The Development of Anomie In 1893 Emile Durkheim presented the concept of anomie which means that if society lacks social norms or was left unregulated it would tend towards deviant behaviour. For Durkheim crime and deviant behaviour was integral to society in that it set social and moral boundaries and brought about a sense of community. Whilst we wish to expand further on the mentioned ideas we will also focus on how these ideas have influenced other theories of deviance and crime. We shall focus our discussion on Robert K. Merton’s development of anomie and more specifically we will look at his ork on Strain Theory.
Durkheim’s work on The Division of Labour (1893) suggested that there are two concepts of society: mechanical and organic, it is also noted that society evolves from one state to another. It begins in a simple state which he termed mechanical, where people act and think alike.
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They all perform similar tasks and there are no individualistic goals simply group goals, for example a country ruled by dictator regime. This simple society evolves into something far more complex called organic where there are less social bonds and individuals begin to think as ndividuals and are no longer tied to the mob mentality.
Therefore Anomie occurs when there is a breakdown of social norms. This results in individuals being lost or unable to fit into in society without having a clear set of rules to adhere to. The sudden change in society can lead to conflict and deviance. For instance during economic depression crime and deviance increases as people no longer have a dole within society, this may be due to redundancy or pay cuts. In 1938 American sociologist Robert K. Merton used Durkheim’s concept of anomie to form his own theory of deviance, Strain Theory.
It differs greatly from Durkheim’s original concept in two specific ways, Merton thought that the problem was not brought about by a sudden change in society, as Durkheim suggested, but it was actually due to a structure within society. It was suggested that this structure presented each member society with the same goals however did not offer them equal means by which to achieve the goals. “Merton observes that it is possible to overemphasise either the goals or the means to achieve them and it is which leads to social strains or ‘anomie’. ” (Burke 2010:43).
Durkheim suggested that an individual’s goals were oundless however Merton countered this suggestion with the notion that anomie is derived from the strains within the social structure therefore forces the individual to have unachievable goals. “Among the elements of social and cultural structure, two are important for our purposes… The first consists of culturally defined goals, purposes, and interests. It comprises a frame of aspirational reference… The second phase of the social structure defines, regulates, and controls the acceptable modes of achieving these goals. (Merton, 1938:672-673) Merton’s theory is based on the American society and in particular “the American ream” as such the goals and culture described above are best understood with the American dream in mind. ‘It is the American Dream that everyone, regardless of class origin, religion, or ethnic characteristics can succeed in acquiring material that during the founding of the New World that an open society would be created and in turn it was expected that everyone would be equal. However it was seen that money was the same where ever they were, whether it was Old Money or New Money.
Therefore each individual, even though they aspired to riches, they would ultimately have to work hard to achieve that goal. However, although it is seen that the American Dream is assimilated with cultural goals, the means to achieve such goals, or institutionalized means, are not necessarily spread evenly through society. For example not everybody can access higher or university education within the I-JK because of the significant cost it entails. This therefore becomes a hindrance in achieving success as the individual is lacking the institutional means required to move forward.
Success in society is rewarded by materialistic things therefore a sense of worthlessness and despair will emanate amongst those individuals who feel hey are, or are deemed to be, unsuccessful. It is with this that we can really grasp Merton’s idea of ‘strain’ between the cultural goals and institutionalised means of society. ‘For Durkheim, deregulation led to infinite aspirations; for Merton, infinite aspirations led to deregulation. The result, for both, was the same: high rates of deviation. (Downes & Rock, 2007:99) Merton forms a schema of the four different types of deviance and how they accept or reject the goal and how they view the means to achieve that goal: The Conformant: Individuals whom maintain allegiance o both goals and means, despite the trials and tribulations they may face. The Innovator: embraces the cultural goals with rejecting the prescribed means to realise the goal. They resort to what they feel are more efficient means of achieving that goal by embezzlement for example. The Ritualist: ignores the cultural goals however sticks by the means to achieve the goal.
They feel resigned to their routine and like to play it safe, being stuck in a dead end Job for example. The Retreatist: will naturally reject both cultures goals and means. For instance those who have chosen to engage in ocially unacceptable behaviour such as drug addicts, alcoholics or even freegans’ (people who do not conform to the notion of consumerism and source their nutrition from societies waste). The Rebel: these individuals actively reject both cultural goals and means and try to substitute them. Individuals such as political revolutionaries or religious fanatics can be seen to be rebellious.
Although Merton eventually adapted this depiction of the individual and their tendency towards deviance, his goals versus means schema provides us with an alternative view on ow to comprehend and analyse deviant behaviour other than the regulation of society as suggested by Durkheim. In so far as it illustrates how individuals adapt themselves to fit the situation they are faced with. More importantly Merton presents a concept of anomie that places the emphasis on the strain between the individual and society in which they live, providing us with a more sociological explanation for deviant behaviour as opposed to Durkheim’s biological theory.
Merton’s version of anomie was highly regarded for a number of years but met with substantial critique. Durkheim and Merton both stem from the positivist tradition meaning that much of their work was based on empiricism. Furthermore, Merton’s statistics and data were taken from police records and often pointed the finger of blame at the lower classes for being the primary source of deviant behaviour.
However the data provided was statistics provided are not always going to be neutral, especially if there are police and government targets to reach, suggesting that data may have been manipulated to suit the police. In conjunction with this it is seen as more of a priority to police and aintain the busy, urban inner-city areas whereas the more suburban areas were left to their own devices in a sense, with less police presence and less urgency to respond to incidents of criminality.
The statistics in turn reflected this suggesting that deviant individuals were more likely to reside and offend in inner city areas and simply operate within their boundaries as opposed to travelling out with their area to to engage in criminal or deviant behaviour. It is due to these two examples that Merton’s statistics were flawed which would then have an impact on the strength of is theory. This paved the way for theorists such as Albert Cohen to expand upon and adapt Merton’s original theory.