The anomie theory

Anomie Theory- Today’s Examples & Applications


Anomie, the normlessness theory:

According to Durkheim’s definition, anomie is a state of mind where the facts of the matter go against what is considered the generally accepted norm. In other words, when there is a discrepancy between the cultural goal of a society and the means to achieve that goal, this creates a problem.

The resulting emotional frustration and personal confusion may reduce an individual’s efficiency in attaining their goals and bring about deviant behavior. This pressure is another reason why suicide rates are on the rise.

Anomie can also be defined as a loss of social restraint that redirects human behavior towards social goals. A state of normlessness and the resulting confusion is caused by a discrepancy between the cultural goal of a society and its institutionalized means of satisfying that goal. This definition is more synonymous with Durkheim’s explanation of anomie as a consequence of the collapse of social controls (Durkheim, 1951). Let us examine more below!

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Types of Anomie

Originally, Emile Durkheim (1897) believed that all societies pass through anomie at various points in their development. He also believed there were three types of anomie; Mechanical Anomie, Organic Anomie, and Cultural Anomie.

Mechanical Anomie

Mechanical anomie is a state of normlessness or lack of rules and regulations that previously guided people’s behavior. This type of anomie can occur when there is a social change, such as industrialization. New rules must be established as previous traditions and norms established by long-held values, customs, and beliefs are broken by the rapid growth of technology.

It is difficult for people from all walks of life to adapt and comply with the new rules. Consequently, social control is weakened. Lacking social controls prompts people to engage in deviant behavior out of confusion and frustration.

A good example of mechanical anomie can be found in the movie The Matrix. Everyone in the world is oblivious that they are asleep in pods. They are being fed a virtual reality while their bodies are used as an energy source. The Matrix was created to control the people and keep the power in a select few’s hands.

Anomie, according to Durkheim, is closely related to Suicide because when people feel normlessness, they lack self-control and become more susceptible to Suicide. The same is true of mechanical anomie, where the control of society is lost.

Organic Anomie

This type of anomie occurs when there is a breakdown in the social patterns that prohibit certain actions. When people are allowed to break these social patterns, and there is little or no punishment, their behavior results from social disorganization.

According to Durkheim, the concept of organic solidarity is what holds society together, and it “makes individuals feel involved in and attached to a larger entity. This sense of belonging is crucial for the development of self-control, especially during adolescence.” (p. 174)

A good example of organic anomie can be found in the movie American Beauty. Lester Burnham, the main character, breaks his social pattern by committing Suicide. The breakdown in this type of anomie is that Lester was no longer under the control of his wife.

Cultural Anomie

Cultural anomie occurs when society’s cultural goals, such as providing equal opportunities to all citizens, are not being achieved. It is a result of inequality within society.

Durkheim’s anomie theory states that social disorder is due to the division of labor characterized by mechanical solidarity.

When society is in order, it is a product of organic solidarity. People are held together amongst themselves because they are of the same status. But, the division of labor disrupts this process causing people to come together differently. Once people get involved with labour division, they often become alienated and don’t feel they fit in anywhere.

If the rich and poor gap is too great, it becomes a problem because people are no longer equal. In this case, the rich promote mechanical solidarity and have little or no interest in the poor. The division of labor causes a breakdown in social controls, which leads to crime, violence, and Suicide.

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Examples of the Anomy Theory in Today’s World

In today’s society, the cultural goal of a society is to be wealthy. The institutionalized means that has been created to reach this goal is to pursue higher education.

The problem occurs when someone pursuing the institutionalized means cannot live up to society’s cultural goal. They feel as if they cannot live up to what has been told by the media/society and that their life is not as successful as others. This leads to anomie, which results in feelings of meaninglessness and dissatisfaction with life.

The most common causes of high suicide rates are social isolation resulting from divorce and financial problems. This isolation can lead to depression and other emotional distress.

The anomie theory has been proven to be effective in explaining the creation of violent crimes. It helps criminal justice professionals to understand why a person might commit murder, rather than simply viewing the individual as evil or psychotic.

Criminals are people who feel anomie, and they don’t know how to resolve these feelings. The theory can also be applied to non-violent crimes, such as property crime.

