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May 23, 2013 / C H Thompson

Anomie in action

Major-Colvin-The-Wire-14pave8Most of the following dialogue comes from thecrankysociologist.com as it provides a first-hand account of these challenging ideas in action.

For Emile Durkheim, anomie was a state of normlessness, a society where individuals’ connections with each other had become frayed (due to lack of regulations). This happened during times of massive social change and could lead to heavier patterns of suicide (because aspirations can’t be achieved). For Durkheim, the other critical aspect of anomie was that it existed when there was an absence in social regulations that would help to guide behaviours. Or put in more Dur.

That is partly what we see in this clip from HBO’s awesome drama, The Wire (season 3). Here Major Colvin (a.k.a., “Bunny”, pictured below) has established a safe zone of sorts for mid-level drug dealers from a variety of gangs. This sector becomes called “Hamsterdam” after a youth misinterprets the area being compared to Amsterdam where drug use is largely decriminalized. There are very little regulations in “Hamsterdam,” as the drug dealers may freely sell their products while law enforcement turns a blind eye, as long as there is no overt physical violence (the extent of crime hasn’t become dysfunctional).

For Merton, anomie happened when there was a loss of means, meaning society didn’t care about the pathways by which people gained wealth, as long as they got wealthy. Or put another way, getting wealthy was more important than the processes by which someone made/got money. This was because Merton argued socially produced aspirations (the American Dream) were unobtainable for most people. Therefore anomie was caused by strains in the social structures – the American Dream over emphasised the need to achieve financial success.

In fictional “Hamsterdam,” Merton would point out the structurally sponsored American virtue of ambition ends up creating deviant behaviour. The reality for many people the socially produced desire to aspire isn’t possible by conventional/legitimate means, therefore the pressure to deviate from the norm is increased.

Merton would point out the persistent goal for profit creates ‘breakdowns in the cultural structure’, which means there are no social morals that would otherwise guide people on how to reach those goals appropriately. So, the dealers will sell drugs (illegitimate) to whoever will buy, something that’s facilitated in “Hamsterdam.” In “Hamsterdam,” we see a combination of normlessness regarding both regulations and means…it’s total anomie for both Durkheim and Merton but they both have differing explanations of why this has occurred.

Therefore you need to watch the clip below are work out whether Durkheim or Merton have to best explanation as to the state of anomie the fictional character ‘Bubbles’ finds himself in.

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