Criminology Anomie
by
Eric P. Baumer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 February 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0006

Introduction

The term anomie has been widely used for the past several centuries to describe societal conditions. Although it has been defined and applied in different ways throughout history, it has been prominent in historical discussions of the consequences of rapid social change and the intersection of culture and social structure. Anomie theory was popularized by the classic works of Émile Durkheim and Robert Merton. It is also central to Steven Messner and Richard Rosenfeld’s contemporary explanation for the substantial variation observed in rates of serious crime across nations generally, and to their explanation for why America exhibits one of the highest rates of serious crime in particular. Merton’s anomie theory and Messner and Rosenfeld’s institutional-anomie theory (IAT) are prominent criminological theories and have stimulated a relatively large body of empirical research over the past few decades focused on identifying the social and cultural conditions that are most conducive to producing particularly high or low levels of crime.

Foundational Works

The concept of anomie has been used and defined in a variety of different ways over the past several centuries. In the social science literature, the concept is most closely associated with the theoretical writings of Jean Marie Guyau, Émile Durkheim, and Robert Merton. Orrù 1987 provides an excellent overview of the development and varied uses of anomie throughout history, including how the concept was defined and used by these prominent theorists. Orrù traces the origins of anomie to ancient Greece, but he credits Guyau with introducing the term to the sociological literature during the 19th century, influencing, among others, Émile Durkheim. While Durkheim did not focus on crime per se, his theoretical writings on anomie from the late 1800s have been particularly influential in shaping several criminological theories, including social control theory, social disorganization theory, and classic and contemporary anomie theories. Highlighting the consequences of rapid social change, Durkheim emphasizes the importance of societal norms in regulating individual goals and pursuits, and he conceives of anomie primarily as a state of weak social regulation of such goals. Durkheim’s writings on this topic focus on outlining some of the social transformations that may stimulate anomic societal conditions, and on some of the consequences of high levels of societal anomie, perhaps most notably elevated suicide rates (Durkheim 1997a, Durkheim1997b). There are some apparent inconsistencies in how anomie is defined and applied in Merton’s theoretical writings (see Sztompka 1998), but he most consistently refers to anomie as a social context in which there is a lack of consensus regarding the normative means of pursuing culturally valued goals. As elaborated in this discussion of theoretical perspectives of anomie (Merton 1938), Merton views anomie as a central source of the high levels of deviance observed in the United States. Merton’s theoretical writings have been interpreted in divergent ways, with some scholars emphasizing the consequences of anomic social organization and others focusing on blocked opportunities and other “strains.” The latter idea does not focus on anomie, per se, but has been instrumental in the development of “strain theories,” which have been influential in criminology and are developed extensively in the works of Albert Cohen, Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin, and Robert Agnew (see Merton’s Anomie Theory). For a review, see Bernard, et al. 2009. Anomie is central to Merton’s insights on the role of social organization in generating differential rates of deviance across social collectivities. Messner and Rosenfeld, in the first edition of Crime and the American Dream (Messner and Rosenfeld 1994), build on and extend Merton’s anomie theory by articulating more clearly the major sources of the anomic cultural imbalance observed in America, and by elaborating on how this cultural imbalance combines with institutional imbalances to translate into higher levels of acquisitive crime (crime directed toward the acquisition of money or material goods) and serious violence.

  • Bernard, Thomas J., Jeffrey B. Snipes, and Alexander L. Gerould. 2009. Vold’s theoretical criminology. 6th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A comprehensive assessment of criminological theory that outlines the influence of Merton’s theory and the development of strain theory. A great resource for undergraduate and graduate students who wish to develop a foundation in criminological theory.

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    • Durkheim, Emile. 1997a. The division of labor in society. Translated by Lewis A. Coserorge. New York: Free Press.

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      Seminal original contribution in which Durkheim outlines key arguments relevant to the social conditions that give rise to anomie. See especially the introduction and the first chapter of Book Three, “The Anomic Division of Labor.” Appropriate for those seeking an in-depth exposure to Durkheim’s use of anomie. Originally published in 1893.

