Skip to main content

Institutional Anomie Theory: A Macro-sociological Explanation of Crime

Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)

Criminologists have formulated a wide range of explanations for the causes of crime, as reflected in several chapters of this volume. One useful means for classifying these explanations is according to their primary level of analysis. Micro-level theories direct attention to characteristics of individuals (e.g., biological, psychological, and social psychological traits) or their immediate social context (e.g., family and peer influences) to explain individual differences in criminal offending. Macro-level theories, in contrast, explain the variation in ratesof crime across population “aggregates.” The nature of these aggregates varies in different theories. For example, social disorganization theories focus attention on features of relatively small-scale aggregates – the collection of people who live in the same neighborhood. The core insight of these theories is that variation in levels of crime reflects the degree of informal social control that residents are able to exercise over the geographic territory that comprises their neighborhood.

Keywords

  • Crime Rate
  • Cultural Orientation
  • Homicide Rate
  • World Value Survey
  • Social Disorganization Theory

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4419-0245-0_11
  • Chapter length: 16 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   89.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-1-4419-0245-0
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   119.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Notes

  1. 1.

    For a more extended discussion of the similarities and differences between Merton’s anomie theory and IAT, see Messner (2003).

  2. 2.

    Our citations to “Social Structure and Anomie” refer to the elaborated version published in the second edition of Social Theory and Social Structure (Merton, 1968).

  3. 3.

    Merton recognizes that the structural strains toward anomie can elicit different responses on the part of the members of a society, and he develops his well-known typology of modes of individual adaptation to enumerate these responses. Although Merton makes fleeting references to social class differences in family socialization when illustrating various adaptations, he never systematically incorporates his typology of individual adaptations with his abstract model of social system dynamics.

  4. 4.

    See Messner and Rosenfeld (2000) for a more detailed discussion of the similarities between Polanyi’s views on capitalist development and key themes in IAT.

  5. 5.

    For more recent analyses of how the market economy encroaches on other realms of social life, see Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, and Tipton (1991), Currie (1991), and Schwartz (1994).

  6. 6.

    For a formal treatment of the conceptualization of institutions that informs IAT, see Messner, Thome, and Rosenfeld (2008).

  7. 7.

    Although not discussed here, we also note that key problematics for the further development of IAT include systematically incorporating the institution of religion into the theoretical framework and attending to the gendered nature of social institutions. For suggestive findings relevant to the extension of IAT to the institution of religion, see Antonaccio and Tittle (2007). For discussions of the centrality of gender to criminological phenomena, see Miller and Mullins (2006) and Hagan, Simpson, and Gillis (1987).

  8. 8.

    See Eisner (2008) for evidence on increasing homicide rates during the latter decades of the 20th century in European nations, following a long-term decline.

References

  • Antonaccio, O., & Tittle, C. R. (2007). A cross-national test of Bonger’s theory of criminality and economic conditions. Criminology, 45, 925–958.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Baumer, E. P., & Gustafson, R. (2007). Social organization and instrumental crime: Assessing the empirical validity of classic and contemporary anomie theories. Criminology, 45, 617–663.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M. (1991). The good society. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blumstein, A., & Wallman, J. (Eds.). (2005). The crime drop in America (Rev. ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cao, L. (2004). Is American society more anomic? A test of Merton’s Theory with cross-national data. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 28, 17–31.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cullen, F. T. (1994). Social support as an organizing conception for criminology: Presidential address to the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Justice Quarterly, 11, 527–559.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cullen, F. T., & Wright, J. P. (1997). Liberating the anomie-strain paradigm: Implications from social support theory. In N. Passas & R. Agnew (Eds.), The future of anomie theory (pp. 187–206). Boston: Northeastern University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Currie, E. (1991). Crime in the market society: From bad to worse in the nineties. Dissent, Spring, 254–259.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dalton, G. (1968). Introduction. In K. Polanyi, Primitive, archaic, and modern economics: Essays of Karl Polany. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Durkheim, É. (1895/1964). The rules of sociological method. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Durkheim, É. (1897/1966). Suicide: A study in sociology. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eisner, M. (2003). Long-term historical trends in violent crime. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and justice: A review of research (Vol. 30, pp. 83–142). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eisner, M. (2008). Modernity strikes back? The latest increase in interpersonal violence (1960–2000) in a historical perspective. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 2, 288–316.

