On Anomie

Any set of theories comprises a collection of final writeups generated from smaller writeups, and memos, that are sorted by an interplay of cognitive-motor interaction. Herein, “sorted” refers to grounded theory (GT) sorts (Glaser, 2014, pp. 73-97). So, when asked to examine theories relating to deviance, I took these on as I take on a sorting of memos. While one may rely on conventional sociological perspectives, whereupon theories have been coded into “positivist” or “constructionist”, I thought that this approach had been already well explored, and the resulting integration by Thio et al. (2018) seems sound. I could not shake the idea that anomie was critical in understanding sociology and deviancy. After reading that Merton (1938) excuses his own use of economic activities as “primary” (p. 676), I feel dumbstruck by claims that strain theory falls short because juvenile gang behavior “doesn’t do them any economic good” (Thio et al., 2018, p. 20). I had done quite extensive digging on anomie in a short amount of time, considering some writings by Durkheim and others, but a curious thing happened soon after. I had come across a thesis by Max Coleman (2014) which detailed anomie conceptually rather than descriptively—the sociological field struggles with anomie greatly (pp. 6-8).

Merton’s paper was released in the midst of a massive recession where Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped 10% with unemployment at 20% (Waiwood, 2013). Merton used economics most likely because it was expedient, relatable, at hand, and a tremendous topic of conversation for many in his audience (i.e., it’s more easily measurable both observationally, and experimentally). Examples in sociology serve as interchangeable indicators. After this, when reviewing the remaining theories, there was a pre-cognitive attempts, to answer a few questions, though the words had not yet fully incubated: Did these theories impact society? How would one measure these impacts? How did these impacts interfere in society? How would one measure these interferences? Is there a dimension of interference that is beneficial or harmful?

Before answering these questions, the next question is clearly is economic, what question is most valuable? Of these questions, which question is the most valuable to answer… first? What’s more valuable, I feel, is to look at the questions themselves. Glaser (2017) highly recommends writing conceptually, not descriptively (pp. 1-11), so what concepts are in the questions generated from reviewing Thio et al’s presentation of theories? Upon stepping back, the questions reveal saturation in four key areas: 1) there is theory, 2) theory-impact, 3) theory-impact-interference, and 4) benefit/harm, which are derivatives of said impact. To unpack the “utilitarian” calculus (Merton, 1938, p. 672), one could calculate slopes resulting from social interference patterns because of theory-impact, and from there potentially predict value generation; enter Meta. It is not surprising that deviance is a measure used in the study of distributions, and here in these theories, it is deviance that is a topic of main concern. I do not find these unrelated, but serendipitously coincidental, because it’s the concept that’s important, revealed through analysis (i.e., ethnography). So, in terms of deviances, a new question arrived, “what are the core categories across which deviancy as a result of theory-impact-interference could be measured?” 

Before moving onto a potential theory-impact-interference-topology (i.e., social network analysis [Linton, 2004]), a calculus of theory-impact-interference-vectors may be integrated by differentiation of present-core deviancies, as a demographic of deviancies change in response to Durkheim’s proposal of that which leads to anomie, and Merton’s proposal of strain. A short assessment of the theories presented is offered to a field—“conformity is by implication the result of an utilitarian calculus or unreasoned conditioning” (Merton, 1938. p. 672).

The modeling of relations of core categories of theories strengthens and weakens the observation in details of said relations (e.g., resolution): observed, reacted to, and responded to. This strengthening and weakening of observation is empowered by the scientific method itself along with social activity. As is said more recently in American politics, “elections have consequences”. Cognitive election to raise theoretical understanding to a foreground more reasoned, implies a background less reasoned, and while not a zero-sum game, this relationship approaches, but does not quite reach, zero-sum in relations (i.e., calculus); the entirety of the field of life (i.e., society) moves across time. This is the fundamental premise of theory-impact-interference in society, where theory itself is serves as schemata is repeating reproduction in society (Bartlett, 1932). Sociologists in the field may yet realize their desired impacts of sociology as action (Witt, 2018, p. 20). The theories themselves serve as focal-steerer, where the prefrontal cortex filters out noise to focus on signal (Nakajima, Schmitt, & Halassa, 2019, p. 456). Theory steering movements are serving both as model and conditioner of culture throughout communities transmitting and receiving theory. In this way, deviancy is at work. Every nuance of strain theory (Merton, 1938) to feminist theory (Daly, 1998) seems at play.

