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a social condition characterized by instability, the breakdown of social norms, institutional disorganization, and a divorce between socially valid goals and available means for achieving them. Introduced into sociology by Emile DurkheimDurkheim, Émile
, 1858–1917, French sociologist. Along with Max Weber he is considered one of the chief founders of modern sociology. Educated in France and Germany, Durkheim taught social science at the Univ. of Bordeaux and the Sorbonne.
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 in his study Suicide (1897), anomie also refers to the psychological condition—of rootlessness, futility, anxiety, and amorality—afflicting individuals who live under such conditions. The importance of anomie as a cause of deviant behavior received further elaboration by Robert K. MertonMerton, Robert King,
1910–2003, American sociologist, b. Philadelphia as Meyer Schkolnick, grad. Temple Univ. (A.B., 1931) and Harvard (M.A., 1932; Ph.D., 1936). From 1941 on he was a professor of sociology at Columbia Univ.
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Anomieclick for a larger image
Fig. 1 Anomie. Merton's typology.




  1. (literally ‘without norms’ – a concept introduced into sociology by DURKHEIM) a condition of society or of personal relation to society in which there exists little consensus, a lack of certainty on values or goals, and a loss of effectiveness in the normative and moral framework which regulates collective and individual life.
  2. (a specification by Robert MERTON (1949) of Durkheim's concept) social situations and individual orientations in which a mismatch exists between culturally defined goals and the availability of institutionalized means of achieving these goals (e.g. the social conditions in which organized crime flourished in the US during the Depression).
The view of human nature held by Durkheim stands in the tradition of Thomas HOBBES, namely that there is no ‘natural’or inbuilt limit to the desires, ambitions or needs of individuals. For Durkheim, the required limits must be socially produced. Anomie exists, and unhappiness and social disorders result, when society fails to provide a limiting framework of social norms. As Durkheim sees it, anomie is an ‘abnormal’ social form, resulting from the failure of modern societies to move fully from the MECHANICAL SOLIDARITY characteristic of premodern societies to the ORGANIC SOLIDARITY which would come to typify modern societies. Durkheim saw anomie as pervasive in modern societies. For example, an anomic division of labour existed because occupations were not allocated according to talents. In more general terms, economic activity in these societies remained essentially unregulated.

In Suicide (1897), Durkheim claims to demonstrate a correlation between rates of suicide and anomic social situations, for instance, a correlation between suicide rates and divorce rates. It should be noted that anomie can arise from an upward spiralling of social expectations (e.g. from new wealth or opportunities) as well as from more obviously adverse conditions.

As reformulated by Merton, anomie becomes a concept used in the analysis of DEVIANCE. What Merton suggests is that whenever there exists any disjuncture between culturally defined goals and the socially approved means available to individuals or groups, four logically possible responses are available (see Fig. 1):

  1. ‘innovation’, i.e. crime or other socially disapproved means to achieve approved goals;
  2. ‘ritualism’, i.e. going through the motions of pursuing approved means with no prospect or expectation of success;
  3. ‘retreatism’, i.e. simply opting out;
  4. ‘rebellion’, i.e. seeking to change the system.

If Durkheim's focus on anomie can be seen as arising from a moral conservatism mixed with a social radicalism. Merton's approach reveals how anomie may be a source of social innovation as well as a locus of social problems.


Apathy, alienation, and personal distress resulting from a lack of purpose or ideals.
References in periodicals archive ?
Richard Dyer writes that The Clock is "a series of vignettes culled straight from the imagery of the [Garland] small town films, rendering the anomic city into something more comfortable" (Dyer, p159).
In other words, it turns the anomic fragments that comprise natural man's existence into art.
I also think Frug is quite right to insist that the alternative--allowing truly diverse cities to degenerate into anomic zones where no sense of the common good is fostered or embodied and thereby speeding the process of retreat, isolation, and privatism--is worse: worse for democracy, worse for social justice, and worse for the possibilities of a meaningful pluralism enriched by social trust.
The writer can remember encouraging students to report perceived problems of unfairness, whether anomic or misconceptions.
I cannot agree with Berkovits's strong criticism of Martin Buber as essentially anomic.
This early cultural and intellectual poverty forms a vivid contrast to the radical change that will occur when Alfieri actually does dedicate himself to writing, which occurs in 1772 after years of anomic wandering.
In anomic states, this observation is even more true, as, bereft of institutions, the influence of leadership and its capacity to effect political change is further increased.
His re-incorporation into the community at the end of the film is made possible by his incorporation into the family of Kip and Nona, recreating the family necessary to domesticate his anomic spirit.
It is quite clear that the disjunctions of urban fabric resulting from the arrogance of the postwar politico-professional complex have intensified social divisions and individual anomic.
Altruistic suicide is a tendency for an individual to sacrifice self for the group, and anomic suicide is a response to social change whether good or bad.
lBZ It may well be, as Cairns suggests, that such a strategy is a response to the "catastrophic" impact of "present trends of unemployment, social exclusion and anomic conditions.