Anomie is the social condition that occurs when social patterns and regular interaction dissolve or break down. Anomie usually renders people unable to interact in society. They may also feel isolated from their social groups and circles.
This circumstance can give rise to "deviant behavior🇧🇷 In other words, people may resort to crime, other forms of antisocial behavior or self-harm, including suicide.
French sociologist Émile Durkheim first developed the theory in the late 19th century. A French word, anomia, can be translated as "absence of norms", "deregulation", "anarchy" or "lack of shared values".
definition of anomie
Anomie in individuals and society is a state of instability and disintegration. It arises from the collapse of previously shared norms and values that governed social (inter)action.
The theory of anomie has its origins in the school offunctionalist sociology🇧🇷 It was one of the first sociological explanations for the origins of abnormal and antisocial behavior.
Anomie is linked to the work of leading sociologists Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton. You've seen how social structures control behavior and can lead to deviance.
Anomie can be expressed through two main forms of social breakdown:
1. Loss of sense of social belonging
People who experience periods of anomie tend to feel disconnected from society. For them, society no longer represents the values and norms they hold dear.
This causes people to lose their sense of purpose or ideals. They no longer feel that they belong to a community whose rules they must obey. They feel like outsiders or hopeless.
2. Breaking down the social norms that hold people together
Anomie also indicates a state of social disorder. It is related to the disintegration of the social bonds that unite people in functional groups and communities.
Periods of anomie tend to be unstable and chaotic. Social disintegration breeds conflict.
This is because the shared norms and ideals that would normally provide stability are weaker or absent.
As a result, people may be more inclined to commit crimes or other forms of social disruption. But violence and crime are not necessarily features of anomie.
examples of anomie
some simple examples
- People who live in tall buildings feel disconnected from each other and struggle with loneliness.
- People engage in organized robbery because they have no other means of accumulating wealth.
- Individuals who resort to criminal activities (eg, looting) in times of war or military occupation.
- self-righteousness. They feel that they have the right to impose their moral standards on others because they are superior to them.
- People from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to live up to societal expectations (eg, the "American dream"). As such, they may feel separated from other community members and participate in violent activities.
- People who live in big cities are more prone to deviant behavior than people who live in small cities. This is because they have become more distant from other people and do not necessarily share the same values.
- Rampant materialism makes people, even those who have everything they want, feel empty, unhappy and worthless.
- Societies have increased suicide rates during a financial crisis and their members feel confused or hopeless.
1. Durkheim's anomic division of labor
Durkheim first wrote about anomie iIn his seminal book of 1893 entitledThe division of labor in society.
He used the term "anomic division of labor" to describe an unorganized division of labor in which some groups are excluded even though they belong.
Durkheim noted that this happened when industrialization took place in European countries. This changed the nature of employment and led to a more complicated division of labor.
According to Durkheim, social control in pre-industrial cultures was maintained by the family, the people and tradition.
In post-industrial and modern societies, the increasing division of labor and alienation weaken individual inhibitions. This situation leads to a series of antisocial behaviours: e.g. B. Egocentrism, transgression of norms, delegitimization and distrust of authorities.
For example, when workers have no control over the production process and little ability to see the impact of their work, they may feel that their work is meaningless and that they have no real purpose as professionals.
2. Durkheim's Anomic Suicide
OnSuicide: a study in sociology(1897) Durkheim expanded his idea of anomie. He wrote about "anomic suicide", a type of suicide motivated by feelings of social disorganization.
Durkheim found that Protestants had a higher suicide rate by examining the suicide rates of Protestants and Catholics in 19th century Europe.
He hypothesized that this was because the Protestant culture valued individualism more. For Durkheim, this marked the crucial difference in values between the two types of Christianity.
Their "individualistic ethos" made Protestants more prone to suicide, as they were less likely to form strong social bonds that could support them in times of emotional distress. Consequently, Durkheim claimed that adherence to the Catholic faith increased social cohesion and control.
3. A theory of the anomische of Merton
In the 20th century, the American sociologist Robert K. Merton expanded Durkheim's theory of anomie and founded the sociology of deviance. For Merton, an anomaly occurs when people's norms and values no longer coincide with those of society..
According to Merton, people may exhibit deviant behavior to achieve their goals in society when those goals are incompatible with the methods available to them.
