The concept of anomie was introduced by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his book Division of Labor in Society (1893). Durkheim believed that his sociology could serve as a basis for modern society's political and ethical transformation. In modern society, society's control over the individual is decreasing, because the influence of religion, kinship groups, and the neighborhood is declining. Individuals are becoming too individualized and detached from any moral control of the wider society. This is exactly what Durkheim calls "anomie".
Durkheim saw the division of labor as a consequence of changes in socio-morphological structure. Due to the large natural increase of people, there is an increase in population and an increase in population density, and this represents an increase in the physical density of society. Increasing the physical density of society leads to increased competition in society, hence individuals are forced to specialize economically in order to survive. The increasing physical density of people further leads to an increase in moral density, because greater specialization in the division of labor requires higher levels of communication and interaction. If the division of labor does not increase cooperation and communication in society, a pathological form of "anomic division of labor" occurs.
In the book Suicide (1897), Durkheim wanted to explain the connection between a person's individual situation and the form and degree to which that person is integrated into society, on the one hand, with suicide rates, on the other hand. To do so Durkheim introduced four basic types of suicide: 1) egoistic, 2) anomic, 3) fatalistic, and 4) altruistic. Factors that affect different types of suicide are: the degree of integration of a society, how much and in what way are individuals integrated into society, and the level to which society regulates each individual's individual behavior. Anomic suicides occur at moments when there are rapid and significant social changes, which leads to a break in traditional values and norms. The loss of traditional rules of organizing individual life leads to the rise of insecurity in individuals. The desires of individuals are insatiable and if there is no social control that regulates and limits those desires, individuals can, if they do not achieve their goals, become very disappointed in life, and that leads them to suicide. Both anomic and egoistic suicides are much more common in developed industrial societies because in those societies there is an increase in individualism and a decline in traditional values and control.
In his works, American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin expressed his fear of the decline of, what he called, the "sensate" cultural aspect in modern culture. He saw that this is evident in many areas: art, ethical system, the system of universal truths, science, understanding of freedom, declining family ties, political system (where the minority exercises power without adequate control), increasing state of anomie, increasing conflicts and wars. He believed that the best solution for the decline of sensate culture is to increase altruistic love, which will give positive effects both on the social and individual levels. Altruistic love will contribute to increasing cooperation, mutual assistance, and creativity and create conditions for achieving social harmony. A fundamental change is needed at the level of society and culture, but it is necessary, first of all, to make a conscious and deliberate decision on the individual level to change consciousness, and with it the world.
American theorist of urbanism Lewis Mumford wanted to convince politicians and urban planners to pay attention to how architectural and urban solutions and plans affect the social ecology of urban neighborhoods. He wanted to avoid the anomie and loss of the organic community that would result from poor planning of cities and their neighborhoods. As the biggest problems of urbanism, he saw the excessive concentration of the population in huge skyscrapers, the disappearance of public places and parks, and the excessive construction of roads and car parks. Mumford believed that technological advances in transportation and communications would lead to the alleviation of anomie, the proliferation of social networks, and the strengthening of democracy at the regional level.
American sociologist Robert Merton developed his own theory of anomie. The anomie is a consequence of the discrepancy between culturally defined goals, on the one hand, and culturally defined rules for achieving those goals and structural possibilities for achieving those goals, which are in accordance with the prescribed rules, on the other hand. When the goals, rules, and possibilities for achieving the goals are in line, then conformity is developed, which enables the maintenance of stability and continuity in society. In such a stable state, some actors may begin to exhibit deviant behavior. Merton singles out four main forms of deviant behavior: 1) innovation - goals are accepted but non-institutional means are used to achieve them, 2) ritualism - goals are reduced, while means are considered legitimate, 3) retreatism - rejection of both means and goals (when both acts are internalized as norms, failure to fulfill leads to defeatism and resignation), and 4) rebellion - a combination of acceptance and rejection of means and goals, revolutionism. Each of these four types has different consequences for the functioning of the social system and carries a different potential for social change.
In the book A Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (1950), co-authored by David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney, the authors studied different types of social characters. They concluded that throughout history, three different social characters have developed: 1) „tradition directed“, 2) „inner directed“ and 3) „other directed“ (conformist). there are three possible ways for a person to adapt to the pursuit of conformism: 1) adapting to others, 2) anomie, and 3) building personal autonomy. Autonomy requires the possession of self-awareness and the ability to decide whether to live in accordance with the dominant social character, but without falling into a state of anomie.
American sociologist Louis Wirth, in the article „Urbanism as a Way of Life” (1938) stated that in modern cities the importance of family and neighborly ties is diminishing, while competition and formal control mechanisms are becoming more important than solidarity relations. Human relations, in a big city, are primarily secondary, and interdependence is limited to fragmentary activities. This leads to the fact that the relations of the people in the city are, above all, utilitarian, impersonal and transient, restrained and indifferent. Individuals in the city have a greater degree of individual freedom, but they lose the sense of common moral connection, so they can easily enter a state of anomie.
Books and articles:
Durkheim. Division of Labor in Society (1893)
- Suicide (1897);
Giddens. The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (1984);
Merton. On Theoretical Sociology (1967);
Passas Nikos and Robert Agnew, eds., The Future of Anomie Theory (1997);
Cloward, Richard A., and Lloyd E. Ohlin Delinquency and Opportunity: A Theory of Delinquent Gangs (1960);
Riesman. A Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (1950);
Sorokin. Social and Cultural Dynamics, 4 vols. (1937-1941);
Wirth. „Urbanism as a Way of Life”, in American Journal of Sociology (1938).