Category Archives: Anomie


“Anomie is a state of normlessness that typically occurs during a period of profound social change and disorder, such as a time of economic collapse, political or social revolution, or even sudden prosperity.” – Jon Witt

According Dr. Cecil Greek at FloridaStateUniversity, “Emile Durkheim used anomie to describe a condition of deregulation that was occurring in society. Anomie, simply defined, is a state where norms (expectations on behaviors) are confused or not present” ( Some people might say life is hard, some might say that life is only as hard as you make it. I say that it is a little bit of both. There are certain guidelines or behaviors to life that if followed can make things a little more pleasant. My parents always said to me, “treat people the way you want to be treated.”  This should not be a hard concept to follow. We as people like it when someone treats us with respect. It makes us feel good as a person, whether we know this person personally or not.  It seems as time goes on, people treat one another with complete disrespect. Some people seem to be confused on what good behavior is when dealing with one another. Norms help control behavior in society, a loss of norms can result in normlessness. When communities break down eventually norms within the community breakdown. This can lead to many things.

I was once friends with a girl who had parents that had money. Not too much money, just enough to give her anything she wanted. She had a new car at sixteen and always had nice clothes and shoes.  She had it all.   She may have been a little over spoiled but this was her reward for worked hard in school. She was one of the sweetest people I have ever met; everyone loved her. It seemed like she never had a bad day and always pleasant, smiling, joking, and helping others. Both of her parents had good jobs and made good money until one not so good day. Her father was in a bad car accident, lost his job and would be unable to work for the next couple of years due to multiple surgeries.  When the accident happened my friend was in her first year of college. Her mother tried to hide their financial problems as long as possible.  As time went on, finances got worse. Finally her mother sat her down and explained the whole thing. Their finances were lower than ever before. Their social status had dramatic change. The ways of life that were once normal to her had now become a state of normlessness.  Her mother now worked all the time, and took care of her husband. Her parents no longer had time for her or money. Working and going to school full time was a challenge for her. It seemed her whole life had been turned upside down, she was different now. As time passed her behavior changed, she became mean and very unpleasant. I remember when she started to pull away, and keep to herself more. She no longer wanted to hang out or talk. She would sometimes say that she did not know what to do, or which way to go. In a short time her grades dropped and she began doing things some might call deviant. It seemed is if she did not care anymore. I believe that my friend may have slipped into a state of Anomie after her father’s accident.

According to Jon Witt, “deviance is behavior that violates the standards of conduct or expectations of a group or society.” Behavior is only deviant if society responds to it that way — a state of mind if you will.  What is deviant to one person may not be to another. I believe the scope of deviance varies from one group to another.  Negative sanctions can discourage public deviance with public punishment.  For example, a drunk drivers face, name and possible punishment may be put in the newspaper. This public punishment could increase conformity by discouraging similar violation by other people. Every society has their own deviant individuals just as everyone is deviant from time to time. Sounds funny but I think deviant behavior can be a shared behavior that could bring people together.

In society there are times when the existentence of external forces seem to out weight the individuals own will. This external force can have a massive influence on an individual’s behavior.  The influence that society can have on one’s behavior can be a good thing or a bad one. This influence from society can help keep us socially integrated. Social integration makes people feel like they fit in or belong to something.

When social integration is weak, it is easier to be deviant. When people feel like they belong to a group they may be less likely to commit deviant acts and more likely to conform in order to fit in. Once conformed, the individual may feel more connected, less lonely and isolated. This would decrease the feeling of Anomie. When people within a society have more shared experiences in common this increases social integration.


Obedience is defined as “a compliance with higher authorities in a hierarchical structure” (Witt 131). Obedience is a baffling idea in which we are easily controlled and easily manipulated by an authority figure. Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment about obedience in the 1970’s. In this experiment he sent out a newspaper ad at Yale University and accepted a variety of participants of many occupations. The purpose of Milgram’s experiment was to test how easily people would conform to the instructions of an authority figure. However, Milgram disguised his experiment. He told participants that it was a test to see how effective punishment while learning would be. He had the participants sit in a room with a board that when they would flip a switch it would administer the level of electrical shock they were told to give to the actor in the other room. Although they could not see the actor who was pretending to be shocked, they could hear him scream or react to the shock. In many cases people would listen to the authority figure in the room with the subject and would keep administering the shocks even at lethal levels that could “kill” the actor whom was allegedly receiving the shock. However, sometimes the authority figure did not even need to be present to influence the subject.


One of the most perplexing social norms that we have is the idea of road laws. Although they may seem simple on the surface, it seems almost ironic that something as complex as the human mind can be controlled by something as simple as two solid lines on a road signifying that one person may not pass another person while driving on the same side of the road. The main underlying factors that cause people to not deviate from these simple traffic laws is the fact that they are all kept in line by fear. Although many of these traffic laws are made to keep people out of harm’s way, many people do not have much regard for their own safety. This is why it is necessary to have traffic police. They are the ones who enforce the necessary repercussions for when people deviate from traffic laws. Without police monitoring the streets and imposing necessary fear upon drivers, the drivers would have no reason to obey an inanimate object telling them to keep their speed below fifty five miles per hour. In some cases large groups of people may stray away from their obedience, ultimately overriding the law and creating a new social norm.


The thing about some laws or social norms is that people are not always obedient to them and if this happens on a very large scale sometimes anomie takes place. When this happens it is not uncommon for what was considered unlawful or deviant to become somewhat a social norm or at least become more accepted. This type of behavior can vary from different types of societies. An example of this would be underage drinking. Although it is against the law for minors to consume alcohol, in the media and amongst some parents it has become much more accepted. This is because as a society we tend to have the idea that “they are going to do it anyway so what is the point of attempting to stop them”. It is this type of ideal that in many cases can cause anomie. Another example of this would be the spread of American ideals to countries such as China. When my father went to China for business he brought back pictures that showed clear signs of this expansion (this social revolution can be compared to America’s flappers in the 1920’s). Many of the youth were wearing shirts that featured American rock groups. Although China is still considered to be communist, they have made little attempt to change the views of the youth thus causing anomie. The idea of obedience is drilled into our heads from a very early age causing our society to work in an uniform fashion with little turbulence.


Works Cited

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Witt, Jon. SOC 2012. Ed. Gina Boedeker. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. 131. Print.