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Anomie’s criminological theoretical framework

Criminological Theory


Classical criminology was founded or designed to provide a philosophical, rational, and much-needed logical alternative to the once-arbitrary, abusive, and cruel justice systems from across the globe. Through a variety of criminological perspectives or theoretical frameworks, individual criminal justice officials can identify and gain a deeper understanding of what constitutes a given criminal behaviour (Hang, 2010). Criminological theories go a long way in explaining reasons for identifying with asocial behavior, such as theft and related crimes. In other words, these viewpoints operate from the concept of choice, meaning every person has the ability necessary for choosing to violate or follow the already established ethics and laws in their respective society. Consequently, this paper briefly describes the anomie theory and explains how it affects criminal behavior.

Anomie Theory and Individual Decision

Anomie’s criminological theoretical framework argues that the gap between the society’s cultural goals and the structural means used or followed to realize any of the purposes play a leading role in causing crime. In particular, the premises of the anomie theory include means and goals because any society member is under great pressure to succeed in one way or the other (Hang, 2010). According to the anomie theory, people tend to engage in what criminologists call thoughtful reflective decision making (TRDM), which presents them with the opportunity to gather and analyze information regarding their socioeconomic status, in addition to learning of existing and alternative solutions to their problems.

Through TRDM, a person weighs the options of doing right and wrong. Based on this framework, the anomie perspective states that a person who sees himself or herself as disadvantaged is least likely to climb up the SES ladder because of the strain witnessed between the to-be-achieved goals and the possible means for attaining them (University of Glasgow, 2016). Due to frustration, guilt, and resentment, the person realizes that the only way to achieve their goals is through illegitimate means, which is a crime. In this respect, the anomie theory suggests that an individual engages in criminal behavior because they lack the power to control external or social rewards them through crime.

Anomie Theory and Criminal Justice System/Officials

In addition to explaining why a person decides to be a criminal, the anomie theory has and continues to help criminal justice officials to understand different forms of criminal behaviors. First, the theory acknowledges and appreciates the existence of the law, which not only governs human behavior but also plays a central role in prohibiting and punishing crime (Jordan, King, & Yang, n.d.). While a wide range of sociological factors can commingle to force a person into criminal activities, the theory in question assumes that crime revolves around free will, general deterrence, and perceptual deterrence. Despite the pressure and stumbling blocks on a person’s way to success, crime should never be justified because people who engage in criminal behavior do so out of their own volition, citing the difficulty involved in being successful.

The anomie theory creates room for viewing criminal behavior from a broad range of viewpoints. In particular, a person is most likely to commit crime after having reasoned with himself or herself. Humans are rational, which means that they choose when to make the right or wrong decisions (McAra, 2017; Hang, 2010).  By understanding the difference between wrongs and rights, many refuse criminal behaviors because of general deterrence. In essence, a person decides not to commit crime because doing so is punishable by imprisonment or fine. On the same note, others resit or associate with corruption because of their perceptions, commonly known as perceptual deterrence. When a person understands a given crime would not involve severe punishment, he or she may choose to engage in it. The anomie theory provides criminal justice officials insight into intrinsic and extrinsic sources of criminal behavior.


Hang, F. (2010). Introduction to criminology: Theories, method, and criminal behavior. SAGE.

Jordan, E., King, G., Yang, L. (n.d.). Elite deviance and white-collar crime.

McAra, L. (2017). Can criminologists change the world? Reflections on politics, performance, and effects of criminal justice. The British Journal of Criminology, 57(4), 767-788. University of Glasgow (2016). Theories and causes of crime.

Anomie Theory and Decision-Making

The anomie theory serves as one of the sociological frameworks for explaining the root causes of different forms of deviant behaviors in society (Bernburg, 2019). The approach provides criminologists and society members the much-needed insight into gaining a deeper understanding of deviance as it places great emphasis on social structures, as well as patterns that emerge when people react or respond to conditions, which they have little to no control over (McAra, 2017). In particular, the anomie theory seeks to answer the question of how the social structure plays a role in constraining desired behavior and causing deviance. While most of the criminal actions are generally seen as person-centered or individualistic acts, the founder of anomie and strain theories, Emile Durkheim, commonly known as the father of socially, argue that specific characteristics or features of societies influence a person’s decision to engage in crime. In other words, social structures go a long way in compelling individuals to commit a crime, independent of their absolute desire to do so.

