The concept of anomie was first introduced by Emile Durkheim in his book the division of labour 1893. During Durkheim’s writing, this concept of anomie was mostly ignored in American criminology. It was not until 1950’s when Robert K. Merton in his essay on “social structure and anomie” (merton,1938) brought the concept of anomie in sociology, having wide use and recognising by other sociologist not only then, but also in the presents time to explain and analyse the “moral panic” of youth crime which we are bombarded with; by the media, official statics and other official bodies.
Writing then, Durkheim was highly influenced by his functionalist perspective. He claim that we should look at society as an organic system just like that of the human body (all the parts such as the brain, liver work conjunctionally. If the parts where in isolation the human body would not function properly. ), thus fulfilling a particular function which helps the whole society to work efficiently and effectively. He particularly disagree with the classical, biological and psychological explanations of crime offer by (Cesare Beccaria 1738) (Lombroso1876) and (Freud 1941) that crime is an individual issue.
He argue that while obligations, values, attitude, and beliefs may appear to be individual, these social facts exist at the level of society as a whole i. e. society extract pressure on the individual(top-down approach) rather the bottom up approach offer by labelling theory where the individual is extracting pressure on society. He use his suicide study as an example to strengthen his argument. Furthermore he claim that these facts exist as a result of social interactions and historical developments over a long period of time and come from “varying collective representations and diverse forms of social organization” (Hadden p. 04).
As individuals who are born and raised in society, these social facts are learned through socialisation ( i. e. through the family, school, media etc) and generally accepted. ( http://uregina. ca/~gingrich/o26f99. htm) if individual go according to these set of “collective consensus” there will be no crime. However Durkheim was sceptical about this, he recognise that social order is a fragile thing, It would be impossible, he felt to imagine a society where social order had reached level such that nobody ever break the law.
He therefore claim that certain level of crime is in fact both inevitable and beneficial to society, in that it helps reinforce shared norms and values(through punishment) and it will challenge and question existing social order. However he warned that crime should be kept at a minimal; too much crime create a state of anomie, where norms and values are confused, unclear or not present at all. Other functionalist such as Hirsch supports this view and argue that people commit crime when their attachment to society weakens.
In an industrialised and post-modernist society such as Britain and the USA, social order which where enforce through class, ethnicity, gender etc are fragmenting. People have more freedom to create their own identity. Thus separating people and weaken social bonds, which is further evidence by the increase of technology, internet etc. Due to this analyse, it seems that members of the western society are exposed to the risk of anomie more than ever before.
Despite this, Durkheim’s explanation can be heavily criticised; firstly labelling theories such as Becker(1963) would argue that Durkheim fail to offer any real explanations as to why certain people are more likely to commit crime than other. Furthermore Durkheim almost completely ignore conflict and power. Marxist such as Gramsci ! 1971) and Althusser (1977) claim that power was imposed hegemonic ally via law, media and education. As traditional functionalist such as Durkheim, Merton preconceived crime as a result of a society that was in disequilibrium.
Like other functionalist, Merton used a macro level of analysis suggesting that the phenomenon of crime is imposed on the actor by the social structure, which is out of balance. Like Durkheim, Merton’s work endeavoured to address the social and cultural norms and values that underpinned social order and/or disorder(understanding criminology by Sandra walklate pg 24) in addressing this issue, Merton asked “what sorts of faulty social conditions force some individuals to act in deviant or criminal manner? ” he set to answer this question by stating that deviance are traced to the nature of social structure.
Like other functionalist rejecting efforts of individualize as the cause of deviant, he argue that deviance arose in certain groups, not because the human being comprising them are compounded of distinctive biological tendencies but because they are responding normally to the situation in which they find themselves(Merton 1993;pg250). Merton distinguishes between two important elements of social and cultural structures: culturally define goals(economic activities) and the institutionalised means of achieving them(laws/norm and values that function to maintain an orderly social and economic structure) .
The former are those material possession, accomplishment that norms and values encourage us to aspire to. The latter are the distribution of opportunities to achieve these goals in socially acceptable ways. People in USA are socialised into desiring certain cultural goals term as the “American dream”, in which an emphasis upon the goal of success/wealth occur without equivalent emphasis upon the institutionalised means to strive for this goal. http://www. malcolmread. co. uk/JockYoung/subculture. htm . Thus some route are blocked for some individuals because of their social position.
Merton therefore argue that other functionalist like Marxist need to pay more attention to the inequalities in society i. e. a student from a lower class background would have less opportunities to enter into higher education and top professional jobs that some from a middle class or upper class background. http://news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/education/4826924. stm this might be because of material deprivation or because they have no role- model who understand the educational system or work industry to guard and advice them.
This contradiction between the two means; a society where there is a lack of equal opportunity backed up with a strong emphasis on material need as produce “anomie”. American society is anomic because; “there is a structural barrier to women, ethnic minorities, poor and young”. It present what neo-Marxist term as “false ideological of meritocracy” and some segment of the population are under great stress to deviate. Faced with this, Merton claim that individual can adopt 5 possible modes of adaptation according to whether they accept or reject the cultural goals and/ or the institutional means.