Strain theory is functionalized by structural “pressure” leading to non-conforming behavior (Merton, 1938, p. 672). Differential association theory’s use of differential social organization (Sutherland & Cressey, 1977, pp. 75-77) does what mathematics does best, it differentiates Merton’s pressures of structure by suggesting environments as influential. Hirschi’s control theory (1969) saw another force at play, that of attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief bonds between individual and society, differentiating this bonding (pp. 16-26). Braithwaite’s shaming theory brings another force, that of disintegrative and integrative shaming (Braithwaite, 1989, pp. 55-56), reminiscent of positive punishment of behaviorism set against positive reinforcements resulting from bonds (Skinner, 1938). Labeling theory offers the very concept of deviancy, linguistically, affixed to and adopted by individuals leads to changes in behavior (Becker, 1963). Katz’s (1988) phenomenological theory turns toward positive reinforcements and sought rewards of deviancy (pp. 3-5). Quinney’s (1975) conflict theory recognizes changing class struggles and conflicts constructive to deviancy (pp. 37-41). Daly’s 1998) feminist theory calls out differences in “patterns and trends” and “qualities of offenses” between genders in lawbreaking (pp. 85-108). 

Before moving further, it may be worthy to re-consider strain theory, because when one resorts these theories conceptually, a new pattern emerges: these theories are BSP’s and include solutions to problems (BSP; Glaser, 1978, pp. 100-115). If one breaks with respect ot each theory, the BSP’s problem from the BSP’s solutions, one realizes that the positivist and constructionist “labels” (yep, deviancy’s BSP’s applies in scientific endeavors too), seem more apt in light of solution, but less apt in form of problem. While some of the theories present more problem than solution, some theories early did not offer a road through destraint—strain theory itself does not offer a road to free the strained—strain theory is a shadow of an intuition to destrain, and through its broad categories these roads are categorized, but not operationalized (e.g., conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion [Merton, 1938, pp. 676-678]). The field of sociology is itself serving up facts—social facts—facts which Durkheim asserts exercises social control (Durkheim, 1895, pp. 43-44). What’s more controlling than many of the realities behind recognized labels of social-forces as social-facts that sociological theories that have entered the mainstream?

Considering a psychological perspective, deviancy can be approached by top-down (i.e., culture) or bottom-up (i.e., stimulus) processing. In this, control simply means, conceptually, rather than descriptively, control means “to roll against” (i.e., “to measure”). Measurement effects the outcome because measurement makes the object of measure more impressing, by the measuring effort’s additional energy contributing to amplifying that which is measured more visible, cognitively (i.e., signal-to-noise ratio; e.g., glasses, microscopes, telescopes, rulers, counters, calculators, computers etc.). Would Marx’s boom-bust-boom-bust cycle (Sherman, 1967) have been smoother, had the problems and solutions in BSP’s of sociologists been more clearly sorted and evidenced as it appears that Daly seems to touch on?

When looking around, innovation is a mantra in investment circles, business schools, and management. Ritualism, I would interpret, as repeating efforts in recreating signs and symbols of remaining relics of past rebellions (a distribution of relics skewed across time) that in some cases left society’s greater people’s freedom to navigate toward greater meanings in their lives, whereas retreatism is the avoidance of repetition, yet without going all the way to bright of rebellion. Considering the research question, and saturated indicator of theory-impact-interference, it is apparent, that interference has occurred. The artifacts of these theories are in government laws, regulations, and policies, including business versions of these. Warrior narratives (Jordan & Cowan, 2007) recall behaviors I have been in and around in technology startup cultures; the very use of the word “narrative” is at play in many parts of society. Knowledge cross pollinates, and as I’ve learned in data science through Providence St. Joseph Health, there is a business aphorism in analytics departments there: “do not weaponize the data” (M. Mills, personal communication 2018)—boom! [Bust.]