The anomie theory provides that crime remains inextricably linked to the amount or level of regulation witnessed or exercised over people in a given society, in addition to the unity aspect of groups. The factors for a person’s decision to commit crime do include not only social integration but also social change. In this respect, as a community witness or undergoes rapid changes, the anomie state becomes the byproduct because norms are unclear (Hang, 2010). Anomie refers to a state characterized by normlessness in which society fails or lacks the much-needed capacity to regulate behavior, as well as its members’ expectations. In essence, anomie results when people’s aspirations are not controlled, which means they develop rapidly, surpassing individuals’ ability to fulfill them.

According to the anomie theory, no living being, especially human beings, can be happy unless their fundamental and other needs are met by ensuring each need is sufficiently proportionate to the being’s means. As mentioned earlier, this implies that society holds a great deal of moral power over its members as it remains tasked with the responsibility of moderating and limiting expectations and passions, respectively. A typical case in point identified and discussed by Durkheim involves the fact that some countries tend to have high suicide rates as opposed to others (Merton, 2017). In Durkheim’s view, when there is a significant breakdown in any of the social regulations that govern personal goals, individual aspirations tend to be unlimited; thus, stressors set in, forcing some vulnerable groups to enter into depression and eventually decide to commit suicide. Concisely, the anomie theory explains people’s decision to invest a variety of crimes by determining whether individuals in society are discontented with their positions, which refers to a person’s inability to achieve what they aspire.

Criminal Actions: Example, Relationship, and Effect

One of the illegal actions is of great concern the present-day society is extensive elective plastic surgeries and associated eating disorders. The anomie theory applies to the rapidly developing and widespread normative expectations for what constitutes physical attractiveness. In the United States (US), for instance, young women are struggling to conform to what they perceive to be an ideal type of female beauty because the media and other platforms are increasingly perpetuating a single standard for viewing who is beautiful. One of the traits that the media outlets continue to idealize is that beauty revolves around being thin. For instance, fashion models pictured or shown in magazines and cat walking in runways are not only tall but also extremely thin. Undoubtedly, these models spend the better part their days being prepared by makeup artists, as well as the best photographers. Consequently, their photos, which are displayed in print and digital media, are photoshopped and airbrushed, meaning the already beautiful are portrayed or presented to be perfect.

The pervasive nature of the perceived-to-be ideal beauty in US media and beyond is fat exposing young women, as well as men, to unrealistic expectations regarding what it takes to look beautiful in the 21st century. This group of society members remains glued to network television networks, especially those that glorify means by which a young person can improve their looks either through eating healthy and plastic surgery (Merton, 2017). Given the trend, the anomie theorists would argue that American society has so failed to exercise its authority over regulating its members’ expectations when it comes to physical attractiveness. Thus, with young people engaging in deviant acts, such as securing extensive elective plastic surgery, as well as participating in hazardous eating disorders.

Anomie Theory and Crime Data

Available literature shows that the anomie theory has implications for research or studies on crime rate differences witnessed between individuals, societies, and groups. Findings from such research have linked different forms of crime with rapid social change, economic inequality market-driven values and associated processes, material values, as well as institutional dominance. For instance, a recent report by Curtin and Heron (2019) for CDC has demonstrated that disadvantaged people, especially children from low-income families, are most likely to commit suicide and engage in other forms of deviant behaviors, including theft. For instance, between 2000 and 2017, suicide rates among young people in the US rose by 3.8 percent. At the same time, the differences in corporate crimes, such as bribery, have been associated with the social structures, which deny potential employees to secure jobs they aspire to achieve. Therefore, the anomie theory has formed the basis for crime prevention as it allows criminologists and other players to understand and address the leading causes of given criminal behaviors in society.  


Bernburg, J. (2019). Anomie theory. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology.

Curtin, S. & Heron, M. (2019). Death rates due to suicide and homicide among persons aged 10-24: United States, 2000-2017. NCHS Data Brief No. 352.

Hang, F. (2010). Introduction to criminology: Theories, method, and criminal behavior. SAGE Publications, Inc.

McAra, L. (2017). Can criminologists change the world? Reflections on politics, performance, and effects of criminal justice. The British Journal of Criminology, 57(4), 767-788. Merton, R. (2017). Perspectives on deviance and social contr

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