What is the difference between Durkheim’s ‘anomie’ and Merton’s ‘strain’;

Introduction Anomie theory is distinctly out of fashion, perhaps permanently so in any explicit form, though there are distinct signs of a revival. Like functionalism, from which it derives, it has become a routine conceptual folly for students to demolish before moving on to more rewarding ground. 

The critical onslaught has been particularly fierce in the case of Robert Merton’s version of anomie theory, the turning-point being Clinard’s collection of critical essays on this theme in 1964. ‘ By contrast, Durkheim’s original statement of anomie as a source of deviant behaviour has received more sympathetic treatment, largely because Durkheim is so central a figure in sociological history and anomie is so central a concept in his thought. That is not the same thing, of course, as continuing to take it seriously. However, both Lukes and Horton, for example, discern in Durkheim’s conception of anomie a philosophical critique of capitalist society in relation to which Merton’s theory of anomie is at best confused and at worst ‘dehumanized’ 2 Other critics are prone to dismiss both as seriously defective: Douglas attacked the entire methodology on which Durkheim’s sociology rested; Rex views Merton’s central idea as `extraordinarily over-simplified’ and seeks to rescue the bulk of Durkheim’s sociology from its damaging association with the former’s use of anomie; in Clinard’s book, Lemert, Gagnon, and others dealt a seemingly terminal series of blows at both the theoretical and empirical weaknesses of the theory. By the 1970s, Paul Rock and Mary McIntosh could refer prosaically to the `exhaustion of the anomie tradition:; If only for its centrality to the sociological tradition of theorizing about deviance, however, anomie theory deserves recovery. Among its strengths are a focus on the implications for deviance of one of the defining features of capitalist societies, that is, the fostering of the propensity to consume irrespective of the material possibilities of such a course; a meta-theory which is capable of application to societies other than those of the capitalist world; and the capacity, never greatly elaborated upon since Durkheim’s day, of M. Clinard (ed. ), Anomie and 1)eviatit Behavior. S. Lukes, `Alienation and Anomie’; J. Horton, `The Dehumanisation of Alienation and Anomie’ J. Douglas, The Social Meanings of Suicide, 1. Rex, Discovering Sociology, 234ff.; Clinard, Anomie and Deviant Behavior, and P. Rock and M. McIntosh (eds. ), Deviance and Social Control, P. xi. 90 ANOMIE addressing the conditions that may suffice to determine the breakdown of social order. ‘ So powerful a theory cannot be disregarded. It was something of a sociological counterpart to the cosmological Big Bang, and its effects have been both diffuse and lingering. Anomie theory was at first thought to be so compelling that it was subject to unusually sustained elaboration. After Durkheim and Merton, there followed Cloward and Ohlin, Spergel, Downes, and others working in a kind of tacit co-operation that appears only rarely in sociology. Much of the theory was never fully developed, but it has been expanded to become one of the most ambitious single attempts to explain deviance. (We shall pursue the application of that attempt to deviant subcultures in the next chapter. ) Anomie theory was under cultivation at a time of energetic social engineering in the United States and it was appropriated to give intellectual coherence and legitimacy to Mobilization for Youth. ‘ It thereby became one of the few well-documented instances of the sociology of crime and deviance achieving a major (albeit retroactive) impact on policy formation. Thirdly, it may be remarked that sociologists have not yet proved able to relinquish such a pivotal part of their thought. However much they may have protested about anomie theory, it has been reincarnated again and again.

