Essay on the Causes of Anomie


In India, we may witness conflict between universalistic and particularistic stan­dards in the treatment of Harijans. The anomie character of this conflict becomes evident when we observe the Brahmins and other upper caste people’s treatment of Harijans in some areas. All the upper-caste people feel the moral obligation to be fair in their treatment of Harijans (even though no consensus is there regarding what is meant by fair treatment).

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The Brahmins and other upper-caste people have a sort of sentimental commitment to their castes and the so called caste norms and values which keep them at a distance from the Harijans. This state of affairs may lead to role conflict.

It may also lead to the neglection and disregard of norms of fair play as far as Harijans are concerned. This condition is ‘anomie’ because the norms have not disappeared. Brahmins and other upper-caste people are very much aware of them but they are troubled by them.

(ii) Incompatibility between Goals and Means:

According to Merton, anomie would be the result in “a situation in which many persons in a social system are required to strive for some goal but are not provided with adequate legitimate means to reach it….” Merton has given in this regard an example that is quite relevant to American society. It is given below.


‘The goal of competitive occupational success’ is a preferred goal in America. The American ideology of individual success provides at least theoretically equality of opportunity to all. This ideology poses a problem of self-esteem for virtually every man in the American society. “Success” is a relative goal.

The belief that any common man can rise to the top and attain ‘success’ is quite pervasive in America. In actuality, this belief leads to an anomie situation, because, the goal of moving from an ordinary position to a white-collar position seems to be frustratingly difficult to lower-class boys” who are not doing well in school, have no money, and are bogged down by vari­ous internal and external conditions.

This is an example of an ideology that to some extent indirectly encourages deviant behaviour. The source of anomie as identified by Merton may be traced to “a frustrating gap between a cultur­ally favoured goal and the actual possibility of attaining it”. Even though all adults know about the culturally favoured goal, all of them never strive to reach it.

Further, the institutionally permitted means for achieving it are not distributed evenly throughout the social structure. Merton has also pointed out that the anomie widespread in American society, and particularly, in the lower classes, does not exist “where there is no great gap between what people are expected to do and what they can do legitimately”.

Social Values:

The term ‘value’ has different meanings in economics, philosophy and sociology. In econom­ics, ‘value’ means ‘price’. The “theory of value” is almost co-terminous with “the theory of price”. The philosophical treatment of “values” is part of ethics, political philosophy and aesthetics. In sociology, the term ‘values’ represents constituent parts of social structure.