Anomie – A Condition of Normlessness or Social Disintegration

Anomie, a term coined by French sociologist Émile Durkheim, is a condition of normlessness or social disintegration. It can be defined as a feeling of aimlessness or despair that arises from the breakdown of traditional values and social institutions.

Anomie is often associated with urban life, where individuals may feel disconnected from their community and without purpose. However, it can occur in any society where there is a significant change in the way people live or function. Anomie can be both a personal experience and a societal problem.

Durkheim’s perspective on anomie

Durkheim proposed that there is a natural progression in societies from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity. The former is based on common interests and conformity, while the latter takes into account individual diversity and differences.

This shift impacts not only society as a whole, but also the psychological state of its members. According to Durkheim, when societies move from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity, people experience an increase in anomie – a feeling of alienation or rootlessness.

Durkheim argued that anomie is caused by a breakdown of social norms. When society is in a state of anomie, there is no clear way to behave and no shared sense of values or purpose. This can lead to a surge in crime and social disorder.

The sociologist believed that anomie was a major problem in modern society, and he argued that it was one of the reasons for the increasing rate of suicide. He believed that this condition could be prevented by strong social norms and by having a clear sense of purpose in life.

Merton’s strain theory of anomie

American sociologist Robert K. Merton built on Durkheim’s work to develop a strain theory of anomie. He argued that the condition is caused by the gap between people’s goals and the means they have to achieve them.

This gap can lead to frustration and despair, which can in turn lead to crime and deviant behaviour. Merton’s theory is often used to explain why people turn to crime in order to achieve their goals.

Anomie and Alienation

The terms anomie and alienation are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Anomie refers to a condition of normlessness, while alienation refers to a feeling of estrangement or disconnection from one’s work, society, or self.

Both anomie and alienation can be caused by the same factors, but they are different concepts. Anomie is a societal problem, while alienation is a personal experience.

How anomie has been applied to the study of crime and deviance

The study of anomie has had a major impact on the field of criminology. The theory is often used to explain why people turn to crime. It can also be used to understand why some people are more likely to commit crime than others.

Anomie theory has been used to explain a wide range of criminal and deviant behaviours, including white-collar crime, organized crime, and terrorism.

Criticisms of anomie theory

One major criticism of the anomie perspective is that it focuses too much on individual pathology and ignores structural factors such as poverty and inequality.

Another criticism is that the anomie perspective overemphasizes the role of culture in shaping behaviour.

In addition, some researchers argue that economic deprivation is a more important predictor of criminal behaviour than cultural factors such as norms and values. 


Despite its criticisms, anomie theory continues to be one of the most influential perspectives in criminology. It provides a useful framework for understanding crime and deviance, and it has helped to shape many important criminological theories. It also offers important insights into the ways that individuals behave in societies where traditional norms and values are breaking down. 

Related Terminology:

Social order – the way in which a society is organized.

Social disorder – a state of confusion or chaos.

Normlessness – a state in which there are no shared social norms.

Alienation – a feeling of isolation or disconnection from society.

The Battle for Sicily's Soul
The Battle for Sicily’s Soul – Order from your Favourite Retailer Below

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. When you use one of these affiliate links, the company compensates us. At no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission, which helps us run this blog and keep our in-depth content free of charge for all our readers.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to the Anthropology Review Newsletter

Thank you for subscribing to the Anthropology Review newsletter!

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Your email will only be used to send blog updates and related information and your information will not be shared with any third parties.