For example, imagine someone who wants to become a top lawyer but can't afford it by going to law school.
They may resort to illegal behavior like B. Falsifying credentials to fulfill their dream.
According to Merton, anomie, a state of social disorder, is one of the main causes of social deviance and crime.
Like Durkheim, Merton explained that when there are no shared ideals and conventions in society, people can feel lost and alienated. They may engage in criminal activities to gain a sense of purpose or belonging.
For example, a person might join a violent far-right online subculture that has its own set of standards and norms if they feel they don't fit in with the dominant culture of political correctness.
4. Anomie in times of social crisis
Anomie can also occur during times of social upheaval, such as armed conflict, natural disasters, or economic downturns.
People can feel lost and confused when outdated institutions and values no longer apply.
When this happens, they may act in ways that violate laws and social mores, resorting to activities such as armed robbery, damage to property or others.
5. Anomie and unbridled materialism
Rampant materialism is a striking example of anomie. As Durkheim ( 1951, 248) put it, 'the more you have, the more you want, since the gratifications received only stimulate needs rather than satisfy them'.
Research has shown that people under materialistic capitalism can lose sight of what is important and meaningful in life because they are obsessed with accumulating wealth and non-essential material possessions.
Even if they buy what they want, they may still experience feelings of despair, emptiness, and dissatisfaction.
critique of anomie
Anomie theory, particularly Merton's theory, is under critical scrutiny for several reasons:
- It does not address or justify the crimes of the rich and powerful (Thio, 1975). For example, a wealthy businessman who attended an Ivy League university may be embezzling funds even though he has already achieved financial success. Other types of crimes committed by the rich -not mentioned by Merton- are financial corruption, tax evasion, intellectual theft, human trafficking, etc.
- It does not take into account the “social reality of crime” (Quinney,  2017). This means that our understanding of crime includes behavior "contrary to the interests of the ruling class, which has the power to translate its interests into public policy".
- It assumes a homogeneous culture in the United States. People from different demographic groups (women versus men, whites versus blacks) can become involved in criminal activities for very different reasons.
- Since no one can get rich through hard work and education, it does not mean that someone will easily find a criminal path to wealth and success. Merton failed to take into account that some people live in areas where this is the case.bonitoa criminal subculture, while others do not. Furthermore, the available subcultures differ greatly. This helps to explain why not everyone who encounters legitimate opportunity structures closes off their refuge in crime, as Merton hypothesizes (Cloward and Ohlin,  1970).
In short, anomie marks a state of social deregulation, breaking standards and regular interaction in society. People who experience anomie feel lost, isolated, purposeless, and even worthless.
This happens because they no longer reflect their personal ideals and moral standards in their society. As a result, they are more likely to question and reject shared values and norms of behavior.
Anomie is a crucial theory that attempts to explain deviant or criminal behavior as a result of the absence of behavior.social normsand regulations. However, it has been heavily criticized for its formalism and disregard for crimes committed by the wealthy and other types of institutional violence.
The main sociological implication of anomie is that, in times of social upheaval, individuals and groups can only prosper if they are linked by strong social bonds that maintain social stability.
Cloward, R. and Ohlin, L. (1970).Crime and opportunity: a theory of criminal gangs. Glencoe, enfermo: Free Glencoe Press
Durkheim, E. (1893).The division of labor in society. The Free Press, Nova York.
Durkheim, E. (1897).Suicide: a study in sociology. The Free Press, Nova York.
Quinney, R. ( 2017).The Social Reality of Crime by Richard Quinny🇧🇷 With a new introduction by A. Javier Treviño. London: itinerary.
Merton, RK (1938) Social structure and anomie.American Sociological Journal, Bd. 3, no. 5 (October 1938), sections 672-682.
Merton, RK (1949). Social structure and anomie: revisions and extensions. In: Anshen, R.N. (ed.),The family: its functions and destiny. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Harper, New York, pp. 101-1 226–257.
Thio, A. (1975). A critical look at Merton's theory of anomie.The Pacific Sociological Review,18(2), 139–158.https://doi.org/10.2307/1388629
Chris Drew (PhD)
site web |+ publications
dr. Chris Drew is the founder of The Useful Professor. He has a Ph.D. in Education and has published over 20 articles in professional journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.