Anomie and social deviance: an analysis from Merton’s theory.

The theory of anomie, developed within the framework of functionalist currents by figures such as Robert King Merton and influenced by Emile Durkheim, offers a critical perspective on social dynamics and deviation. This theory stands out for its focus on social structure and its operation, moving away from clinical interpretations of crime as a mere anomaly. Instead, it suggests that deviation is a symptom of a deeper dissociation between cultural goals and the institutionalized means available to achieve them.

According to Merton, society is envisioned as an articulated organism where collective well-being depends on the harmony between shared values and the rules of coexistence. However, anomie arises in scenarios where the state fails to maintain this cohesion, triggering social dysfunctions. This state of anomie is characterized by a loss of order and cohesion, especially evident in crisis situations, such as those experienced in Haiti in 2008 or New Orleans in 2005, where the disappearance of social norms led to an increase in crime and disorganization.

Anomie as Cultural Conflict

Merton introduces anomie as a conflict between cultural aspirations and the means to achieve them. This tension between society’s valued goals (status, power, wealth) and the legitimate paths to achieve them (education, employment) can result in various forms of adaptation or deviation. He identifies five modes of individual adaptation:

  1. Conformity: Acceptance of goals and means.
  2. Innovation: Acceptance of goals, but rejection of institutional means.
  3. Ritualism: Abandonment of goals, but adherence to means.
  4. Retreatism: Rejection of both goals and means.
  5. Rebellion: Rejection of existing goals and means in search of new ones.

Innovation and rebellion are particularly relevant in analyzing the dynamics of deviation and crime, suggesting that responses to anomie can range from adaptation to the active transformation of the social order.

Criminal Subcultures and Inequality

The unequal distribution of legitimate opportunities and the emergence of criminal subcultures as mechanisms of adaptation reflect the depth of the cultural conflict inherent in anomie. These subcultures not only challenge the dominant value system but also highlight the system’s failure to provide accessible and equitable means for achieving social goals. As Alessandro Baratta points out, both the theory of anomie and that of criminal subcultures emphasize the relativization of values and norms sanctioned by criminal law in the face of complex and often unequal social realities.

Towards Inclusive Social Solutions

Responding to the challenge of anomie and deviation is neither simple nor immediate, but essentially involves investing in social capital to mitigate inequalities and expand opportunities for everyone. This implies a commitment to quality education, health, equity in income distribution, and a criminal justice system that favors alternative sentences, decriminalization, and conflict mediation.

These solutions require firm political will and a long-term commitment to restoring social cohesion, public peace, and harmony of coexistence. Only then can we effectively address the roots of anomie and promote a more just and equitable society.