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      • Durkheim, Emile. 1997b. Suicide: A study in sociology. Edited by George Simpson. Translated by John A. Spaulding. New York: Free Press.

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        Seminal original contribution in which Durkheim outlines key arguments relevant to the causes and consequences of anomie, with a focus on explaining group-level variation in suicide rates. Appropriate for those seeking an in-depth examination of Durkheim’s writings on suicide and on the development of anomie in his work. Originally published in 1897.

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        • Merton, Robert K. 1938. Social structure and anomie. American Sociological Review 3:672–682.

          DOI: 10.2307/2084686E-mail Citation »

          One of the most influential papers in the history of criminology. Merton outlines his anomie theory and discusses how it can explain variation in levels of deviance between and within societies. Essential reading for serious students of anomie theory. Suitable for graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

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          • Messner, Steven F., and Richard Rosenfeld. 1994. Crime and the American dream. 1st ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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            A concise book that outlines an argument for why America has higher levels of serious violence than many other nations. Provides a rich discussion and critique of Merton’s theory and offers a clear statement of what has become widely known as institutional-anomie theory (IAT). A highly accessible and relatively short book suitable for those interested in geographic variation in crime.

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            • Orrù, Marco. 1987. Anomie: History and meanings. Boston: Allen and Unwin.

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              A thorough analysis of the origins and various uses of the concept of anomie throughout history. Excellent source of information on how Durkheim and Merton define and use anomie in their respective works.

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              • Sztompka, Piotr. 1998. Robert K. Merton’s four concepts of anomie. In Robert K. Merton and contemporary sociology. Edited by Carlo Mongardini and Simonetta Tabboni, 163–171. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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                An overview of the different definitions of anomie that have been inferred from Merton’s scholarship. A good source for those seeking to obtain a detailed understanding of the complexity of Merton’s arguments about anomie and crime.

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                General Overviews

                Overviews of classic and contemporary anomie theories can be found in most sociological- and criminological-theory textbooks. Orrù 1987 under Foundational Works provides a good overview of Durkheim’s theoretical contributions. Useful general sources on Merton’s anomie theory include Bernard, et al, 2009 and Cullen and Agnew 2006. More in-depth coverage of the development and implications of Merton’s theory can be found in Adler and Laufer 1995 and Passas and Agnew 1997 under Theoretical Perspectives). Messner 1988 and Baumer 2007 provide detailed explications of Merton’s anomie theory. Messner 1988 contains an especially lucid discussion of how Merton’s theory encompasses arguments linking levels of anomie and crime across societies, as well as strain and crime within societies. Baumer 2007 translates Merton’s theory into a formal multilevel causal model and discusses some of the research implications of the theory that have not been adequately explored to date. In Messner and Rosenfeld 2007 the authors address the issue of why nation-states exhibit substantial variation in serious crime rates, and why America in particular tends to exhibit exceptionally high levels of violence. The book provides a succinct statement of what has become widely referenced in the literature as institutional-anomie theory (IAT). Other general overviews of IAT appear in Messner and Rosenfeld 2006 and Baumer and Gustafson 2007.

                • Adler, Freda, and William S. Laufer, eds. 1995. The legacy of anomie theory. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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                  A thorough volume that chronicles the various streams of influence the anomie tradition has had in the criminological literature with a contemporary assessment of anomie theory by Robert Merton. A useful source for those interested in learning in detail about the wide variety of theoretical perspectives and applications of empirical research that have been shaped significantly by anomie theory.

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                  • Baumer, Eric P. 2007. Untangling research puzzles in Merton’s multilevel anomie theory. Theoretical Criminology 11:63–93.

                    DOI: 10.1177/1362480607072736E-mail Citation »

                    A detailed exegesis of Merton’s anomie theory and the key empirical predictions suggested by this theory. A useful resource for graduate students and others interested in issues relevant to a detailed theoretical and empirical specification of Merton’s anomie theory as it applies to societal differences in levels of instrumental crime.