A good example of this can be found in the movie Fight Club. The main character, an unnamed insomniac, is introduced to members of a “fight club.” These people also suffer from social disorders. The disorder is resolved through fighting, but it becomes a very violent crime, and the fights are illegal.

Applications of the Anomie Theory in Criminology

Anomie theory is most commonly applied in criminology. In society, when the goals of its people become fixed to a certain characteristic by society, those who do not live up to that goal are considered outsiders. They cannot assimilate with “normal” members of society, and they are seen as deviants by everyone in the community. Since these “deviant” people are classified as social misfits, they will inevitably be involved in crime.

Anomie theory is widely used today to explain why crime rates are increasing. The rates of crime are measured by the number of crimes happening in a stipulated period.

According to Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist, the criminal justice system is necessary because of anomie to create a sense of social unity. Without this common goal, society becomes fractious and fragmented. This theory is used today to show why the attempt to reduce increasing crime rates by expanding the criminal justice system will not work.

In our modern world, anomie impacts everyone. It is what causes the vast majority of people who feel suicidal and hopeless actually to commit Suicide. Anomie can also be one of the reasons why crime rates have been on the rise recently. It is also a major cause for why people who engage in criminal behavior are not punished.

Anomie Theory in Sociology

Durkheim (1858-1917) was the first to put forth the concept of anomie. It is a state of extreme social disorganization or a “normless condition.” It is characterized by deviance in human behavior and the breakdown of norms.

Anomie arises when there are few social expectations to guide behavior. When these expectations do not exist, people will create their own goals; these unique goals deviate from the societal norm. Here, there two other types of anomie:

Collective Anomie-Anomie in groups or societies.

In collective anomie, Durkheim referred to the breakdown in social solidarity, resulting from a low degree of altruism and a lack of moral values. An example of this in modern times is the high rate of divorce. Divorce creates an anomic state in which people question societal norms and form their values, thus leading to deviant behaviors.

Social anomie is a condition of society in which social norms and values no longer apply to most people. In a state of social anomie, there is rampant deviance. An example of social anomie is the high rate of divorce among celebrities.

The opposite of social anomie is altruism. Altruism is characterized by selflessness and giving help to others, even at some cost to oneself.

Anomie Theory in Education-Sociology Essay Example

The Korean educational system is characterized by the same anomie that Durkheim meticulously described before writing his Suicide. As described in other articles by Lee (2004) and Rho (2005), Korean culture is very competitive, especially when it comes to schooling.

Students are expected to get into the most prestigious schools, and teachers believe that if you do not study hard enough, you will not succeed.

The pressure to excel is so great in Korea that when a student does not do well on a test, the assumption by almost everyone (student, teachers, and parents) is that something must be wrong with the student.

It is not a question of studying harder the next time, but there must be an underlying reason why the student is unsuccessful. A common excuse is that Koreans look only at results and do not consider effort for an accomplishment.

To give a modern example, Korea’s recent soccer boom is partly attributed to the sudden rise of football success in France and Italy. Before these countries’ success, Korean soccer was very weak. Upon seeing the result of hard work by foreign teammates, many Korean football enthusiasts wanted to emulate them.

However, anomie is when there are no norms. So how can one follow a norm that does not exist? There is no norm to emulate; therefore, everyone does their own thing without a sense of direction.

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Robert Merton’s Deviance Theory and the Anomy Theory

Robert Merton (1910-2003) is best known for his work on the strain theory of deviance. He expanded it to include the concept of legitimate and illegitimate goals.

Merton suggested that people engage in deviant behavior when they are unable to reach social goals. A goal is a desire that drives behavior. Merton focused on the drive to achieve success and wealth, which he called “acquisitive society.”

Merton’s theory of deviance is based on three conditions: motivation, opportunity, and belief.


Merton stayed clear of the debate between normative and socialization theories. He does not believe that society is to blame for deviant behavior.

Rather, he saw society as a place where everyone is free to pursue any goal. The problem starts when the goals people set for themselves are not realistic.

For example, a high school student who wants to be a famous rock star will not reach that goal because they are more likely to be entrepreneurs, lawyers, or doctors.

Merton said that a higher social position requires greater effort and that people committed to a goal will put in the effort necessary to achieve it.


