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Durkheim's Anomie

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, introduced the concept of anomie in his book The Division of Labor in Society, published in 1893. He used anomie to describe a condition of deregulation that was occuring in society. This meant that rules on how people ought to behave with each other were breaking down and thus people did not know what to expect from one another. Anomie, simply defined, is a state where norms (expectations on behaviors) are confused, unclear or not present. It is normlessness, Durkheim felt, that led to deviant behavior. In 1897, Durkheim used the term again in his study on Suicide, referring to a morally deregulated condition. Durkheim was preoccupied with the effects of social change. He best illustrated his concept of anomie not in a discussion of crime but of suicide.

In The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim proposed two concepts. First, that societies evolved from a simple, nonspecialized form, called mechanical, toward a highly complex, specialized form, called organic. In the former society people behave and think alike and more or less perfom the same work tasks and have the same group-oriented goals. When societies become more complex, or organic, work also becomes more complex. In this society, people are no longer tied to one another and social bonds are impersonal.

Anomie thus refers to a 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. He observed that social periods of disruption (economic depression, for instance) brought about greater anomie and higher rates of crime, suicide, and deviance.

Durkheim felt that sudden change caused a state of anomie. The system breaks down, either during a great prosperity or a great depression, anomie is the same result.





Emile Durkheim's Life and Works (1857-1917)
A Bibliography of Works about Durkheim
Durkheim Home Page - Results for Durkheim, Émile
Glossary of Terms and Concepts Relevant to Durkheim
Durkheim Timeline
Durkheim Listserv


Durkheim's Anomie
Durkheim's Anomie (2)
Emile Durkheim and Anomic Suicide


Merton - Results for Merton, Robert King
Robert K. Merton


Merton's Strain Theory
Agnew's General Strain Theory
Anomie And Alienation: Violence And Knowledge In Youth Subcultures



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This page was last modified November 22, 2005