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                    • Baumer, Eric P., and Regan Gustafson. 2007. Social organization and instrumental crime: Assessing the empirical validity of classic and contemporary anomie theories. Criminology 45:617–663.

                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2007.00090.xE-mail Citation »

                      Uses aggregate-level data from the U.S. General Social Survey to operationalize core concepts of Merton’s classic anomie theory and Messner and Rosenfeld’s institutional-anomie theory (IAT), including comparative levels of commitment to monetary success and normative means of pursuing monetary goals. A useful resource for those interested in assessing the empirical validity of anomie theories.

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                      • Bernard, Thomas J., Jeffrey B. Snipes, and Alexander L. Gerould. 2009. Vold’s theoretical criminology. 6th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                        An extensive examination of criminological theory, including anomie theory. An excellent general source and starting point for undergraduate and graduate students who wish to develop a foundation in criminological theory.

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                        • Cullen, Francis T., and Robert Agnew. 2006. Criminological theory: Past to present; Essential readings. 3d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                          A comprehensive edited volume with fundamental readings in criminological research, including anomie theory. This reader is an excellent option for theory courses at all levels of study and is a useful resource that provides excerpts from classic and contemporary theoretical contributions along with commentary from the editors on their broader implications.

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                          • Messner, Steven F. 1988. Merton’s “Social structure and anomie”: The road not taken. Deviant Behavior 9:33–53.

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                            A classic contribution to the literature that offers a detailed exegesis of Robert Merton’s anomie theory. An essential resource for those interested in a detailed analysis of Merton’s theoretical arguments and how they have influenced contemporary anomie- and strain-theoretical perspectives. Suitable for both undergraduate and graduate students.

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                            • Messner, Steven F. and Richard Rosenfeld. 2006. The present and future of institutional-anomie theory. In Taking stock: The status of criminological theory. Edited by Francis T. Cullen, John Paul Wright, and Kristie R. Blevins, 127–148. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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                              An important contribution in which Messner and Rosenfeld reflect on the empirical research stimulated by institutional-anomie theory (IAT) during the previous decade and identify key issues that require further thought. A great source for those interested in a succinct summary of IAT and the relevant research conducted through approximately 2005.

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                              • Messner, Steven F., and Richard Rosenfeld. 2007. Crime and the American dream. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

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                                A concise and provocative book that outlines an argument for why America has higher levels of serious violence than many other nations. The fourth edition includes new sections devoted to explaining how institutional-anomie theory (IAT) can account for well-established group differences in violence. This accessible and relatively short book is suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

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                                Theoretical Perspectives

                                The origin of the concept of anomie has been traced to ancient Greek literature, but Jean Marie Guyau has been credited with introducing the term into modern social-science scholarship. Orrù 1987 provides an excellent overview of the development and varied uses of anomie throughout history, including how the concept is defined and used by Guyau and how Durkheim was influenced by Guyau’s development of anomie, though he applied it in fundamentally different ways. Building on Guyau, Émile Durkheim was highly instrumental in developing anomie as a central sociological concept. Durkheim did not articulate an anomie theory of crime per se. Instead, his primary use of anomie was in connection with his discussion of the consequences of rapid social changes and the sources of societal variation in suicide rates. Durkheim’s contributions to the development of anomie theory are most fully developed in The division of labor (Durkheim 1997a) and Suicide (Durkheim 1997b). More succinct statements of the key arguments as they relate to crime can be found in most criminological theory textbooks. A balanced and comprehensive introduction to Durkheim’s theoretical contributions to criminology can be obtained from Bernard, et al. 2009 and Taylor, et al. 1973. Durkheim’s general argument that societal norms serve an important role in regulating human behavior was influential in shaping the development of several criminological theories, including Merton’s anomie theory and Messner and Rosenfeld’s institutional-anomie theory (IAT). Useful overviews of these perspectives as well as more detailed explications can be found in the sections on Merton’s Anomie Theory and Messner and Rosenfeld’s Institutional-Anomie Theory.

