Sociology Index


Anomic Suicide, Anomia

David Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) borrowed the word anomie from the french philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau and used it in his book Suicide (1897). Emile Durkheim defined the term anomie as a condition where social and/or moral norms are confused, unclear, or simply not present. Emile Durkheim felt that this lack of norms led to deviant behavior.

Anomie is a concept developed by Emile Durkheim to describe an absence of clear societal norms and values. Emile Durkheim was also concerned that anomie might arise from a lack of consensus over social regulation of the workplace. Anomie means a condition or malaise which in individuals is characterized by an absence or diminution of standards or values. David Émile Durkheim with Karl Marx and Max Weber is considered as the main architect of modern social science.

Anomie can occur in several different situations. For example, the undermining of traditional values may result from cultural contact. Merton’s most influential work was his theory of anomie. Anomie is a well-known theory within the discipline of criminology.

Robert King Merton first published the theory in 1938 in an article titled "Social Structure and Anomie" (Hunt, 1961:59). It was this work that catapulted Merton into the sociological spotlight in which he has forever remained.

The concept of anomie can be helpful in partially understanding the experience of colonized Aboriginal peoples as their traditional values are disrupted (Aboriginal Culture and Tradition), yet they do not identify with the new cultural values imposed upon them: they lose a sense of authoritative normative regulation.

Anomia is a social psychological condition, rather than a societal condition which ‘anomie’ refers to, characterized by a breakdown in values and a feeling of isolation. 'Anomia' is much easier to measure than has Durkheim's concept of 'anomie'.

In the philosophy of law and political science, anomia is the state of the absence of law, the negation of law in the sense of lex. Anomia in the sense of the lack of a positive law promulgated by the authority of the state (lex) occurs in conceptions that accept the existence of a pre-social and pre-political state of nature as a historical fact or as a mere hypothesis.

A Developmental Test of Mertonian Anomie Theory - SCOTT MENARD 
Merton's theory of anomie and deviant behavior has not been tested adequately. A careful review of Merton's writings on anomie theory is used to construct a more complete and rigorous test of the theory for respondents in early, middle, and late adolescence. - Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 32, No. 2, 136-174 (1995)

Poverty, Socioeconomic Change, Institutional Anomie, and Homicide - Sang-Weon Kim, Dong-Eui University, South Korea, William Alex Pridemore, Indiana University
Abstract: This study examined institutional anomie theory in the context of transitional Russia. We employed an index of negative socioeconomic change and measures of family, education, and polity to test the hypothesis that institutional strength conditions the effects of poverty and socioeconomic change on homicide rates. Results of models estimated using negative binomial regression analysis show direct positive effects of poverty and socioeconomic change and direct negative effects of family strength and polity on regional homicide rates. There was no support for the hypothesis that stronger social institutions reduce the effects of poverty and socioeconomic change on violence.

Richard Featherstone, University of Northern Iowa and Mathieu Deflem
Abstract: Robert Merton presented two not always clearly differentiated theories in his seminal explorations on the social-structure-and-anomie paradigm: a strain theory and an anomie theory. We contend that scholars who are critical of strain theory should not automatically discard Merton’s anomie theory, because the perspective of anomie is compatible with several other theories of crime and delinquency.

Behavior genetics is a biologically-friendly environmental discipline that often tells us more about environmental effects on individual traits than about genetic effects. Anomie/social strain theory is used to illustrate the usefulness of behavior genetics to criminological theories. Behavior genetics examines the individual differences that sort people into different modes of adaptation and that lead them to cope constructively or destructively with strain.

In Crime and the American Dream, Messner and Rosenfeld contend that culturally and structurally produced pressures to secure monetary rewards, coupled with weak controls from noneconomic social institutions, promote high levels of instrumental crime. This investigation evaluates this proposition with cross-sectional data for U.S. states. The nonlinear models show considerable, indirect support for Messner and Rosenfeld's institutional anomie theory, revealing that the effects of poverty on property crime depend on levels of structural indicators of the capacity of noneconomic institutions to ameliorate the criminogenic impact of economic deprivation.

An Empirical Examination of the Anomie Theory of Drug Use. - Dull, R. Thomas 
Abstract: Investigated the relationship between anomie theory, as measured by Srole's Anomie Scale, and self-admitted drug use in an adult population. Bivariate cross-comparison correlations indicated anomie was significantly correlated with several drug variables, but these associations were extremely weak and of little explanatory value.

Institutional anomie and societal variations in crime: a critical appraisal, Jensen G.
Messner and Rosenfeld proposed an institutional anomie theory of crime, incorporating the proposition that societal investments in programs to buffer citizens from capricious market forces (decommodification) are inversely related to rates of lethal violence among societies. This paper outlines several limitations of the theory and brings data from the World Values Surveys and other sources to bear on their characterization of American culture, their arguments about the impact of economic dominance on other institutions, and alternative explanations of the link between decommodification and homicide.

From Anomie to Anomia and Anomic Depression: A Sociological Critique on the Use of Anomie in Psychiatric Research, Mathieu Deflem
Abstract: The author demonstrates that the sociological concept of anomie has undergone important transformations when applied in psychiatric research. It is argued that these transformations are not fully in concordance with the original theories of anomie as they were set forth by Durkheim and Merton.

Advancing Institutional Anomie Theory - A Microlevel Examination Connecting Culture, Institutions, and Deviance 
Lisa R. Mufti, North Dakota State University
Institutional anomie theory (IAT) contends that crime can be explained by an examination of American society, particularly the exaggerated emphasis on economic success inherent in American culture, which has created a "cheating orientation" that permeates structural institutions. The current study tests the robustness of IAT by operationalizing IAT variables at the individual level and looking at a minor form of deviance, student cheating. Results related to the hypothesis that American students, relative to foreign-born students, will have an increased adherence to economic goal orientations that increase cheating behaviors are presented, as are suggestions for future studies.

- Anthony Gill 
The rapid growth of evangelical Protestantism in Latin America has received scholarly attention. The explanation for this phenomenon has been a variant of 'social anomie' theory that focuses on changes in social demand for religion. Individuals experiencing socio-economic crisis become displaced from their communities and lose their cultural identities. These individuals are then more susceptible to the appeals of new religious movements. I argue that the degree of government regulation of religious economies can best account for cross-national variations in Protestant growth. This analysis suggests that secularization is a function of government policy.

Sanjay Marwah, George Mason University and Mathieu Deflem 
Abstract: This paper discusses recent criticisms of the Mertonian theory of deviant behavior and argues that a visionary sociological paradigm of anomie-and-opportunity-structures underlies Merton’s contribution. We argue that future research should identify, examine, and test differentiated aspects of the anomie-and-opportunity-structures paradigm in order to arrive at a more consistent and substantiated conclusion on the validity of Merton’s project.