How does anomie theory explain deviant behavior?

Anomie refers to the confusion that arises when social norms conflict or don't even exist. In the 1960s, Robert Merton used the term to describe the differences between socially accepted goals and the availability of means to achieve those goals. Merton stressed, for instance, that attaining wealth is a major goal of Americans, but not all Americans possess the means to do this, especially members of minority and disadvantaged groups.

Those who find the "road to riches" closed to them experience anomie, because an obstacle has thwarted their pursuit of a socially approved goal. When this happens, these individuals may turn to deviant behaviors to attain their goals, retaliate against society, or merely "make a point."

The primary contribution of anomie theory is its ability to explain many forms of deviance. The theory is also sociological in its emphasis on the role of social forces in creating deviance. On the negative side, anomie theory has been criticized for its generality. Critics note the theory's lack of statements concerning the process of learning deviance, including the internal motivators for deviance.