                                • Bernard, Thomas J., Jeffrey B. Snipes, and Alexander L. Gerould. 2009. Vold’s theoretical criminology. 6th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                  A comprehensive overview of criminological theories that outlines Durkheim’s anomie theory and discusses the influence of Durkheim’s scholarship on classic and contemporary theories. A great starting point for undergraduate and graduate students interested in learning about anomie theory.

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                                  • Durkheim, Emile. 1997a. The division of labor in society. Translated by Lewis A. Coserorge. New York: Free Press.

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                                    The original source in which Durkheim discusses the ways in which social order is maintained in societies and is disrupted during major societal transitions. A good starting place for persons interested in Durkheim’s thoughts on the specific social conditions that can give rise to anomie. Originally published in 1893

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                                    • Durkheim, Emile. 1997b. Suicide: A study in sociology. Edited by George Simpson, translated by John A. Spaulding. New York: Free Press.

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                                      The original source in which Durkheim establishes a causal relationship between suicide rates and low levels of social cohesion. More broadly, Durkheim outlines the causes and consequences of anomie and discusses how this societal condition can yield higher rates of deviance. Useful reading for building a thorough foundation for Merton’s anomie theory. Originally published in 1897.

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                                      • Orrù, Marco. 1987. Anomie: History and meanings. Boston: Allen and Unwin.

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                                        A lucid discussion of the use of anomie in different historical eras, including how the concept was used by Guyau, Durkheim, and Merton. An excellent source for those interested in a detailed historical analysis of anomie.

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                                        • Passas, Nikos, and Robert Agnew, eds. 1997. The future of anomie theory. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press.

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                                          An important collection of essays on revisions and extensions of anomie theory, assessments of the existing empirical research, and commentary on the issues most germane to additional inquiry in the anomie tradition. A useful source for in-depth analyses of anomie theory and research.

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                                          • Taylor, Ian, Paul Walton, and Jock Young. 1973. The new criminology: For a social theory of deviance. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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                                            A critical review of classic criminological theories, including theoretical writings of Durkheim and Merton. An important reference for those seeking a comprehensive assessment of classic theories of crime.

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                                            Merton’s Anomie Theory

                                            Beginning with the seminal paper “Social structure and anomie” (Merton 1938), Merton used his anomie theory to explain both the higher rate of crime and deviance that seemed to characterize America at the time and the uneven distribution of crime and deviance across social classes within America. Merton 1964 and Merton 1968 further develop his arguments on these issues. Merton’s theory is quite general in scope, but he emphasizes cultural and structural conditions that generate pressures that can yield higher levels of deviant behavior, contingent on specific adaptations to those conditions. Much of Merton’s theoretical writing focuses on cultural orientations toward monetary success goals and the extent to which the social structure provides legitimate opportunities for members of the population to pursue culturally valued monetary success goals. In general, Merton’s theory suggests that the prevalence of money-generating crime will be highest in societies in which there is a relatively strong cultural emphasis on pursuing monetary success goals and a relatively weak cultural emphasis on using legitimate means of pursuing monetary success goals. Importantly, Merton emphasizes that the criminogenic tendencies of this type of cultural imbalance are likely to be contingent on individual adaptations to cultural conditions (i.e., whether or not members of society accept or reject cultural messages about the pursuit of monetary success and on the distribution of legitimate opportunities for pursuing monetary success goals. Messner 1988, Passas and Agnew 1997, and Baumer 2007 under General Overviews) offer comprehensive overviews of the underlying causal structure of Merton’s theory and provide a discussion of some of the more pertinent research questions and hypotheses it implies. Adler and Laufer 1995 is a good general source on the multiple ways in which Merton’s theory has been interpreted and the diverse research literature it has spawned. Important critiques of Merton’s theory can be found in Agnew 1992, Cohen 1955, and Cloward and Ohlin 1960. Perhaps most notably, Cohen highlights the importance of alternative cultural values that may be relevant to shaping pressures toward deviance, and Cloward and Ohlin emphasize the importance of access to illegitimate opportunity structures for translating anomic conditions into deviant behaviors.

