Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Anomie refers to a social situation characterised by an absence of social norms or one where the norms are unclear, conflicting or unintegrated.

explanatory context

It is a state in which individuals finds themselves without the social control provided by these norms.


The concept of anomie was first introduced into sociology, in a systematic form, by Emile Durkheim.

analytical review

The Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences defines anomie as:

A concept developed by Emile Durkheim to describe an absence of clear societal norms and values. Individuals lack a sense of social regulation: people feel unguided in the choices they have to make. Anomie can occur in several different situations. For example, the undermining of traditional values may result from cultural contact. The concept can be helpful in partially understanding the experience of colonized aboriginal peoples as their traditional values are disrupted, yet they do not identify with the new cultural values imposed upon them: they lose a sense of authoritative normative regulation. Durkheim was also concerned that anomie might arise from a lack of social regulation of the workplace. The wage contracts of modern society did not provide for sufficient mutual bonds between worker and employer. To remedy this problem, Durkheim recommended joint worker-employer "occupational corporations," which would be responsible for establishing guidelines for what we now call "industrial relations." That way, he thought, people would be committed to clear norms regulating work relationships and anomie (and workplace conflict) could be avoided. American sociologist Robert Merton used the term more narrowly to refer to a situation where people's goals -- what they wanted to achieve -- were beyond their means. Their commitment to the goal was so strong that they would adopt deviant means to achieve it. He argued that American society -- perhaps more strongly than other capitalist societies -- held out the goal of personal wealth and success to all its citizens. It placed extremely high value on the attainment of wealth and high social status. Materialistic goals were so stressed in society, Merton argued, that those groups in society who did not believe in their chance of success through conventional avenues ( a good education, good job, good income, etc.), because they were poor or otherwise lacked opportunity, were induced toward unconventional routes to attain wealth -- including crime. The social norms against crime were sometimes too weakly implanted in individuals to restrain them from seeking to fulfill the value of economic success through criminal means. They wanted to win the game without regard to the rules. More recently, anomie has been used in a more individually-focussed way to talk about problems of immigrant youth when faced with a new culture or about the identity crises which often erupt during the age transition from youth to adult. Durkheim's use of the term -- "lack of social regulation" -- remains the standard definition.


Raynet Sociology Glossary (undated) defines anomie as:

A condition characterized by the absence or confusion of social norms or values in a society or group. According to Martindale (1960), anomie is the "strict counterpart of the idea of social solidarity. Just as social solidarity is a state of collective ideological integration, anomie is a state of confusion, insecurity, 'normalness'. The collective representations are in a state of decay."


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines anomie as:

A structural condition in which social norms are weak or conflicting.

and anomia as:

A condition of anxiety and confusion that exists in individuals who are not given clear social guidance through social norms.

and anomie theory as:

Robert K. Merton's theory of deviance which holds that many forms of deviance are caused by a disjunction between society's goals and the approved means to achieve these goals.


The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines anomie as:

For Durkheim, the social condition where individuals lack sufficient moral restraint so that they do not know what is expected of them. For Merton, a situation in which there is a serious disconnection between social structure and culture; between structurally created abilities of people to act in accord with cultural norms and goals and the norms and goals themselves. (Durkheim, structural functionalism)


Richard Schaefer (2017):

Anomie: Durkheim's term for the loss of direction felt in a society when social control of individual behavior has become ineffective.

Anomie theory of deviance: A theory developed by Robert Merton that explains deviance as an adaptation either of socially prescribed goals or of the norms governing their attainment, or both.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, ©Frank Elwell, last updated January 1998, page not available 20 December 2016.

Martindale, D., 1960, The Nature and Types of Sociological Theory (Boston: Houghton Mifflin)

McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , originally available at, accessed 14 May 2013, web page no longer available 12 December 2016.

Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences, 2002, Anomie, available at, copyright Robert Drislane, Ph.D. and Gary Parkinson, Ph.D, Athabasca University and ICAAP, last updated 2002, accessed 21 November 2019.

Raynet Sociology Glossary, undated, available at, no longer available 20 December 2016.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017, not found 29 May 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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