The Anomie Hypothesis and its Application to Deviance and Social Regulation I

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The majority of sociologists use the word 'deviance' to mention the infringement of certain norms or guidelines. They can be understood. The meanings of what is different vary between cultures. As a sociologist, Howard S. Becker interprets difference not as act itself, but as the response to the act, coinciding with symbolic contact (Becker 45). For example, a person might be accused or misrepresented because of the race, the health or birth defects, but not actually doing something wrong. Employing the symbolic interactionist view which bases deviance on the violation or adherence to norms, this paper acknowledges that various human groups, for example, societies need norms. Norms make human social life possible by making behavior predictable. It can be acknowledged that all human groups have a system of social control and this encompasses both the formal and the informal methods of enforcing norms. The individuals who violate these norms are, thus, labeled deviant. This particular paper argues that the theory of Anomie by Emile Durkheim is relevant in understanding the deviance and social control issues in this age of mass murders in the not so usual places.

Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim was a French philosopher, sociopsychologist, and sociologist who together with Karl Marx and Marx Weber established Sociology as an academic discipline. It can be acknowledged that a majority of his works is focused on advancing societies how to maintain coherence as well as integrity in modernity. According to Emile Durkheim, the era of modernity is characterized by the coming in of new intuitions into the society as well as the act of no longer assuming the religious and the traditional social ties. Durkheim is mainly known for his work on social pathologies and crime (Merton 674). It can be established that Durkheim identified several pathologies that usually lead to the disintegration of society. The two most common pathologies identified include the forced division of labor and anomie. The other lesser pathologies include suicide and the lack of coordination. The pathology referred to as anomie which is at the center of this discussion was described by Durkheim as a state in which the amount of interaction between groups is significantly reduced because of high population growth rate and this results in the breakdown of the understanding of norms and values.

The Theory of Anomie


The state of anomie is a situation where the society fails to provide enough guidance to the individuals. It can also be referred to as the breakdown of the social bonds that exist between individuals in society, for example, a scenario that results in the rejection of any self-regulatory values as well as the social identity. It can be acknowledged that the term “anomie” was popularized by Emile Durkheim in one of his books referred to as “Suicide” which was published in 1897. It is important to note that from a sociological standpoint, it is inappropriate to use the term “normlessness”, for example, Anomie is the state of normlessness, and instead, Durkheim insists that the terms “derangement” or “insatiable” will be used instead.

Social Disorder

It can be acknowledged that Emile Durkheim borrowed the term “anomie” from another French philosopher who Jean Guyau, hence, using it in his book “Suicide”. Durkheim’s book outlined the social causes of murder and suicide. Suicide and murder are characterized by the rapid change of the values and standards of societies. According to the Emile Durkheim, the people who commit suicide or murder usually feel purposelessness or alienated. In his book, he believed that the state of anomie is common when the societies that have undergone significant changes in their economic fortunes for better or for worse (Danigelis and Pope 1096). It is important to note that Durkheim’s views were quite different from the views of the other theories of suicide which maintained that suicide occurred due to the negative events that have taken place in a person’s life, for example, depression.

According to Durkheim’s theory of anomie, traditions as well as religions provided a basis for shared values and norms that anomie suffering individual's lack. Additionally, the industrial revolution resulted in individuals pursuing egoistic ends rather than the good of the entire community. It is important to acknowledge that other scholars also adopted Durkheim’s view of anomie, for example, Robert Merton who by borrowing it developed the strain theory. According to Merton, the strain theory described the state of derangement caused by the discrepancy between the social goals and the ways through which these goals can be attained. In simple terms, an individual suffering from anomie strives to attain the goals set by society but will not be able to meet these goals because of the limitations that exist in society and as a result of this the individual might portray deviant behavior.

Suicide and Mass Murders

It is true to state that the theory of the father of sociology Emile Durkheim gives a better understanding of how various factors, such as cultural factors contribute to mental illness in individuals. Durkheim noted that suicide and murder were more common in individualistic societies that are characterized by a much less social integration when compared to societies that have stronger social integration referred to as collectivistic societies. An individual who is socially isolated is more likely to become engaged in deviant behavior than one that is not. It can be acknowledged that mass murderers are usually socially isolated individuals that build up aggression over time towards the society and as a result of this feel disconnected from it.

Emile Durkheim states that individuals in a society may find themselves in a state of anomie when the rules that guide them as well as behavior towards one another are broken down. It is important to note that his view of anomie is in line with the social control theory which states that mass murders, especially mass shootings occur when the bonds between the perpetrators and the society weaken. In other terms, the perception of the perpetrator becomes one of being socially marginalized. The low degrees of social integration within the individualistic societies increases the risk of social isolation in individuals and this may solidify the perceptions a mass murderer has of being a loner in this world and the rest of people are enemies. This closely resembles the case of school shooters who in most cases have low social skills which are as a result of poor social integration. Those who experience the state of anomie are very vulnerable and this is because they are usually in a lot of emotional chaos and may end up using violence to vent out the anger they have towards the society which according to them, has betrayed and secluded them.

Professor Karen Sternheimer insists that being attracted to violence does not necessarily mean that an individual will become violent. Sternheimer’s research points to the fact that individuals become violent as a result of what they learn through the social contexts and through their personal experiences (Sternheimer 45). Everybody in society has a set of life experiences that affect their levels of aggression. Therefore, the more an individual's life experiences are filled with experiences of them being secluded, discriminated against, and isolated, the more it elicits the aggressive nature within them. It is true to state that psychiatric conditions are usually pointed out as the main causes of mass killings, however, it is important to note that mental illness does not always result in the mass killings that take place across the globe. It is true that social patterns and factors lead to the occurrence of mass murders.


The state of anomie can be described to as the state of derangement or insatiable will within a society. A French sociologist Emile Durkheim borrowed the term from a philosopher Jean Guyau and used it in his book called Suicide which was published in the year 1897. The theory of anomie by Emile Durkheim can be used to investigate the case of mass killings that have and are still continuing to take place in the world.

Works Cited

Becker, Howard S. “Personal Change in Adult Life.” Sociometry, vol. 27, no. 1, 1964, pp. 40-53.

Danigelis, Nick, and Whitney Pope. “Durkheim's Theory of Suicide as Applied to the Family: A Empirical Test.” Social Forces, vol. 57, no. 4, 1979, pp. 1081–1106.

Merton, Robert K. "Social Structure and Anomie." American Sociological Review, vol. 3, no. 5, 1938, pp. 672-682.

Sternheimer, Karen. (2003). It's Not the Media: The Truth about Pop Culture's Influence on Children. Basic Books.

September 21, 2021


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