    Google Scholar 

  • Esping-Andersen, G. (1990). The three worlds of welfare capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garland, D. (1990). Punishment and modern society: A study in social theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garland, D. (2001). The culture of control: Crime and social order in contemporary society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hagan, J., Simpson, J., & Gillis, A. R. (1987). Class in the household: A power-control theory of gender and delinquency. American Journal of Sociology, 92, 788–816.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hirschi, T. (1979). Separate and unequal is better. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 16, 34–38.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hirschi, T. (1989). Exploring alternatives to integrated theory. In S. F. Messner, M. D. Krohn, & A. E. Liska (Eds.), Theoretical integration in the study of deviance and crime: Problems and prospects (pp. 37–50). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jensen, G. (2002). Institutional anomie and societal variations in crime: A critical appraisal. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 22, 45–74.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Karstedt, S., & Farrell, S. (2006). The moral economy of everyday crime: Markets, consumers, and citizens. British Journal of Criminology, 46, 1011–1036.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Kim, S. W., & Pridemore, W. A. (2005). Social change, institutional anomie, and serious property crime in transitional Russia. British Journal of Criminology, 45, 81–97.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Kornhauser, R. R. (1978). Social sources of delinquency: An appraisal of analytic models. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Merton, R. K. (1938). Social structure and anomie. American Sociological Review, 3, 672–682.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Merton, R. K. (1957). Social theory and social structure. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Merton, R. K. (1964). Anomie, anomia, and social interaction. In M. Clinard (Ed.), Anomie and deviant behavior (pp. 213–242). New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Merton, R. K. (1968). Social theory and social structure (Rev. ed.). New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Messner, S. F. (1988). Merton’s ‘Social Structure and Anomie’: The road not taken. Deviant Behavior, 9, 33–53.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Messner, S. F. (2003). An institutional-anomie theory of crime: Continuities and elaborations in the study of social structure and anomie. Cologne Journal of Sociology and Social Psychology, 43, 93–109.

    Google Scholar 

  • Messner, S. F., & Rosenfeld, R. (1996). An institutional-anomie theory of the social distribution of crime. In L. Siegel & P. Cordella (Eds.), Contemporary criminological theory (pp. 143–148). Boston: Northeastern University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Messner, S. F., & Rosenfeld, R. (2000). Market dominance, crime, and globalization. In S. Karstedt & K. D. Bussman (Eds.), Social dynamics of crime and control: New theories for a world in transition (pp. 13–26). Portland, OR: Hart.

    Google Scholar 

  • Messner, S. F., & Rosenfeld, R. (2006). The present and future of institutional-anomie theory. Advances in Criminological Theory, 15, 127–148.

    Google Scholar 

  • Messner, S. F., & Rosenfeld, R. (2007). Crime and the American dream (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson.

    Google Scholar 

  • Messner, S. F., Thome, H., & Rosenfeld, R. (2008). Institutions, anomie, and violent crime: Clarifying and elaborating institutional-anomie theory. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 2, 163–181.

    Google Scholar 

  • Miller, J., & Mullins, C. W. (2006). Feminist theories of crime. In F. T. Cullen, J. Wright, & K. Blevins (Eds.), Taking stock: The status of criminological theory (pp. 217–250). Edison, NJ: Transaction.

    Google Scholar 

  • Muftic, L. R. (2006). Advancing institutional anomie theory: A microlevel examination connecting culture, institutions, and deviance. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 50(6), 630–653.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Parsons, T. (1951). The social system. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Parsons, T. (1934/1990). Prolegomena to a theory of social institutions. American Sociological Review, 55, 319–333.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Piven, F., & Cloward, R. A. (1971). Regulating the poor: The functions of public welfare. New York: Vintage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polanyi, K. (1944/1957). The great transformation: The political and economic origins of our time. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polanyi, K. (1947/1968a). Our obsolete market mentality. In K. Polanyi, Primitive, archaic, and modern economics: Essays of Karl Polanyi (pp. 59–77). Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polanyi, K. (1957/1968b). The economy as an instituted process. In K. Polanyi, Primitive, archaic, and modern economics: Essays of Karl Polanyi (pp. 139–174). Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pratt, T. C., & Cullen, F. T. (2005). Assessing macro-level predictors and theories of crime: A meta-analysis. In M. H. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and justice: A review of research (Vol. 32, pp. 373–450). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pridemore, W. A. (2005). Social structure and homicide in post-Soviet Russia. Social Science Research, 34, 732–756.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Rosenfeld, R. (Ed). (2006). Crime and social institutions. Hampshire, England: Ashgate.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenfeld, R., & Messner, S. F. (2007). Economic cycles, the welfare state, and homicide, 1971–2001. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Atlanta, Georgia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schwartz, B. (1994). The costs of living: How market freedom erodes the best things in life. New York: W. W. Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Simon, J. (2007). Governing through crime: How the war on crime transformed American democracy and created a culture of fear. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Spitzer, S. (1975). Toward a Marxian theory of deviance. Social Problems, 22, 638–651.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Sutton, J. R. (2004). The political economy of imprisonment in affluent Western democracies, 1960–1990. American Sociological Review, 69, 170–189.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Thome, H. (2007). Explaining the long-term trend in violent crime: A heuristic scheme and some methodological considerations. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 1, 185–202.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2009 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Messner, S.F., Rosenfeld, R. (2009). Institutional Anomie Theory: A Macro-sociological Explanation of Crime. In: Krohn, M., Lizotte, A., Hall, G. (eds) Handbook on Crime and Deviance. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-0245-0_11

Download citation