Anomie, Durkheim, and Merton on Crime as Social Phenomenon

Crime is not only a result of individual actions but also a social phenomenon deeply influenced by societal factors. Anomie theory, developed by Emile Durkheim and further expanded upon by Robert Merton, provides valuable insights into the social roots of crime and deviant behaviour.

Anomie theory: Anomie refers to a state of normlessness or a breakdown in social norms and values. Durkheim proposed that when individuals experience a sense of disconnection from societal norms, such as during times of rapid social change or economic instability, they become more prone to engage in deviant and criminal behaviour. Anomie theory highlights the significance of social integration and moral regulation in preventing crime.

Emile Durkheim: Durkheim, a prominent sociologist, emphasised the role of social factors in understanding crime. He argued that crime is not inherently pathological but rather a normal and necessary component of society. According to Durkheim, crime serves important social functions, such as reaffirming shared values and boundaries, promoting social solidarity, and prompting societal adaptation and change.

Robert Merton: Building upon Durkheim's ideas, Merton developed the strain theory, which examines the relationship between societal goals and the means available for individuals to achieve those goals. Merton suggested that when there is a disjunction between socially prescribed goals (such as financial success) and the legitimate means to attain them (such as education and employment opportunities), individuals may experience strain. This strain can lead to various adaptations, including conformity, innovation (criminal behaviour), ritualism, retreatism, or rebellion.

In summary, crime as a social phenomenon is explored through the lens of anomie theory, which emphasises the impact of societal factors on crime and deviance. Durkheim's work highlights the importance of social integration and moral regulation, while Merton's strain theory focuses on the disconnection between goals and means as a source of strain that contributes to criminal behaviour. Understanding crime from a social perspective allows us to analyse the broader societal structures and conditions that shape individuals' choices and actions.

Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
INSEAD
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham
ESSEC Business School

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law

    Terminology

    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory

    Exam-focused

    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.