 676; 1957). |

These adaptations describe the kinds of social roles people adopt in response to cultural and structural pressures. Conformity, for instance, is a nondeviant adaptation where people continue to engage in legitimate occupational or educational roles despite environmental pressures toward deviant behavior. That is, the conformist accepts and strives for the cultural goal of material success (+) by following institutionalized means (+). Innovation, on the other hand, involves acceptance of the cultural goal (+) but rejection of legitimate, institutionalized means (-). Instead, the innovator moves into criminal or delinquent roles that employ illegitimate means to obtain economic success. Ritualism represents quite a different sort of departure from cultural standards than does innovation. The ritualist is an over conformist. Here, the pursuit of the dominant cultural goal of economic success is rejected or abandoned (-) and compulsive conformity to institutional norms (+) becomes an end in itself. Retreatism involves complete escape from the pressures and demands of organized society. Merton applies this adaptation to the deviant role “activities of psychotics, autists, pariahs, outcasts, vagrants, vagabonds, tramps, chronic drunkards, and drug addicts”. Rebellion, is indicated by different notation than the other adaptations. The two ± signs show that the rebel not only rejects the goals and means of the established society but actively attempts to substitute new goals and means in their place. This adaptation refers, then, to the role behavior of political deviants, who attempt to modify greatly the existing structure of society. 2013-09-16

Social anomie in South Africa; racial differences in social anomie and whether the socio economic inequalities between races help to explain these differences; the possible relations between race, social inequality and anomie.
Huschka and Mau’s point of departure is the same as I believe is that South Africa went through a lot during the apartheid and post apartheid regime that irrevocably resulted in anomie. Blacks (Indians, coloureds and Africans) had unequal opportunities as compared to the white man. Before 1994 South Africans had a sense of powerlessness, social conditions at the time deprived people of their freedom and limited their opportunities in the economy and in the workplace. Certain people of certain races could not trade in certain areas; certain people had to have work passes to be working in a certain area.
After 1994,

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