                                            • Adler, Freda, and William S. Laufer, eds. 1995. The legacy of anomie theory. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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                                              A collection of essays that that chronicles the multiple interpretations and influences of Merton’s anomie theory. A good source for those interested in the wide influence of Merton’s scholarship in contemporary criminology and sociology.

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                                              • Agnew, Robert. 1992. Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology 30:47–87.

                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1992.tb01093.xE-mail Citation »

                                                A classic article that outlines the structure and empirical implications of Agnew’s general strain theory. Essential reading for those interested in the evolution of strain theory and the foundation of general strain theory. Suitable for graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

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                                                • Cohen, Albert K. 1955. Delinquent boys: The culture of the gang. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

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                                                  A classic text that critiques key empirical predictions entailed by Merton’s anomie theory by drawing attention to the importance of cultural values in America other than material success, and in particular the importance of attaining status and middle-class acceptance. Cohen’s arguments have been influential in stimulating developments in strain theory and subcultural theory. Appropriate for graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

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                                                  • Cloward, Richard A., and Lloyd E. Ohlin. 1960. Delinquency and opportunity: A theory of delinquent gangs. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

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                                                    A classic text that critiques key empirical predictions entailed by Robert Merton’s theoretical writings by drawing attention to the potential importance of the nature and distribution of illegitimate opportunity structures in shaping adaptations to anomic cultural environments. This book has stimulated developments in strain theory and subcultural theory. Appropriate for graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

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                                                    • Merton, Robert K. 1938. Social structure and anomie. American Sociological Review 3:672–682.

                                                      DOI: 10.2307/2084686E-mail Citation »

                                                      The original statement of Merton’s anomie theory, and thus the starting point for those seeking to understand Merton’s theory. Suitable for graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

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                                                      • Merton, Robert K. 1964. Anomie, anomia, and social interaction: Contexts of deviant behavior. In Anomie and deviant behavior: A discussion and critique. Edited by Marshall B. Clinard, 213–242. New York: Free Press of Glencoe.

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                                                        An important contribution in which Merton discusses some of the ways anomic societal conditions translate into deviant adaptations, including instrumental crime. Appropriate for graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

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                                                        • Merton, Robert K. 1968. Social theory and social structure. Enl. ed. New York: Free Press.

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                                                          A classic collection of Merton’s writings. Chapters 6 and 7 elaborate on the anomie perspective outlined in his seminal paper “Social structure and anomie.” An excellent resource for those interested in a thorough understanding of Merton’s anomie theory or other topics on which Merton wrote.

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                                                          • Messner, Steven F. 1988. Merton’s “Social structure and anomie”: The road not taken. Deviant Behavior 9:33–53.

                                                            E-mail Citation »

                                                            Offers a detailed exegesis of Merton’s theory, providing a lucid discussion of how the theory contains arguments linking levels of anomie and crime across societies, as well as group-level strain and crime within societies. An essential resource for those interested in a detailed analysis of Merton’s theoretical arguments. Suitable for graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

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                                                            • Passas, Nikos, and Robert Agnew, eds. 1997. The future of anomie theory. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press.

                                                              E-mail Citation »

                                                              A collection of essays that outline the structure of Merton’s anomie theory and provide overviews of important revisions and extensions of anomie theory and research. A useful source for in-depth analyses of anomie theory, strain theory, and associated research.

