Anomie or “Strain”


Emile Durkheim

 French Sociologist

 Suicide

 Crime is “Functional”

 Mechanical vs. Organic Solidarity

 Altruistic vs. Common Criminal

Durkheim as the Root of all

Sociological Theory

 Durkheim emphasized several different themes

– Social Integration

– Humans as greedy, self-interested

• “Insatiable Desires”

– Anomie

Two Main Traditions in Sociolgoy

 Chicago School of Crime/Social


– Social Integration

– Capping Human Desires

• Differential Association

• Informal Social Control (Control Theories)

 Anomie/Strain

– Industrial Prosperity

– Anomie

Robert K. Merton

 Social Structure and Anomie (1938)

 From Durkheim: Institutionalized norms are weakened in societies that place an intense value on economic success

 Applied this to the United States

– The “American Dream” as a virtue and


Anomie -- Macro Level

 The “road not taken”

 Explanation of high crime rates in the

United States?

– Follows close to Durkheim

– Gist = Unrestrained American capitalism and fetish with money creates anomie

 Picked up by Messner and Rosenfeld

Strain Theory--Anomie at the

Micro Level

 Cultural Goals in U.S.?

– The American Dream = $ = Universal

 Institutionalized Means?

– Given social structure in the U.S., the means are to achieve $ are unequally distributed

– Segment of society with no way to attain goal b/c they lack means

Strain Theory (Micro)



1. Conformity + +

2. Innovation + -

3. Ritualism -

4. Retreatism -



5. Rebellion +/+/-

Support for Micro Strain Theory

 First tested as the disjuncture between educational or economic “aspirations” and


 Little empirical support for this

– Delinquents tend to have low expectations and aspirations

– BUT —is this really a great measure of strain?

More recent empirical studies

 “Blocked Opportunities”

– 50/50 odds study finds a relationship

– Even here, weak association

 Disappointment with current financial status

– One study, but found moderate relationship, even after controlling for other theories

Criticisms of Merton and

“Strain” Theory

 Is crime a “lower class” phenomena?

 Cannot explain “expressive” crimes

– In Merton’s defense, this was a “mid-range” theory of crime

 Why ritualist vs. innovator?

 Weak empirical support

 Hirschi = “Oversocialized Man”

ANOMIE—The Legacy

 1950s1960s = “Subcultrual” theories

– Mix anomie tradition with differential association

 1990s = Revisions of Merton’s theory

– Individual Level = “General Strain Theory”

– Macro Level = “Institutional Anomie”