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Institutional Anomie Theory: An Evolving Research Program

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

Abstract

This chapter presents the current evolving research program of Institutional Anomie Theory (IAT)—originally a macro-social theory of crime that incorporates the potentially destructive tendencies inherent in market capitalist economies. By focusing on basic features of social organization, IAT locates the sources of crime in cultural pressures toward anomie and imbalances in the institutional structures of societies. This chapter traces IAT’s intellectual influences from the classics of Durkheim’s and Merton’s anomie theory to the writings of Parsons and Polanyi and explains how the theory is based on a synthesis of these insights with additional elements of conventional criminology. A comprehensive review of the large body of studies that tested IAT’s propositions follows. This entails the bulk of studies, which have used macro-social units of varying scale (nations, counties, cities), but also the increasing number of studies that have applied IAT to inform individual- and multi-level analyses. A concluding discussion identifies two key challenges for future IAT research development: explaining short-run changes in crime, and expanding the scope conditions of IAT by encompassing societal responses to crime in the form of legal punishment.

Keywords

  • Anomie
  • Criminology
  • Responses to crime
  • Theory

The preparation of the manuscript was supported and funded by a Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft research fellowship (DFG, German Research Foundation) to Andreas Hövermann [HO 5858/1-1].

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Merton recognizes that the structural strains towards 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 within his abstract model of social system dynamics.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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), Sandel (2012), and Schwartz (1994).

  4. 4.

    For a formal treatment of the conceptualization of institutions that informs IAT, see Messner et al. (2008).

  5. 5.

    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). See Applin and Messner (2015) for an illustration of an effort to draw upon feminist thought to expand IAT. For discussions of the centrality of gender to criminological phenomena more generally, see Miller and Mullins (2006), Hagan, Simpson, and Gillis (1987).

  6. 6.

    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.

  7. 7.

    See Rosenfeld and Levin (2016) and the literature reviews in Rosenfeld (2011) and Rosenfeld and Messner (2013).

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Messner, S.F., Rosenfeld, R., Hövermann, A. (2019). Institutional Anomie Theory: An Evolving Research Program. In: Krohn, M., Hendrix, N., Penly Hall, G., Lizotte, A. (eds) Handbook on Crime and Deviance. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-20779-3_9

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