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Learn what constitutes the concept of anomie. You will review anomie theory and examine several examples. Upon completion, you will have a thorough understanding of what constitutes anomie theory in criminal justice.

Definition of Anomie

The idea of anomie means the lack of normal ethical or social standards.

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This concept first emerged in 1893, when French sociologist Emile Durkheim published his book entitled, The Division of Labor in Society. In this book, Durkheim indicated that the rules of how individuals interact with one another were disintegrating and therefore people were unable to determine how to act with one another. As a consequence, Durkheim believed that anomie was a state where the expectations of behavior are unclear, and the system has broken down. This is known as normlessness. Durkheim claimed that this normlessness caused deviant behaviors, and later, as claimed in his 1897 work, Suicide, depression and suicide.

Durkheim’s theory was based upon the idea that the lack of rules and clarity resulted in psychological status of worthlessness, frustration, lack of purpose, and despair. In addition, since there is no idea of what is considered desirable, to strive for anything would be futile.In criminology, the idea of anomie is that the person chooses criminal activity because the individual believes that there is no reason not to. In other words, the person is alienated, feels worthless and that their efforts to try and achieve anything else are fruitless.

Therefore, with lack of any foreseeable alternative, the person falls into criminal activity.

Examples

When applying Durkheim’s theory, one could conceive of an example where the theory would apply. For instance, imagine a poor, inner-city teen with no access to job training or college. Crime pervaded the child’s world from birth; all of the child’s siblings were in a gang and served time in juvenile detention. The parents were uninvolved and had criminal histories.

The teen, now an adult, was chronically unemployed and felt worthless, with no direction or sense of purpose. The teen became involved in crime as an outlet, because he felt that there were no other options; to try to achieve a higher purpose would be a waste of time.Take another example. This time, imagine a single mother living in the projects. She receives government assistance and works a part-time job.

She has tried to get a full-time job, but if she makes too much money, she will lose her government aid. She feels locked into her situation. She is depressed and is trying to do her best, but nothing makes sense to her anymore. She has applied to a college program at night, but even with financial aid, she cannot afford the tuition. She ultimately turns to a life of crime selling drugs, because she can make money for her and her child, and she feels that there is no legal way that would make sense.

Both of these examples show people who feel a lack of purpose, frustration, and illustrate despair. They both believe that the quest to try for other work would be useless, so they turn to crime. This is anomie.

Lesson Summary

The idea of anomie means the lack of normal ethical or social standards.

This concept first emerged in 1893, with French sociologist Emile Durkheim. Normlessness is a state where the expectations of behavior are unclear, and the system has broken down. Durkheim claimed that this normlessness caused deviant behaviors, and later, as claimed in his 1897 work Suicide, depression and suicide. Durkheim’s theory was based upon the idea that the lack of rules and clarity resulted in psychological status of worthlessness, frustration, lack of purpose, and despair. In addition, since there is no idea of what is considered desirable, to strive for anything would be futile.

Anomie – Key Terms ; Examples

anomietheory
  • Anomie: a lack of a moral compass
  • Emile Durkheim: publisher his book entitled, The Division of Labor in Society
  • Normlessness: a state in which a system has broken down when the expected behavior is unclear
Anomie Examples
Inner-city kids living without hope becoming criminals to survive
Single moms turn to crime to provide for the family since the system seems stacked against them
Suicidal outcomes for those who see no hope for the future

Learning Outcomes

This lesson is designed to help you to do the following:

  • Write the definition of anomie
  • Recall the theory of Emile Durkheim
  • Give examples of anomie in real life

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