(If you’re interested in this topic, please see my earlier posts on neoliberalism (1) and (2))
Increasingly, there appears to be a connection between neoliberalism and the development of anomie. Such an association is unsurprising considering that neoliberalism encourages individuals to achieve ever greater success even though such a goal is unrealistic. In response to being blocked from realizing their never-ending aspirations, Merton (1968) argues that people in success-driven societies will feel deprived and frustrated as a divide forms between idealistic ambitions and factual reality. While such a divide has traditionally been the widest in developed capitalist states like the U.S., Passas (2000) contends that the growth of neoliberalism has exacerbated this problem in countries throughout the world. As a result, anomie, or the “withdrawal of allegiance from conventional norms and a weakening of these norms’ guiding power on behavior” has increased on a global scale (Passas 2000:20). Oozing with the anomie brought about by constant strain, neoliberalism can intensify the occurrence of violence as frustrated people struggle to live and to succeed in an unequal society. In response to this idea, it appears that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that anomie and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. (more…)
As of today, according to msnbc.com, 43 people have died in the last 30 days in mass-shooting incidents across the U.S. There are several sociological theories that could potentially explain this. Messner and Rosenfeld’s “American Dream” structural strain theory posits that when there is a gap between what one wants to achieve and what seems possible, violence increases. For the immigrant who shot 13 people and himself in Binghamton, NY last week, there is evidence that points to an American Dream that could not be realized. His letter to the media contained complaints about people mocking him for his poor English skills, and being unable to find employment. Other shooters have also been said to have “snapped” after the stress of job loss.
Does this fully explain the situation? Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), who ran for office after family members were shot during a mass murder on the Long Island Railroad 15 years ago, points to the need for stricter gun laws. Additionally, we have to consider the effect of media coverage – does its extensive coverage of violent incidents encourage so-called “copycat” killings? The question of the media is further complicated when one looks at violent incidents as social performance (Eyerman, 2008).
Gun Control, Gun Crime by Matt Qvortrup
The unemployment rate in the United States has reached a 16-year high of 7.2%. Economists say that we are still far from the recovery period and until then, expect things to get worse. Effects are certainly being felt on a global scale. The recent suicide of German billionaire, Adolf Merckle raises the timeless question: what are the causes of suicide?
What is particularly interesting is that even with significant losses Merckle was still worth about £6 billion. Merckle left only a note for his family with the words “I’m Sorry”. It has been noted that the most important role in life for Merckle was to pass on the business to his children, as was done for several generations before him; even surviving two world wars and the Great Depression.
While it is difficult to explain Merckle’s suicide in terms of Durkheim’s categories, it is interesting to think about Durkheim’s notion of anomie given the current recession. The term anomie to Durkheim refers to a condition where social and moral norms are confusing, unclear, or not present. This lack of norms often leads to deviant behaviour. In times of uncertainty, goals become seemingly infinite in scope rather than being limited by social order. In the absence of clear goals, weakened social ties and uncertainty, there is little hope that any goals are attainable.
Instead of trying to pinpoint the causes of suicide, it is more useful to situate and understand these events in relation to broader social contexts. It is important to acknowledge that suicide is a complex social phenomenon. Even the most seemingly obvious explanations such financial loss, are often not the most logical.
Cecil L. Willis on Durkheim’s Concept of Anomie: Some Observations