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anomie, 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 Durkheim 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. Merton.
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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.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000


Apathy, alienation, and personal distress resulting from a lack of purpose or ideals.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
These results imply that Merton's view of social structure and contemporary anomie theorists' perspective of anomie was supported as previously found by Messner and Rosenfeld (1995, 2001).
Toward this end, we extend Merton's (1938) classic strain theory of anomie and its modern rendition, institutional anomie theory (Messner & Rosenfeld, 1997), to advance and test an institutional anomie theory of opportunity entrepreneurship (IATOE).
Merton (1938) presented a relationship between anomie and social behavior.
In this case, we found that anomie had stronger predicting power (B = .551, p = 0.000, Exp [B] = 1.736).
Many of the texts in this area of research are single case studies, such as Aceh or the Malukus, but Anomie and Violence joins a much smaller cluster of manuscripts which attempt to provide a rigorous comparative framework to explain the origins and resolution of the eight conflicts which erupted in Indonesia after the fall of Soeharto in 1998 (other examples include Jacques Bertrand's Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in Indonesia [2004] and Gerry van Klinken's Communal Violence and Democratization in Indonesia: Small town wars [2007]).
Anomie is a portrait of moderning that aims to both disturb and appease audiences, using Precarious's distinctive style.
grammar's anomie gets you down or war at the back and crown of head
As a contribution to this debate the remainder of this article reviews New Labour's impact on British democracy and argues that the party is suffering from constitutional anomie. This line of argument is not new.
Their latest project is for a youth club in the small town of Akron where high school drop out rates, drug use and nowhere to go fuel a pervasive spirit of anomie and despair.
concludes, "we find not growing individualism, social anomie, and alienation, but the signs of individual participation in a varied but coherent public religious culture related to the public practice of religion" (118).