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A concept developed by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) 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 consensus over social regulation of the workplace. American sociologist Robert Merton (1910- ) 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-focused 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.

Last updated 2002--0-9-

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