 It has an anonymous presence in Jock Young’s essay in labelling theory, The Drugtakers, and appears under its own name as one of the principal themes in his account of the making of left realism in the iy8os. ‘ It is the invisible prop to the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies’ radical work on class, youth, and deviance in Britain. Indeed, just as Karl Mannheim was called the bourgeois Marxist, so Hall, Clarke, and Hebdige of Birmingham could be labelled the radical anomie theorists. Extensive echoes of the Big Bang will be discerned in any sensitive reading of the contemporary sociology of crime and deviance. Durkheim’s Theory of Anomie There are two distinct usages of anomie in Durkheim. Lukes restates them as follows: In the `Division of Labour in Society; it [anomie] characterizes the pathological state of the economy, `this sphere of collective life which is in large part freed from the moderating action of [moral ] regulation, where `latent or active, the state of war is necessarily chronic’ and `each individual finds himself in a state of war with every other. In `Suicide; it is used to characterize a Though see, in particular, P. Berger and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality, and K. Erikson, In The Wake of the Flood. See Mobilization for Youth, A Proposal for the Prevention and Control of Delinquency by Expanding Opportunities. It is interesting that an even earlier headstart experiment has recently been claimed to have had a marked impact on the future lives of its participants. The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study was launched in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 1962 with 123 3- and 4-year-old children from poor families. Data were collected annually for the first eight years and then as the children attained the ages of 14,15,19,27, and, finally, 40. There appears to have been a lasting effect: more of the participants had jobs than their controls (76% compared with 62%); they earned more; and they committed less violent, drug-related, and property crime. Fewer went to prison, although the figures for both groups were high (28% versus 52°’o ). See The New York Times, 21 November 2004- ‘ See J. Young, `Left Realist Criminology.

 He was to say later that `the Mertonian notion of contradiction between culture and structure … has run throughout all my work, from The Drugtakers onwards’ (‘Crime and the Dialectics of Inclusion/Exclusion, 553)” ANOMIE 1 91 the pathological mental state of the individual who is insufficiently regulated by society and suffers from `the malady of infinite aspiration’ …. It is accompanied by `weariness, `disillusionment, `disturbance, agitation and discontent, `anger’ and `an irritated disgust with life: In extreme cases this condition leads a man to commit suicide and homicide. ‘ As this passage makes clear, a shift is already under way from anomie conceived of as a constant property of industrial society, to anomie as a variable with social-psychological implications. It is by no means the case, as Davis, for example, asserts, that this process originated with Merton’s later adaptation of the concept. ‘ Durkheim’s conception of anomie must be set in the context of his theory of social evolution. In his first use of the concept, it is in the transition of society from mechanical to organic solidarity that the division of labour assumes an anomic form. In the former state, the division of labour is minimal, and the term `mechanical’ is paradoxically employed to refer to the uniformity of consciousness in the simplest societies.

 A single normative system holds absolute sway. In the latter, it is assumed that (for no society has yet attained this state) the division of labour, though highly differentiated, has generated mediating institutions that assure social cohesion despite marked moral diversity. In the transition, however, anomie results from the rapid growth of the economy without a corresponding growth in the forces that could regulate it. `Sheerly economic regulation is not enough … there should be moral regulation, moral rules which specify the rights and obligations of individuals in a given occupation in relation to those in other occupations’-‘occupational groups’ were somehow to be the source of this control. ‘ A prerequisite is for the division of labour to assume a `spontaneous’ form, that is, individuals must be able to fill occupational positions which accord with their talents and which, therefore, they will accept as legitimate. This cannot prevail where the class system (or, presumably, any other form of stratification) inhibits the chances of large numbers of people attaining positions that fit their abilities. 

Such a `forced’ division of labour can only be abolished if all `external’ inequalities are ended, such as the hereditary transmission of property. It is in this sense that Taylor, Walton, and Young refer to Durkheim as a `biological meritocrat, for he assumes an ideal correspondence is possible between `internal’ qualities and social position. ” `Labour is divided spontaneously only if society is constituted in such a way that social inequalities exactly express natural inequalities. “‘ Anomie, then, is the peculiar disease of modern industrial man (and woman), for it is accepted as `normal, a mark of moral distinction, it being everlastingly repeated that it is man’s nature to be eternally dissatisfied, constantly to advance, without relief or rest, towards an indefinite goal’ Religion, governmental power over the economy and occupational groups have lost their moral sway.