Merton stated that deviance is a result of the inability to achieve one’s goals. Therefore, he argued that some people who have not reached their goals would be more likely to commit deviant acts.

The opportunities to commit deviant acts are social institutions. According to Merton, the social structure of society creates some degree of inequality by offering different kinds of opportunities. For example, in the United States, some people can become rich by playing professional sports, while others have to study for years and gather wealth through their careers.

Also, being born into a low-income family or growing up in an area with few resources makes it difficult to get ahead.

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Merton said that there is no such thing as a free choice. He argued that people’s values and beliefs are shaped by society. For example, if a person grew up in Korea, where academic success is highly valued, they will likely go to school and study hard. Believing in the importance of a good education, this person would not consider engaging in deviant activities.

However, people who grow up in the United States may not have a positive view of education. They might feel that it is useless and that their lives would not be any better if they had a university degree.

In other words, to become successful in the United States, a person must have an uneducated personality and be ready to deal with the challenges of poverty. Merton argued that the social environment shapes people’s thoughts and behavior. This environment also influences our ideas about what is right and wrong.

In relation to the anomie theory, Merton’s theory of deviance helps explain the motivations of some people who commit crimes. According to Durkheim, society’s shared values and norms are supposed to guide people’s behavior. However, Merton argued that modern society is too complex for those rules and values to affect.

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Institutional Anomie Theory

Robert Agnew, a sociologist widely known for institutional anomie theory (IAT), expanded Merton’s theory.

According to Robert Merton, a high level of aspiration creates the potential for deviance. But what causes some people to be more ambitious than others? Robert Agnew’s focuses on this question in his theory about the role of power and wealth in society.

Agnew states that an individual’s motivation to commit crimes results from their economic status in society. He argued that people with little power and money are more likely to commit deviant acts because they lack other opportunities.

Institutional Anomie Theory suggests that the gap between rich people and poor people increases in the United States.

Across the country, there are many social problems, such as drug abuse and violent crimes. These issues are typically found in areas where low-income families live. Agnew claimed that deviance is a way for those individuals to deal with their problems.

Agnew’s theory states that people who have little power are likely to engage in violent crimes to gain some control. As discussed above, people who commit crimes have not been able to achieve their goals in life.

For example, consider a young man who grew up in an area where scarce money, power, and resources. This young man may not have had the opportunity to go to college or university, so his chances of getting a high-paying job later in life are very low.

According to Agnew, the young man could join a gang and use violence to achieve what he could not achieve individually. His goal would be to rise in the ranks of his gang and get a sense of power.

In a way, joining a gang would be like the young man climbing the social ladder. Of course, he knows that this is illegal and dangerous, but he feels that his chances of becoming rich and powerful are greater in a gang than on his own. This example illustrates how institutional anomie theory explains why people commit crimes.

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Gender Anomie Theory

Merton’s theory of deviance helps to explain the motivations of people who commit crimes, but it does not explain why men and women are more likely to engage in different types of crimes. This theorist suggested that a lack of power and money is the primary motivator for deviant behavior.

However, Merton’s theory cannot explain why men are more likely to commit violent crimes and women are more likely to engage in white-collar crime. As suggested by Agnew, the gender anomie theory addresses that issue.

The gender anomie theory (GAT) is a variation in Merton’s original work. The purpose of the GAT is to explain why men and women are convicted of different types of white-collar crime.

White-collar crimes may involve computers, networks, or the internet and are often referred to as cybercrime. Examples of white-collar crime include identity theft, credit card fraud, or filing a false legal document.

The GAT is based on the idea that gender and status are related. In other words, men and women who have high amounts of power and money are more likely to follow the rules than people with low status.

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The anomie theory, which Emile Durkheim first introduced in his 1897 work “Suicide,” is a sociological concept that states social structures or lack thereof can lead to feelings of uncertainty and confusion. This feeling may be compounded when individuals are unable to find meaning through their occupation, leading them to feel disconnected from society

Although the anomy theory has been mostly used as a sociological concept regarding suicide rates and criminal behavior, it also provides insight into other areas such as organizational culture. Understanding how this theoretical framework affects people on various levels will help you better understand the people around you.

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