Sociological Theory of Crime: Anomie Theory.


In 1,000 words (excluding title, citations and footnotes), critically examine the theory Anomie in the Paul Rock chapter, for its usefulness in understanding crime and criminal behaviour. Particularly, reflect on:

  • The (implicit or explicit) definition of ‘crime’ that underpins the theoretical approach
  • The strengths and weaknesses of the theory – What kinds of social patterns and specific (criminal/deviant/transgressive) acts does it explain well, and what might it not explain?
  • Identify what you believe to be the most contentious claim about crime raised by this theory, and why this is particularly contentious.

You should be able to complete this assignment based on the Rock article, and you are not required to use additional external sources. However, should you wish to do so, please cite accordingly, and you are also expected to cite class materials appropriately in all instances.


Anomie Theory

The explicit definition of ‘crime’ that underpins the theoretical approach to anomie is that crime is a consequence of a defective social regulation. Emily Durkheim states, “People are said to deviate because of the disciplines and authority of society are so flawed that they offer few restraints or moral direction.”[1] Emile Durkheim blames the existence of crime on the flaws in the disciplines and authority of the society.  Also, crime is a consequence of a society without an elaborate division of labor. According to Durkheim, economic regulation is not enough, there should be moral regulation. The moral values that specify the rights and obligations of individuals in a given occupation in relation to those in other occupations. Furthermore, crime results from a morally deficient society. Robert Merton appraises Durkheim’s view on crime by saying crime results from a socially fostered state of discontentment and deregulation of a society. The implicit definition of crime is that crime is a consequence of inequality in the society. People commit crime because they do not have what other people have. Also, people do not have equal opportunities to acquire wealth. People, therefore, engage in criminal activities to get what they lack in a normal functioning society.

The strengths of the anomie theory lie in the explanation of criminal, deviant and transgressive acts. The anomie theory emphasizes inequality as the root cause of crime. According to Robert Merton, the society promises much to everyone but deny them equal access to its attainment. People resort to crime to fill in the gap that exists. For instance, in the United States, people are motivated by the American Dream to acquire material possessions, but class, race, and other social differences hinder progress. Merton states, “It was not easy for a poor, inner-city adolescent to receive sponsorship for jobs, achieve academic success, or acquire capital.”[2] However, rather than fixing the system, the society interpreted failure as a sign of personal weakness. Any attempt to interpret failure as a sign of social weakness was dismissed. Individuals then were termed as lacking ambition and lazy.  Furthermore, failure caused guilt in individuals, feeling that they did not strive hard to achieve success.  Consequently, people bypassed legitimate careers and took to illegitimate careers.  

The anomie theory explains well why people engage in crime. First, people are pushed into crime by the difficulties of acquiring money. Second, people are pulled into crime by the lure of lucrative and unconventional criminal careers. The difficulties of acquiring money arise from inequality, and racism. Where a person lacks a job, he or she may resort to crim just to make the ends meet. On the other hand, criminal careers may be so lucrative, that it lures people to engage in criminal activity. For instance, when a person is convinced that robbing a bank will make him or her rich, he is more likely to join the gang. The anomie theory, however, acknowledges that there are those for whom no path as available, that is, they do not fit either in conventional ways of acquiring money or in professional and organized crime.  Such individuals for whom no path is available become members of conflict gangs. Furthermore, there are those referred to as “double failures.” These are individuals who fail to gain admission to either a law-abiding or a law violating group. These individuals become drug users and hustlers.

The weakness of the anomie theory lies in its failure to explain individual responsibility. Human beings are dependent rational animals.[3] By rationality, it means that human beings have the ability to reason and distinguish between right and wrong. In as much as the society contributes to anomie, people have the responsibility to choose the right path. Using the reasoning ability, people can move out of crime and start meaningful contributions to the society. The anomie theory, therefore, fails to account for individual responsibility. The word responsibility literary means the ability to respond. If human beings have the ability to respond to a call to join a criminal gang, the same individual has the ability to join law-abiding group.

Furthermore, Emile Durkheim uses the anomie theory to state that anomie exists because of the flaws in the disciplines and authority of the society. In the statement, Durkheim does not specify which disciplines and authorities of the society, but a simple interpretation leads to the flaws in the criminal justice system. While Durkheim is right that the flaws in the criminal justice system leads to the existence of crime in the society, he does not provide solutions to fixing the problems. The weakness of the anomie theory, therefore, focuses on the reasons why crime exists, and fails to provide solutions. The only solution, which is implicitly stated is fixing economic inequality, which is akin to reducing the gap between the poor and the rich.

The most contentious claim about crime raised by anomie theory is that crime is a consequence of economic inequality. The theory suggests that people join law-violating groups because of the inability to acquire money. Also, the anomie theory blames economic inequality on capitalism. Durkheim states, “In that transition, where capitalism was thought to impose a ‘forced division of labor’, people acquiesced neither in the apportionment of rewards nor in the moral authority of the economy or state. They were obliged to work and act in a society that not only enjoyed little legitimacy but also exercised an incomplete control over their desires.”[4] The statement is contentious because it focuses on tarnishing capitalism. According to Durkheim, capitalism is evil because it imposed a forced division of labor. However, Durkheim does not provide a proper solution to ending crime. Durkheim seems to lean towards communism, but does not state explicitly. While it is true that capitalism forces division of labor, it encourages hard work, innovation and invention in the society.  Furthermore, people should learn to feel contented with what they have and live within their means as they work on increasing their income. While the authority has a role in ensuring everyone has equal opportunity in accessing jobs, it is the responsibility of individuals to say no to crime and engage in legitimate wealth acquiring activities.


Rock, Paul. Sociological Theories of Crime. Chapter 2.

[1] Rock, Paul. Sociological Theories of Crime. Chapter 2.

[2] Ibid, 53.

[3] Alasdair MacIntyre stated that human beings are dependent rational animals who have the ability reason and make informed decisions. Due to dependence, human beings are also vulnerable, thus need help.

[4] Ibid, 54.

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