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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).

Chapter

14. Sociological positivism  

Determined to predetermine

This chapter examines whether crime can be explained from a sociological perspective. Many sociological theories are positivist and argue that the behaviour of each individual is, to an extent, predetermined. This means that offenders are at least partially (often almost wholly) directed by forces outside the control of the individual. What sociological theorists generally suggest is that particular social or societal changes or factors may influence criminal behaviour. This chapter first describes three distinct types of sociological theories: social intervention or social process theories, social structural theories, and social conflict theories. It then considers key concepts in sociology, including socialisation, and the contribution of the Chicago school to the study of criminology, with particular emphasis on its social disorganisation theory. It also looks at the basic concepts of anomie, strain, subculture, and social learning in relation to crime and/or delinquency.

Chapter

This chapter discusses Robert Merton’s anomie theory, which indicated several possible forms of reaction by individuals who had suffered from the strain of being unable to attain society’s ultimate goal by the institutionalised means made available to them: typically, regular, productive work. For some, the reaction could involve engaging in deviant or criminal behaviour. Merton’s approach was adopted and modified by other sociologists and criminologists who were interested in studying the behaviour of groups—usually of young people—within a society, which deviate from or totally reject the views of the majority. Such groups are referred to by sociologists as subcultures. The use of the term ‘subculture’ has largely centred on juvenile delinquent gangs. This restriction is unfortunate because subculture is a sociological concept that has a wide application, and the relationship with the emotive topic of gangs has, in many ways, proved to be counterproductive.

Chapter

This chapter discusses Robert Merton’s anomie theory, which indicated several possible forms of reaction by individuals who had suffered from the strain of being unable to attain society’s ultimate goal by the institutionalised means made available to them: typically, regular, productive work. For some, the reaction could involve engaging in deviant or criminal behaviour. Merton’s approach was adopted and modified by other sociologists and criminologists, who were interested in studying the behaviour of groups—usually of young people—within a society, which deviate from or totally reject the views of the majority. Such groups are referred to by sociologists as subcultures. The use of the term ‘subculture’ has largely centred on juvenile delinquent gangs. This restriction is unfortunate because subculture is a sociological concept that has a wide application and the relationship with the emotive topic of gangs has, in many ways, proved to be counterproductive.