Characteristic of modern society described by French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917).
In modern societies, an absence of effective moral or cultural rules and restraints to individual wills leads to both social and individual breakdown, since frameworks are necessary for stable social life.
In 1893, Durkheim introduced the concept of anomie to describe the mismatch of collective guild labour to evolving societal needs when the guild was homogeneous in its constituency. He equated homogeneous (redundant) skills to mechanical solidarity whose inertia hindered adaptation. He contrasted this with the self-regulating behaviour of a division of labour based on differences in constituency, equated to organic solidarity, whose lack of inertia made it sensitive to needed changes.
Durkheim observed that the conflict between the evolved organic division of labour and the homogeneous mechanical type was such that one could not exist in the presence of the other.:182–3 When solidarity is organic, anomie is impossible, as sensitivity to mutual needs promotes evolution in the division of labour::368–9
Producers, being near consumers, can easily reckon the extent of the needs to be satisfied. Equilibrium is established without any trouble and production regulates itself.
Durkheim contrasted the condition of anomie as being the result of a malfunction of organic solidarity after the transition to mechanical solidarity::368–9
But on the contrary, if some opaque environment is interposed…relations [are] rare, are not repeated enough…are too intermittent. Contact is no longer sufficient. The producer can no longer embrace the market at a glance, nor even in thought. He can no longer see its limits, since it is, so to speak limitless. Accordingly, production becomes unbridled and unregulated.
Durkheim’s use of anomie was in regards to the phenomenon of industrialization—mass-regimentation that could not adapt due to its own inertia. More specifically, its resistance to change causes disruptive cycles of collective behavior (e.g. economics) due to the necessity of a prolonged buildup of sufficient force or momentum to overcome the inertia.
Later in 1897, in his studies of suicide, Durkheim associated anomie to the influence of a lack of norms or norms that were too rigid. However, such normlessness or norm-rigidity was a symptom of anomie, caused by the lack of differential adaptation that would enable norms to evolve naturally due to self-regulation, either to develop norms where none existed or to change norms that had become rigid and obsolete.
In 1938, Robert K. Merton linked anomie with deviance, arguing that the discontinuity between culture and structure have the dysfunctional consequence of leading to deviance within society. He described 5 types of deviance in terms of the acceptance or rejection of social goals and the institutionalized means of achieving them.
The term anomie—“a reborrowing with French spelling of anomy“—comes from Greek: anomía (ἀνομία, ‘lawlessness’), namely the privative alpha prefix (a-, ‘without’), and nomos (νόμος, ‘law’). The Greeks distinguished between nomos, and arché (ἀρχή, ‘starting rule, axiom, principle’). For example, a monarch is a single ruler but he may still be subject to, and not exempt from, the prevailing laws, i.e. nomos. In the original city state democracy, the majority rule was an aspect of arché because it was a rule-based, customary system, which may or may not make laws, i.e. nomos. Thus, the original meaning of anomie defined anything or anyone against or outside the law, or a condition where the current laws were not applied resulting in a state of illegitimacy or lawlessness.
The contemporary English understanding of the word anomie can accept greater flexibility in the word “norm”, and some have used the idea of normlessness to reflect a similar situation to the idea of anarchy. However, as used by Émile Durkheim and later theorists, anomie is a reaction against or a retreat from the regulatory social controls of society, and is a completely separate concept from anarchy, which consists of the absence of the roles of rulers and submitted.
Nineteenth-century French pioneer sociologist Émile Durkheim borrowed the term anomie from French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau. Durkheim used it in his influential book Suicide (1897) in order to outline the social (and not individual) causes of suicide, characterized by a rapid change of the standards or values of societies (often erroneously referred to as normlessness), and an associated feeling of alienation and purposelessness. He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for better or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life. This was contrary to previous theories on suicide which generally maintained that suicide was precipitated by negative events in a person’s life and their subsequent depression.
In Durkheim’s view, traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values which the anomic individual lacks. Furthermore, he argued that the division of labor that had been prevalent in economic life since the Industrial Revolution led individuals to pursue egoistic ends rather than seeking the good of a larger community. Robert King Merton also adopted the idea of anomie to develop strain theory, defining it as the discrepancy between common social goals and the legitimate means to attain those goals. In other words, an individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these goals legitimately because of the structural limitations in society. As a result, the individual would exhibit deviant behavior. Friedrich Hayek notably uses the word anomie with this meaning.
According to one academic survey, psychometric testing confirmed a link between anomie and academic dishonesty among university students, suggesting that universities needed to foster codes of ethics among students in order to curb it. In another study, anomie was seen as a “push factor” in tourism.
As an older variant, the 1913 Webster’s Dictionary reports use of the word anomie as meaning “disregard or violation of the law.” However, anomie as a social disorder is not to be confused with anarchy: proponents of anarchism claim that anarchy does not necessarily lead to anomie and that hierarchical command actually increases lawlessness. Some anarcho-primitivists argue that complex societies, particularly industrial and post-industrial societies, directly cause conditions such as anomie by depriving the individual of self-determination and a relatively small reference group to relate to, such as the band, clan or tribe.
Freda Adler coined synnomie as the opposite of anomie. Using Émile Durkheim’s concept of social solidarity and collective consciousness, Adler defined synnomie as “a congruence of norms to the point of harmonious accommodation.”
Adler described societies in a synnomie state as “characterized by norm conformity, cohesion, intact social controls and norm integration.” Social institutions such as the family, religion and communities, largely serve as sources of norms and social control to maintain a synnomic society.
In Albert Camus’s existentialist novel The Stranger, Meursault—the bored, alienated protagonist—struggles to construct an individual system of values as he responds to the disappearance of the old. He exists largely in a state of anomie, as seen from the apathy evinced in the opening lines: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas” (“Today mum died. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know”).
Fyodor Dostoyevsky expresses a similar concern about anomie in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. The Grand Inquisitor remarks that in the absence of God and immortal life, everything would be lawful. In other words, that any act becomes thinkable, that there is no moral compass, which leads to apathy and detachment.