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Anomie: The Norm Of Normlessness In Modern Society

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Anomie, first developed by Emile Durkheim, is very evident in today's society. The concept of anomie, according to Durkheim, is a state of normlessness, where individuals are succumbed to deregulation in their lives and through out their society brought on by a social change. Robert K. Merton, following the ideas of Durkheim, developed his own notion of anomie, called Strain Theory. Merton argued that anomie was a day to day function in society, seen as a social structure that embraces the same goals to all of its members without giving them equal means to achieve them. In the name of progress, modern society has promised a better world, yet in modern society anomie has not become the exception but instead the norm.

Emile Durkheim, a French Sociologist, originally introduced the concept of anomie in his first paper called The Division of Labor in Society, in 1893. According to Emile Durkheim there are two kinds of societies with one being simple called mechanic solidarity and the other being complex or organic solidarity. In mechanic societies there is a high solidarity among all members of that society; they have the same beliefs, religion, and means of survival. As society becomes increasingly organic there is more differentiation between members of that society since not everyone endures the same role. Once societies become organic, work also becomes more complex and there is an increase in the division of labor, and specialized economic activity. By becoming different from each other through their work, individuals become more different in their lives, resulting in a decrease of the collective conscience, community sharing common sediments, and the collective constraint. Individualism replaces the collective conscience. In this society, people are no longer tied to one another and social bonds are impersonal. The term anomie refers to the breakdown of social norms and it a condition where norms no longer control the activities of members in society. Individuals cannot find their place in society without clear rules to help guide them. Changing conditions as well as adjustment of life leads to dissatisfaction, conflict, and deviance. Durkheim felt that sudden change caused a state of anomie. The mechanic solidarity of simple societies that are intended to replace the social and moral forms had not developed fully thus modern society was experiencing a crisis of morality in a period of transition (Fenton, 1984, p.20). The system of norms and values breaks down either during a great prosperity or a great depression.

Discussing anomie more in depth and in addition to wanting sociology to be defined as scientific, Durkheim refers to the theory of suicide, not as an individualistic act but a societal problem. He sought to explain suicide not as to why it occurs, he left that to psychology, but as a social fact, which required other social facts and empirical research for an explanation. Durkheim believed that the rates of suicide dealt with social integration or interaction of society and social regulation. Categorizing suicide into four types; egoism, altruism, anomie and fatalism, he attempted to describe reasons individuals possibly choose such a harsh outcome. Egoism or egotistical suicide refers to low social integration, a feeling of not part of society or society not part of the individual. Through empirical research, Durkheim concluded that a Protestant unmarried man was most likely to commit suicide for reasons that described the individual as having low social integration. The Protestant religion is not as integrated as the Christian or Jewish religions Durkheim studied and as well as married people are more socially integrated than unmarried individuals and men commit suicide more than women. Altruism or altruistic suicide, described as extreme social integration, lack of individuality. Anomie or anomic suicide refers to low regulation or in other words, the regulative powers are disturbed. Seen as imbalances between means and goals, Durkheim describes two forms of economic anomie, being that of acute and chronic and then chronic domestic anomie. According to Durkheim in acute economic anomie:

Rules relating means to ends were inapplicable, and individuals were freed from social restraint creating disequilibrium, unhappiness and leading to an increase in suicides. Chronic domestic anomie was a product of a longer term diminution of social regulation of the relation between the means and ends (Thompson, 1982, p. 112).

Acute domestic anomie, examples a widow suffers the great crisis of a loved ones death and cannot adapt the new situation, resulting in suicide. Chronic domestic anomie, examples marital relations affect the individual sometimes resulting in divorce. Although not as in depth as previous, the last type of suicide described by Durkheim is fatalism or fatalistic suicide, where regulation is in excess. Suicide described as "persons with futures pitilessly blocked or all suicides attributable to excessive physical or moral despotism" (Thompson, 1982, p. 113). Throughout these four types of suicide Durkheim began to notice that not only the rich or not only the poor were the victims of the structural pressures but that the consequence were not intended nor willed but unintended human actions. Thus, Durkheim proposed the belief that scientific sociology should reveal the underlying structural services that produced these effects, hence further his notion of anomie (Thompson, 1982, p.116).

An American sociologist Robert K Merton built on Durkheim's notion of anomie to develop his own ideas called strain theory. Merton argued that the real problem is not created by a sudden change, as Durkheim anticipated, but rather by a social structure that is imbalanced between socially sanctioned means available to different groups of people and widely held goals and values of society, thus the opportunity is a structured inequality, making some people liable to anomie. Merton focused on two elements of social structure and culture, desirable goals and legitimate means which are available in attaining those goals. Lack of integration and what the culture calls for and what the structure permits, results in deviant behaviour, "social structures exert a definite pressure upon certain persons in the society to engage in nonconforming rather than conforming conduct" (Brym, 2001, p. 455).

In American society money is seen as the purpose of life, overemphasized. In attaining that money, for some individuals is not always great but the money in the end, the goal, is greater. Success is attainable for everyone which leaves failure to be the fault of the individual. Merton described five modes of adaptation, depending on the individual's attitudes toward cultural goals and institutional means to attain them. The



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