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Understanding DevianceA Guide to the Sociology of Crime and Rule-Breaking

Understanding Deviance: A Guide to the Sociology of Crime and Rule-Breaking (7th edn)

David Downes, Paul Rock, and Eugene McLaughlin
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date: 24 June 2024

p. 895. Anomie and Strain Theorylocked

p. 895. Anomie and Strain Theorylocked

  • David Downes, David DownesEmeritus Professor, London School of Economics
  • Paul RockPaul RockEmeritus Professor, London School of Economics
  •  and Eugene McLaughlinEugene McLaughlinProfessor of Criminology, City University


This chapter examines the role of anomie theory in the sociology of crime and deviance. It begins by discussing Émile Durkheim’s theory of anomie before turning to Robert Merton’s Americanization of anomie, and how sociologists adapted the basic Mertonian schema and modes of adaptation, such as innovation, to explain rising rates of crime under conditions of growing prosperity but persistent inequality. It then considers the contribution of anomie to the development of post-war theories of strain, as well as the questions raised by anomie theory, particularly as the underlying concern in theories of crime, modernization, and development. It also looks at the decline in social capital that has raised concerns about the pace and direction of social and economic change, citing two major works: Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone (2000) and Richard Sennett’s The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (1998).

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