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                                                              Messner and Rosenfeld’s Institutional-Anomie Theory

                                                              In Crime and the American dream (Messner and Rosenfeld 2007), the authorsprovide an explanation for cross-national variation in serious crime, and in particular for why America has long exhibited exceptionally high levels of robbery and homicide. Messner and Rosenfeld’s argument has become widely referenced in the literature as institutional-anomie theory (IAT). The first edition of Crime and the American dream (Messner and Rosenfeld 1994) provides a succinct and easily accessible description of IAT. Messner and Rosenfeld 2007, the fourth edition of this book, greatly expands the conceptualization of social structure found in Merton’s work by highlighting the potential importance of several key social institutions. Messner and Rosenfeld specifically emphasize the relative strength of economic, political, educational, and familial institutions in the United States. They suggest that the balance of power between these institutions is both a consequence of and a contributor to the prevailing cultural structure, and they attribute the relatively higher levels of acquisitive crime and serious violence in America primarily to the same distinctive cultural imbalance noted in Merton’s theory (a strong cultural emphasis on monetary success goals and a relatively weak emphasis on pursuing such goals through legitimate means only) and a particular form of institutional imbalance (a dominance of the economy and an associated weakness of familial, educational, and political institutions). The fourth edition provides updated information on cross-national crime statistics and addresses the way in which IAT can account for subgroup differences in crime rates within the United States. Baumer and Gustafson 2007 provides an overview of the underlying causal structure in IAT and discusses issues related to testing the theory. Bernburg 2002 and Chamlin and Cochran 2007 provide important theoretical critiques of IAT. Stults and Baumer 2008 elaborates on IAT by proposing mechanisms through which the key social and cultural conditions emphasized in the theory might be linked not only to crimes directed toward the acquisition of money and other material goods, but also to lethal violence.

                                                              • Baumer, Eric P., and Regan Gustafson. 2007. Social organization and instrumental crime: Assessing the empirical validity of classic and contemporary anomie theories. Criminology 45:617–663.

                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2007.00090.xE-mail Citation »

                                                                Translates Merton’s classic anomie theory and Messner and Rosenfeld’s institutional-anomie theory (IAT) into formal causal models and provides an empirical test of the core causal pathways implied in these theories. A useful resource for graduate students and others interested in elucidating the causal structure of classic and contemporary anomie theories.

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                                                                • Bernburg, Jón Gunnar. 2002. Anomie, social change, and crime: A theoretical examination of institutional-anomie theory. British Journal of Criminology 42:729–742.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/bjc/42.4.729E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Summarizes institutional-anomie theory (IAT) and how this perspective differs from Merton’s classic anomie theory and effectively integrates ideas from literature on the functions and consequences of market economies. A useful resource for graduate students and others interested in an in-depth discussion of the origins and underlying structure of IAT.

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                                                                  • Chamlin, Mitchell B., and John K. Cochran. 2007. An evaluation of the assumptions that underlie institutional anomie theory. Theoretical Criminology 11:39–61.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1177/1362480607072734E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Provides a thorough evaluation of the key assumptions and empirical predictions of institutional-anomie theory (IAT). A useful resource for graduate students and others interested in an in-depth discussion of the origins and underlying structure of IAT.

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                                                                    • Messner, Steven F., and Richard Rosenfeld. 1994. Crime and the American dream. 1st ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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                                                                      The first full statement of the argument that has become widely referenced in the literature as institutional-anomie theory (IAT). An accessible and succinct book suitable for those interested in geographic variation in crime, American exceptionalism with respect to levels of violence, and anomie theory.

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                                                                      • Messner, Steven F., and Richard Rosenfeld. 2007. Crime and the American dream. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

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                                                                        This updated edition of Messner and Rosenfeld 1994 includes new sections devoted to explaining how institutional-anomie theory (IAT) can account for well-established group differences in violence. A highly accessible and relatively short book suitable for those interested in anomie theory or geographic variation in crime. Explores the reasons for the high levels of violence found in the United States.

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                                                                        • Stults, Brian J., and Eric P. Baumer. 2008. Assessing the relevance of anomie theory for explaining spatial variation in lethal criminal violence: An aggregate-level analysis of homicide within the United States. International Journal of Conflict and Violence 2:215–247.

