Anomie: Definition, Theory & Examples

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  • 0:02 Definition of Anomie
  • 1:32 Examples
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Learn what constitutes the concept of anomie. You will review anomie theory and examine several examples. Upon completion, you will have a thorough understanding of what constitutes anomie theory in criminal justice.

Definition of Anomie

The idea of anomie means the lack of normal ethical or social standards. This concept first emerged in 1893, when French sociologist Emile Durkheim published his book entitled, The Division of Labor in Society. In this book, Durkheim indicated that the rules of how individuals interact with one another were disintegrating and therefore people were unable to determine how to act with one another. As a consequence, Durkheim believed that anomie was a state where the expectations of behavior are unclear, and the system has broken down. This is known as normlessness. Durkheim claimed that this normlessness caused deviant behaviors, and later, as claimed in his 1897 work, Suicide, depression and suicide.

Durkheim's theory was based upon the idea that the lack of rules and clarity resulted in psychological status of worthlessness, frustration, lack of purpose, and despair. In addition, since there is no idea of what is considered desirable, to strive for anything would be futile.

In criminology, the idea of anomie is that the person chooses criminal activity because the individual believes that there is no reason not to. In other words, the person is alienated, feels worthless and that their efforts to try and achieve anything else are fruitless. Therefore, with lack of any foreseeable alternative, the person falls into criminal activity.


When applying Durkheim's theory, one could conceive of an example where the theory would apply. For instance, imagine a poor, inner-city teen with no access to job training or college. Crime pervaded the child's world from birth; all of the child's siblings were in a gang and served time in juvenile detention. The parents were uninvolved and had criminal histories. The teen, now an adult, was chronically unemployed and felt worthless, with no direction or sense of purpose. The teen became involved in crime as an outlet, because he felt that there were no other options; to try to achieve a higher purpose would be a waste of time.

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Additional Activities

Writing Prompts About Anomie

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay that details the history of the concept of anomie, being sure to begin by defining anomie. Tip: Be sure to explain the importance of the work of Emile Durkheim, as well as describe the role of normlessness in fostering anomie.

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay of at least three to five paragraphs that explains the types of feelings and emotions associated with anomie.

Example: Hopelessness is a key ingredient to anomie.

Essay Prompt 3:

Write an essay of at least three to five paragraphs that explains the link between anomie and criminal behavior. Tip: Refer to the examples provided in the lesson.

Scenario Prompt 1:

Write up a scenario that portrays an example of anomie. Be sure your scenario includes the causes and the effects of anomie. Think in terms of your scenario being adapted into a play or movie.

Example: John grew up in a war zone where he witnessed senseless killings and bombings. He witnessed members of his family being murdered, and those who survived exhibited symptoms of major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other survivors close to him became drug addicts. John had to drop out of high school due to the violence, and was often hungry and exhausted. Disillusioned, he frequently contemplated suicide, and when he was old enough, he bought a gun and began to unleash violence and terror on those around him.

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