Essay on Durkheim 's Theory Of Anomie



To understand the analysis of one of Durkheim’s core concepts, anomie, one must understand his theoretical views. Durkheim is described as a non-rational, collectivist. He placed great emphasis on “collective conscience”, which is defined as the “totality of beliefs and sentiment common to average citizens of the same society…forms a determinate system which has its own life”. Instead of focusing on individuals who share different beliefs or traditions, he focused on those systems in place because “…they pass on, and it remains,” this is called “social facts”. (ch. 3, pg. 211) Many claimed Durkheim overlooked an individual’s role in society, and his ideals made it seem as if people only live for the function of society. These claims are considered false due to the fact that Durkheim recognized that individuals have their own free will. At the same time, modern society encouraged individualism which proved to cause negative effects because people feel as if they have to choose to compete in society. In one of Durkheim’s most famous work, Suicide (1897), he studied the social reasons for suicide versus the psychological reasons. Durkheim analyzed the suicide rates across different societies and time periods throughout history. He concluded that suicide is, in fact, rooted in social systems. 

The main characteristics of society Durkheim noticed were: “weakened social ties, within a social group and weakened moral regulation”. (ch. 3, pg. 247) Along with the characteristics described, there two terms that go along with them: egoism and anomie. Egoism is referred to as an “individual’s lack of integration into a social group.” Anomie is described as “a state of moral disorder, or weakness of moral regulation.” (ch. 3, pg. 249) Durkheim believed that both terms are recurring in modern society, and when it becomes extreme, they eventually result in suicide. Durkheim gives an example in Suicide (1897): “In Vienna, in 1873 a financial crisis occurred which reached its height in 1874; the number of suicides immediately rose. From 141 in 1872, they rose to 153 in 1873 and 216 in 1874. The increase in 1874 is 53 per cent above 1872 and 41 per cent above 1873. What proves this catastrophe to have been the sole cause of the increase is the special prominence of the increase when the crisis was acute, or during the first four months of 1874.” (Suicide p. 2) 

Anomic suicide is driven by a “lack of moral direction,” which causes an individual to struggle with their identity or sense of purpose. Durkheim’s definition of anomic suicide is as followed: “But society is not only something attracting the sentiments and activities of individuals with unequal force. It is also a power controlling them. There is a relation between the way this regulative action is performed and the social suicide- rate.” (ch. 3, pg. 253) There are two main causes of anomie: severe increasing division of labor and rapid social change in an individual’s life, whether good or bad. For example, failing a class or graduating from college, can cause a state of anomie. Even though the social change from graduating college is considered a positive event, one may feel lost or unsure what the next step is in their life. The sudden shift in one’s life is the catalyst for an anomic state. When one graduates after going to school for their whole life, a sense of identity is lost since it is not centered around being a student. One may not know how to fully act like an adult or do adult things. 

In today’s society we see anomie present itself in several different cultures across the world. Mainly individuals apart of strict traditional or religious groups feel the effects of anomie the most because they are more likely to stand out if they do not follow rules or traditions. Another example in American society that produced a nationwide state of anomie was The Great Depression. As people began to lose their money, and jobs, they also lost their will to live and felt like there was nothing left to do. Those that seek approval from the outside world, whether its family or society, and fail also are likely to induce a state of anomie. As Durkheim said, anomie and egoism are “chronic” within society, which will create a never ending cycle in modern day society.