What is meaning of Anomie? Discuss Robert Merton Theory of Anomie in Detail.


CSS Solved Criminology Past Papers | What is meaning of Anomie? Discuss Robert Merton Theory of Anomie in Detail.

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1- Introduction

2- What is meaning of Anomie?

3- Robert Merton Theory of Anomie

  • Conformity
  • Innovation
  • Ritualism
  • Retreatism  
  • Rebellion

4- How Robert Merton Theory of Anomie can reduce normlessness.

5- Criticism on Robert Merton’s Theory

6- Conclusion


Every society has some pact patterns of living. It follows a few rules and regulations to keep things normal in society. However, people deviating from those standards fall into the category of abnormality. Meanwhile, anomie is a deviation from the normal norms of society. It is a condition when a person becomes normless. It is a state when there is normlessness in the person. A person without norms breaks the social bond with society and moves towards criminal activities. The reason behind those activities is that they become alienated from society. Similarly, Robert K Merton’s theory of anomie states the same idea. Society has a few sets of patterns to let people achieve their desires and goals. Sometimes achievement of those goals becomes difficult with legal means. Meanwhile, at this moment, that person goes against the standards of society to achieve certain goals. Therefore, he develops a sense of normlessness. In a result of those behaviours, deviance and crimes occur in society. However, few schools of thought criticize anomie theory on the grounds that people with good financial and social statuses never get any chance to develop a strain of not achieving their goals. They always get what they prefer to have in their lives. So, at this moment, the theory lacks to explain deviant behaviour in the upper strata of society.

“One sank into the ancient sin of anomie when challenges failed “

Carolyn Heilbrun

Understanding the meaning of Anomie

Society runs on some set of patterns and fix rules. To adjust to society person should be following those conditions to live a normal life. However, there are few situations or conditions that lead a person towards abnormality. Similarly, anomie is a condition in a person that rises when he disconnects his social bond from society. Anomie is known as normlessness in a person. People can be normless because of any sudden change in their normal environment. It can even be because of society shifting towards modernization.

  • Anomie is a feeling of disconnection from the society
    A person who feels that he is not valuable to society. Whatever he is doing among people is meaning less, and it has no impact on society. He always feels away from other people. This leads him towards deviance and crimes. It is a state of hopelessness in a person.
  • Anomie leads a person towards suicide
    A person is in a state of normless and hopeless feels alienated from society. When his social bond with others becomes weak, and he feels trouble adjusting to those people always stays feeling chaos and distress. Those feelings in person keep him in inner conflicts. Therefore to avoid those situations, ultimately person goes towards suicide and gets rid of his chaotic feelings.
  • How a Person Becomes Anomie
    There is a systematic way through which a person can be normless.

“Man is a moral being, only because he lives in society. Let all social life disappear and morality will disappear with it.”

-Emile Durkheim

Robert Merton Theory of Anomie (Strain Theory)

Robert Merton’s Theory of Anomie is also known as strain theory. In a simple way, strain theory explains that crime occurs in society because of the development of this fear that people do not have legal ways to achieve their goals. Meanwhile, every person pursues their dream to achieve in life. However, this world is divided into different classes and stratifications. Everyone wants to become successful and rich in life. Similarly, to achieve those people choose different ways to get goals. Not all people get a legal way or opportunity to have their dream. Therefore, when they see hurdles to reaching their destinations, there always develops strain in the way towards goals. They always choose different means to acquire their goals. To achieve those goals, they go for illegal ways and commits a crime.

There are Five Adaptations to Strain:

  • Conformity:
    People in this phase, according to Merton, most of the time people accept legal ways to achieve their goals. For example, if someone wants to earn money in his life, he will go towards education and will have a good job or business to make money. He won’t use any illegal way to earn. 
  • Innovation:
    In this phase person, according to Merton, has a socially accepted goal. However, to achieve that goal, he will make a new way to achieve it. That way can be illegal, and it can be a crime even. For example, to make money at this point person would not go for a job or education. He will do robbery to make money.
  • Ritualism:
    According to Merton, in this phase person rejects social goals and accepts ways to achieve those goals. For instance, a person can reject his goal to earn, but he will stick to the legal means to acquire money to fulfil basic needs. From a broader perspective, if a person has the instinct to earn, he will keep his traditional rules and dignity in his head to make that money.
  • Retreatism:
    In this phase or it can be said that people reject social goals and also rejects ways to fulfil those goals. Similarly, they are people with low social bonds. They have nothing with the values and norms of society. Normally, they create their own virtual world, and they live in those scenarios. People on drugs or with other mental disorders fall in this category.
  • Rebellion:
    They are people who reject their social goals and their ways of achieving those goals. They are those innovative people who bring their own new ways to society. They create their own goals and ways to acquire those goals. Meanwhile, pressure groups against the government fall into this category. They come up against the ruling government and make new rules and regulations.

How Robert Merton Theory of Anomie can reduce normlessness:

Through understanding Strain Theory, there can be made few assumptions to reduce normlessness in the person. The major reason behind the development of strain in a person is because lack of resources to achieve his desires. Similarly, due to the weak connections between people and society. Those people who stay away from other or show antisocial behaviour most of the time leads to normlessness. To keep people intact and normal. There should be a fair mechanism for them to acquire their goals. There should not be any nepotism or culture of corruption. So, people never go towards deviant behaviour. People should be intact and close to other people in society. Their strong social bond can help them to stay normal and progressive.

“People From lower social classes tend to resort such means because they have fewer opportunities than higher classes to achieve cultural goals.”


Criticism on Robert Merton’s Theory:

Strains theory lacks in explaining a few concepts in their true sense. According to Merton, most of the time, crime occurs in society because of strain development. It can be developed through any failure and rejection. It is easy to understand that normal people from lower classes lack in having all opportunities to acquire goals. They stay deprived and try other means to achieve their goals. Meanwhile, the theory lacks to explain that people from the upper classes also commit crimes. However, they have all the ways and sources to achieve their goals. Similarly, there are few crimes that happen without the development of strains. People commit murders and commit crimes in anger that comes from sudden reactions. Therefore, strains theory lacks to describe all these practical scenarios.

“Strain theory best applies only to the lower class as they struggle with limited resources to obtain their goals.”

-Core Theory


In a nutshell, anomie is being normless. In practical scenarios. Every society has particular sets of rules and regulations to follow. There are few fixed norms and values that keep society as a standard of living. Because of any circumstances when people become less connected to society. Their social bond becomes weak. They lose their connection. They become normless and deviate from their main course of living. Most of the time, these people choose their way towards crime. Similarly, Robert Merton’s theory of anomie tells about the reason and how people go towards crimes. According to him, in every society, there are certain socially accepted goals and ways to achieve those goals. When people lack to achieve those goals, they seek illegal ways to acquire those positions. Though, those ways are way towards their criminal behaviours.

However, the strong social construction of a person with society and increasing his social bond can overcome anomie behaviour. Similarly, the limitation, in theory, is that it can only be applied to the lower class because they lack in resources to achieve their goals.   

“They always go to achieve only what seems realistically possible for them to achieve.”

-Emile Durkheim

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