If we are going to live truly in and amongst a multi-cultural society, then anomie as served is a social-fact, and the control or regulation of it is a social-act. Perhaps sociologists and the field of sociology, in its continued explorations, may offer the world something beyond its past BSP’s as its theories have raised awareness, influenced, and continues to influence society. In this, the field of sociology itself is expressing aspects of strain, differential association, control, shaming, labeling, phenomenological, conflict, and feminist theories. Sociology itself expresses conforming, innovating, ritualizing, retreating, and rebelling behaviors, in cognition, language, and activity. Through these movements, a body politic is at work, emergent, and influential in relations, homes, communities, nations, and societies. 

Yes sociology, you have been, are, and will continue to be influential in guiding what we  looks at (i.e., collective perception), reacts to (i.e., motor-planning), and responds to (i.e., contingent reinforcement [Skinner, 1938]), so please be gentle, kind, and helpful, because so far, conflict between “conformity” (i.e., conservation) and “innovation” (i.e., liberation) has made life very difficult for those in “ritual” (i.e., identification) and “retreat” (i.e., cessation), inviting outright “rebellion” (i.e., sort-ation [i.e., civil war]). Sorting [of research memos] have consequences—write conceptually, not descriptively, perhaps through this, collective perception may de-amplify the boom-bust-boom-bust of measure induced change, en route to a life closer to what’s really happening in peace, rather than far from it, in anomie—this is sociological counter-steering. Without this, the boom-bust-boom-bust cycle continues, as a driver overcorrecting experiencing more accidents, where many precious lives and resources will be lost, neglected, squandered, and polluting. All hands at the wheel, feet on the pedals, and keep your eyes down the track—for the prospect full-knowing that a theory in development may impact billions of lives in the future, beyond only human could be terrifying—it may be ostracizing. Is it worth it? Yes. At the very least… intelligence tried. 


Bartlett, F. C. (1932). Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge University Press.

Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. Free Press Glencoe.

Braithwaite, J. (1989). Crime, shame, and reintegration. Cambridge University Press.

Coleman, M. (2014). Anomie: Concept, theory, research promises [Senior Honors Thesis]. Honors Papers [Oberlin College], 281. Retrieved January 26, 2022 from https://digitalcommons.oberlin.edu/honors/281.

Daly, K. (1998). Gender, Crime, and Criminology. In M. Tonry (Ed.), The handbook of crime and punishment. Oxford University Press.

Durkheim, E. (1982). Rules of Sociological Method. Poland: Free Press.

Freeman, L. C. (2004). The development of social network analysis: A study in the sociology of science. Empirical Press.

Glaser, B. G. (2014). Memoing: A vital grounded theory procedure. Sociology Press.

Glaser, B. G. (1978). Theoretical sensitivity: Advances in the methodology of grounded theory. Sociology Press.

Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. University of California Press.

Jordan, E. & Cowan, A. (2007). Warrior narratives in the kindergarten classroom: Renegotiating the social contract? In M. S. Kimmel and M. A. Messner (Eds.), Men’s Lives, 81-93. Allyn and Bacon.

Katz, J. (1988). Seductions of Crime. Basic Books.

Klein, D. (2003). A brief history of American K-12 mathematics education. In A. Royner (Ed.) Mathematical cognition(pp. [TODO]). 

Nakajima, M., Schmitt, L. I., & Halassa, M. M. (2019). Prefrontal cortex regulates sensory filtering through a basal ganglia-to-thalamus pathway. Neuron, 103, 445-458.

Quinney, R. (1975). Criminology. Little, Brown.

Sherman, H. J. (1967). Marx and the business cycle. Science & Society, 31(4), pp. 486-504.

Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. Appleton-Century.

Sutherland, E. H., & Cressey, D. R. (1977). Crimonology, 9th edition. Lippincott.

Thio, A., Taylor, J., Schwartz, M. D. (2018). Deviant behavior, 12th edition. Pearson.

Waiwood, P. (2013, November 22). Recession of 1937-38: May 1937-June 1938. Federal Reserve History. Retrieved January 28, 2022 from https://www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/recession-of-1937-38.

Witt, J. (2018). SOC 2018, Fifth Edition. McGraw Hill.