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                                                                          Responds to critiques in the literature that the relevance of Messner and Rosenfeld’s institutional-anomie theory (IAT) for lethal violence has not been clearly articulated. An elaborated theoretical model is presented that specifies mechanisms through which anomic societal conditions may yield higher levels of homicide. A useful paper for those doing research on IAT or homicide rates. Available online.

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                                                                          Empirical Research on Merton’s Anomie Theory

                                                                          A substantial volume of empirical research on crime and deviance has been stimulated by Robert Merton’s classic anomie theory. Because of the significant challenges to measuring the key concepts, however, most of the existing research is not directly applicable to Merton’s core arguments about levels of anomie and crime, but instead addresses hypotheses about the distribution of crime within societies implied by Merton’s theory, such as the link between goal blockage or individual strain and delinquency. These studies are often classified as empirical tests of classic strain theory. Burton and Cullen 1992 provides a good overview of this research, and Kubrin, et al. 2009 discusses in detail the measurement and methodological challenges inherent in assessing the empirical validity of Merton’s theory. Messner 1988 provides a good summary of aggregate-level research that addresses empirical predictions associated with Merton’s anomie perspective, but the author also notes that very few studies have directly examined Merton’s theoretical arguments about a possible link between levels of instrumental crime and a cultural imbalance in the degree of emphasis placed on the importance of monetary success goals and on pursuing such goals through legitimate means only, or whether such a link is conditioned by the distribution of legitimate opportunities. Messner and Rosenfeld 2006 provides a thorough summary and critique of some recent studies that more closely examine some of predictions implied by Merton’s theory about societal variation in cultural values and whether this is related to crime and deviance. Following this overview, Baumer and Gustafson 2007 examines the empirical validity of the core empirical predictions implied by Merton’s anomie theory in a study of aggregate-level units within the United States.

                                                                          • Baumer, Eric P., and Regan Gustafson. 2007. Social organization and instrumental crime: Assessing the empirical validity of classic and contemporary anomie theories. Criminology 45:617–663.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2007.00090.xE-mail Citation »

                                                                            An empirical examination of whether differences across social collectivities in value orientations are associated with differences in levels of crime. A useful resource for graduate students and others interested in assessing the empirical validity of anomie theories.

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                                                                            • Burton, Velmer S., and Francis T. Cullen. 1992. The empirical status of strain theory. Journal of Crime and Justice 15:1–30.

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                                                                              A comprehensive overview of the empirical literature through the 1980s on classic strain theory, which is derived in part from Merton’s theoretical writings. A good resource for those interested in an assessment of the empirical validity of classic strain theory.

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                                                                              • Kubrin, Charis E., Thomas D. Stucky, and Marvin D. Krohn. 2009. Researching theories of crime and deviance. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                A unique and highly useful text that provides a succinct summary of major theoretical perspectives along with a thorough discussion of pertinent research issues and the state of existing empirical evidence on those perspectives. See especially Chapter 5, which focuses on anomie and strain theories. A valuable resource for graduate students and others interested in the details of previous research and pertinent research issues regarding anomie theory.

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                                                                                • Messner, Steven F. 1988. Merton’s “Social structure and anomie”: The road not taken. Deviant Behavior 9:33–53.

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                                                                                  A classic paper that provides a thorough review of research through the mid-1980s that is relevant to Merton’s theory. An essential resource for those interested in a detailed analysis of Merton’s theoretical arguments and relevant empirical research.

