Within the functionalist theory comes a concept that is no longer used as often as used to be by sociologists. Anomie can be defined as a sense of normlessness, in other words the sense of one not knowing what they are supposed to do. The concept known as anomie can be traced back to the late 1800s when it was first coined by the father of Sociology himself, Emile Durkheim. In fact, Durkheim used the concept of anomie on two separate occasions, his work on the division of labor and his study on suicide.
Durkheim’s theory of anomie was a great influence on the work of Robert Merton. However, Merton was able to add his own work around the concept of anomie. Both Durkheim and Merton have similar thoughts on anomie, as well as various components that separate their thought on the impact anomie has on a society.
Emile Durkheim had two main uses of anomie in his, which involved his work on suicide and division of labor.
In terms of the division of labor, Durkheim talked about the way’s solidarity came into play within a society. There is mechanical solidarity, the idea that primitive society is held together by the fact that there is little division of labor and, as a result, virtually everyone does essentially the same things (Ritzer, 2017, Pg.15). The other side of Durkheim’s theory involved organic solidarity, which was closer in relation to the concept of anomie. According to Durkheim, organic solidarity is the idea that because of the substantial division of labor in modern society, solidarity comes from differences; that is, individuals need the contributions of an increasing number of people in order to function and even to survive (Ritzer, 2017, Pg.15). The weakened collective conscience that comes with organic solidarity leads to the effects of anomie. Durkheim’s definition of anomie when it pertains to division of labor is essentially a sense of one not knowing what they should do and being disconnected from society, which results in not having much of a place in society (Ritzer,2017). In comparison to organic solidarity, mechanical solidarity would not have much of an issue with anomie because society is not divided, and they all do the same things. Societies evolving too quickly can lead to a breakdown of norms and collective conscience, which is not as important in organic solidarity. Individuals who lived during a period of anomie generally feel as if they are disconnected from society because norms and values seem to be lost and not as important as they once were. This leads to that feeling of normlessness and not having a sense of what they are meant to do.
Durkheim also used anomie in his work on suicide. According to Durkheim, there are consequences when it comes to anomie and those consequences involve the four types of suicide. Anomic suicide is the closest in relation to the concept of anomie. Essentially, anomic suicide is, ‘a type of suicide that occurs when people do not know what is expected of them, where regulation is low, and they are largely free to run wild. This mad pursuit is likely to prove unsatisfying and, as a result, a higher percentage of people are apt to commit this type of suicide’ (Ritzer, 2017, Pg.22). A major reason for the anomic suicide rate increase can be simply explained by social disruption. No matter if the disruption is positive or negative; the anomic suicide rate goes up due to the control that people feel they lose in the case of social disruption. The other three suicides include egoistic, altruistic, and fatalistic. Egoistic can be defined as a sense of not feeling connected to others and instead feeling completely alone, which can lead to them killing themselves. Altruistic suicide is when people are too well integrated into the collectivity, which leads to larger numbers of people killing themselves (Ritzer, 2017, Pg.22). The final type of suicide is called fatalistic suicide and it can be defined as the suicide where people are so depressed and lack a sense of freedom. All in all, Durkheim was trying to imply in both studies that a sense of belonging to a community and more control in a social aspect might decrease the feeling of normlessness, also known as anomie.
Merton was heavily influenced by Durkheim and his work on anomie. In fact, Merton created his own strain theory that explains how anomie leads to deviance and crime. Merton describes the relationship that structure and culture have, as well as how that relationship may lead to anomie. Merton defined culture as the organized set of normative values shared by those belonging to a group or society that govern their behavior and social structure as the organized set of social relationships in which societal or group members are involved (Ritzer,2017, Pg.98). A disconnect between structure and culture can eventually lead to a sense of anomie. Merton defined anomie as,’ a situation in which there is a serious disconnection between social structure and culture, between the structurally created abilities of people to act in accord with cultural norms and goals and the norms and goals themselves’ (Ritzer,2017, Pg.98). Specifically, Merton’s theory of deviance has five forms of adaptation. Those five forms include conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. Each of the five adaptations are based on peoples’ obedience to cultural goals. Of the five adaptations, conformity and innovation accept cultural goals, while ritualism and retreatism both reject them (Lecture Slides CH.4). Rebellion is described as a special case because it rejects cultural goals but at the same time is attempting to replace them with newer goals (Lecture Slides CH.4). Furthermore, conformity is the only form of adaptation that is considered nondeviant, while the other remaining four adaptations are considered deviant. Merton argues that dysfunctions are what cause deviance behaviors in society, which he ultimately links with his version of anomie.
Both Durkheim and Merton integrated anomie into their work, as well as their views of how society is structured and how individuals’ function within a society. Durkheim focused more on how specifically organic solidarity requires large numbers of people to come together to function and hold their social norms intact. Therefore, anomie comes into play for Durkheim when that sense of normlessness takes over and social norms can’t control an individual’s behavior anymore. The four suicides from Durkheim’s study are the consequences that come with the feeling of anomie. As for Merton, he was able to use Durkheim’s work on anomie to expand on the concept. Merton’s strain theory investigates how individuals in a society adapt to cultural expectations and societal goals. In this situation, a state of anomie arises when an individual’s access to their goals is blocked. The five forms of adaptations that Merton talks about explain the ways an individual may react, in terms of behavior, to goals being difficult to access in society. Deviant behavior arises due to the lack of opportunities available, which may lead to an individual resorting to using any of the five adaptations in order to fulfill their aspirations, as well as alleviate the strain put on them to achieve societal goals.
- Howey, D. Chp 4 Contemporary Grand Theories Fall 2019 [Powerpoint Slides].
- Ritzer, G. Contemporary Sociological Theory and Its Classical Roots. [Chegg].
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