They are inclined to pursue their private interests without regard for the interests of society as a whole. Social control of individual behaviour becomes ineffective. Hence, the society is threatened with or even disorganisation.
Durkheimian Concept of Anomie:
Durkheim’s viewpoint is that the traditional societies are held together by what he calls “mechanical solidarity”. These societies are small and everyone does much the same work.
The members are socialized in the same way, share the same experiences, and hold common values. There is little individuality for the society itself consists of a collection of kinship groups which are strongly welded together.
Modern societies, according to Durkheim, are held together by “Organic solidarity “. If mechanical solidarity denotes a strong bond, ‘organic solidarity’ indicates a much looser bond. Here, societies are larger; the members have quite different experiences, hold different values, and socialize their children in different ways.
The ‘Collective consciousness’ has much less binding power on the community. People think of themselves as individuals first and only then as members of wider social group. The basis for social solidarity and cohesion is no longer the similarity of the members but rather their differences. People are now interdependent. They must depend on one another if their society is to function effectively.
According to Durkheim, the main problem in modern society is that, the division of labour leads inevitably to feelings of individualism. This individualism can be achieved only at the cost of shared sentiments, or beliefs. Hence the result is ‘anomie’ — a state of normlessness in both the society and the individual.
Durkheim’s views seem to be reasonable. It is true that the division of labour and the resulting growth of individualism would breakdown shared commitment to social norms. We do notice that there is widespread anomie in modern societies.
Still it is wrong to conclude that modern societies with very high degree of division of labour are heading towards ‘disintegration’ or breakdown. Because even these societies do retain some broad consensus on norms and values. Durkheim’s analysis is significant for it throws light on the far-ranging effects that the division of labour has no social and personal life.
Anomie and Social Deviance:
R.K. Merton in his book “Social Structure and Anomie” (1938) has thrown much light on the relationship between anomie and social deviance. In fact, he uses the term anomie to refer to “a state in which socially prescribed goals and the norms governing their attainment are incompatible”.
According to Merton, anomie is not the same thing as the absence of norms. He even states that it does not indicate “the lack of clarity in norms”. If there are no norms, there could be no deviation. If norms are not clear, it becomes then difficult and even embarrassing to call any specific action ‘deviant’.
Thus, “In the condition called anomie, norms are present, they are clear enough, and the actors in the social system are to some extent oriented to them. But this orientation, on the part of many, is ambivalent; it either leans towards conformity, but with misgivings, or leans towards deviation, but with misgivings.
Furthermore, anomie is not any condition whatever in which there is a high rate of deviation from a social norm or from a system of norms…” (H.M. Johnson).