Durkheim: the function of crime and anomie
• Published a book called the “division of labor in society”. He argues that social solidarity-social groups
working together towards agreed upon goal were essential characteristics of human societies. Agreed upon
goals lead to social norms. Without norms to guide us, society functions very poorly. Such “ normlessness”
or anomie occurs during periods of rapid changes when social solidarity or social cohesion is reduces. The
lack of sense of community and collective conscience leads to breakdown in society and increase in suicide
and crime rates. He also argues that every society needs some quota of deviant behavior/crime.
Durkheim: Anomie and normlessness:
• Anomie: a term that was devised by Emily Durkheim, which is used to describe an absence of clear
societal norms and values. Robert Merton used that term more narrowly to refer to a situate in which people
would adopt deviant means to achieve goals that are beyond their means.
• So based on Durkheim, anomie is the breakdown of social cohesion and social control mechanisms in a
society. No regulation or un-adequate surveillance of these rules results in deviance. It is basically a
condition in which people’s desires self-interests are no longer governed and controlled by society and a
sense of “ normlessness” is created.
• Over all, Durkheim’s anomie theory emphasized social cohesion and the social restraints that prevented
crime. Greater individualism▯lack of social cohesion▯suicide and crimes.
Martin: the gap between aspirations and means.
• For Merton, crime is caused by a gap between culturally prescribed aspirations (goals that it encourages
its member to pursues like theAmerican dream) & socially structured means of reaching those aspirations.
• InAmerican society, the goal of economic success was held out to all. However, some people did not have
access to legitimate means of achieving this success. The resulting strain (not having the access to
achieving goal) caused some to turn to illegitimate means of reaching the goal. Not only society is anomic
but the individual is as well.
• Micro anomie: where an individual places more values on self-interest those on collectives’ values. Study
has found that student favoring self-enhancing values over self-transcending values (group values such as
welfare of other, tolerance etc.) were more likely to report criminal behavior (note: self enhancing values
are high and self transcending values are very low).
• Access to legitimate means (education, good jobs) is difficult for poor children or lower class, so they will
have the highest rates of deviance. But thisArgument may also apply to upper-class crimes where
executives feel pressure to attain great wealth but can’t find means to do so.
Strain as a feature of society (rather then individual):
• Bernard argued that it is not correct to classify strain as a individualistic and psychological phenomena;
rather it is a property of social structure.
• Based on Merton’s theory, legitimate opportunities to achieve those monetary goals were unevenly
distributed; instrumental crimes would be unevenly distributed as well.
• Structural factors: in society where there are many blocked opportunities for success (structural issues),
regardless of what the cultural factors are (i.e. don’t steal is valued by culture), crime will happen.
• If the culture emphasizes the ruthless pursuit of wealth, then even if there are equal opportunity, crime will
be widespread (USA)
• Messner & Rosenfeld presented an “institutional anomie” theory that explained the high levels of crime in
American society by pointing to “theAmerican Dream,” which they described as a commitment to the goal
of material success, to be pursued by everyone in society and but theAmerican dream places a weak
restraint on the means to achieve it.
• It DIRECTLY encourages people to use illegal means to achieve approved goals. The main institution it
focuses on is WEALT H and it dominates all others and it create greater potential crimes (Indirect effect on
crime because of this)
• It further increases crime, because companies have now stated to disregard the production aspect (i.e. the
people that are involved in the business) and more focus on the financial (money). Money is more
important everything else is secondary. • The example of disregard for other and the weak constraints on the means of achieving wealth is seen in the
cases of Conrad black, Edgar Bronfman (money laundering/fraud), Most of the people in the upper class are
even though might be convicted (very unlikely) they might be released quickly again. Today these white-
collar criminals are able to steal even faster.
• The recession we saw was because of these big guys frauds etc. and they end up not even being effected by
it at all.
• Saying by the lawmaker to crack down on these powerful guys are often not followed through. Thus
Responding to opportunistic crimes of the powerful:
• Courts and watchdog agency can be involved to give tougher sentences to that white collar who do commit
these crimes and thus make them rethink their decisions.
• For example, the three watchdogs, Karen, Mary and Christiane d not do anything even though they are
created for the purpose of keeping the white-collar crimes in check.
• NA produces a lot more serious crimes because institution balance f the power leans to wards economic
institutions because they believe that free enterprise can do no wrong ( thus this created even more
opportunities for unethical behavior)
• Some US policies have tougher policies for street criminals and more lenient on people in financial sectors.
Often the law that have the interest of the government are passed.
Reducing crime by changing the behavior of the elite:
• Author suggest reduction of unethical behavior by corporate executes can lead to reduction ofALL crimes
even street crimes.
• Many people thing corporate crimes are few and that these crimes are different from normal crimes, but
that's not true..
• The morality curve: it lumps all immoral acts together. The skewed part of the dashed line ( what we
think if unethical people were distinct from the rest of populations) is to the left which represents the not so
nasty crimes are more, as compare to the very nasty (bump of the right side) which are less frequent. Many
people thing that the corporate crimes are NOT part of the small nasty bump on the right. This leads us to
believe that we can punish the really bad ones (the non-criminals) and be ok.
• But this is NOT good. The solid line represents what we need to do in reality. To be able to more the curve
to the left, and to do that we need to attach these MORE frequent acts as well and that includes the
• Thus legislation must focus on these more frequent.
Generalizing Merton’s strain theory to other cultures:
• Brilliant scholar who is poor does not have the “face” value in Chinese culture as compare to the one who
earns money from it. Thus there is pressure to cheat. These cheating professors then will become role model
for other▯thus further increasing unethical behavior▯moving the cure to the RIGHT (bad).
• Good and honest professor on the other hand▯ become role model for good student▯ move the curve to the
• Thus the above argument shows us