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                                                                                  • Messner, Steven F. and Richard Rosenfeld. 2006. The present and future of institutional-anomie theory. In Taking stock: The status of criminological theory. Edited by Francis T. Cullen, John Paul Wright, and Kristie R. Blevins, 127–148. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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                                                                                    A good summary of recent research relevant both to Merton’s classic anomie theory and to institutional-anomie theory (IAT). A great source for those interested in a succinct summary of IAT and research published prior to 2006 that is relevant to Merton’s anomie theory and especially to IAT. Suitable for graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

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                                                                                    Empirical Research on Institutional-Anomie Theory

                                                                                    Few studies have explicitly tested the core predictions implied by institutional-anomie theory (IAT), but several have examined related hypotheses. For example, Chamlin and Cochran 1995, a pioneering empirical test of institutional-anomie theory, examines the association between poverty rates and property crime rates across American states, including the extent to which that association is conditioned by the strength of noneconomic social institutions. In another example, Messner and Rosenfeld 1997 is a cross-national study that explores whether greater investments in social welfare mitigate the criminogenic consequences of high levels of inequality. Several other studies have explored related themes; good overviews can be found in Kubrin, et al. 2009 and Pratt and Cullen 2005. Messner and Rosenfeld 2006 under General Overviews) reviews this research as well, while also summarizing some recent studies that evaluate more directly the cultural arguments implied by IAT (and Merton’s classic anomie theory). Following this overview, Baumer and Gustafson 2007 and Stults and Baumer 2008 examine the empirical validity of the core empirical predictions implied in Merton’s anomie theory in a study of aggregate-level units within the United States. These two works also review the empirical predictions.

                                                                                    • Baumer, Eric P., and Regan Gustafson. 2007. Social organization and instrumental crime: Assessing the empirical validity of classic and contemporary anomie theories. Criminology 45:617–663.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2007.00090.xE-mail Citation »

                                                                                      An empirical assessment of whether levels of commitment to and participation in noneconomic social institutions across large social aggregates in America serve as a buffer to the criminogenic conditions highlighted in Messner and Rosenfeld’s institutional-anomie theory (IAT). A useful resource for graduate students and others interested in evaluating the empirical validity of anomie theories.

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                                                                                      • Chamlin, Mitchell B., and John K. Cochran. 1995. Assessing Messner and Rosenfeld’s institutional anomie theory: A partial test. Criminology 33:411–429.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1995.tb01184.xE-mail Citation »

                                                                                        A pioneering study that assesses some of the empirical predictions implied by Messner and Rosenfeld’s institutional-anomie theory (IAT). Essential reading for those interested in developing a sound assessment of the empirical validity of IAT.

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                                                                                        • Kubrin, Charis E., Thomas D. Stucky, and Marvin D. Krohn. 2009. Researching theories of crime and deviance. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                          A succinct summary of the major research issues involved in testing institutional-anomie theory (IAT) and the state of existing empirical evidence through approximately 2007. A valuable resource for those interested in an overview of issues relevant to testing IAT.

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                                                                                          • Messner, Steven F., and Richard Rosenfeld. 1997. Political restraint of the market and levels of criminal homicide: A cross-national application of institutional-anomie theory. Social Forces 75:1393–1416.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/2580676E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Evaluates whether noneconomic social institutions can mitigate the criminogenic consequences that often accrue from high levels of economic inequality. A pioneering empirical assessment of hypotheses arising from Messner and Rosenfeld’s institutional-anomie theory (IAT).

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                                                                                            • Pratt, Travis C., and Francis T. Cullen. 2005. Assessing macro-level predictors and theories of crime: A meta-analysis. Crime and Justice 32:373–450.

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                                                                                              A comprehensive meta-analysis of aggregate-level research on crime rates, including research relevant to anomie theory. Useful for those interested in a broad assessment of the state of existing aggregate-level research on crime.

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                                                                                              • Stults, Brian J., and Eric P. Baumer. 2008. Assessing the relevance of anomie theory for explaining spatial variation in lethal criminal violence: An aggregate-level analysis of homicide within the United States. International Journal of Conflict and Violence 2:215–247.

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                                                                                                Outlines an elaborated theoretical model of institutional-anomie theory (IAT) that links key concepts in the theory to lethal violence and evaluates the elaborated model using data from large social aggregates within the United States. Appropriate for those interested in theoretical elaborations of IAT or empirical research geared toward assessing its empirical validity. Available online.

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