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Emile Durkheim's concept of anomie has its origins in his late-19th Century study The Division of Labor in Society. As Durkheim described it, anomie refers to a condition of increasing disconnect between the self and society that he determined was occurring, and that had deleterious ramifications for the level of social cohesiveness necessary to sustain a society. This breakdown in social norms that he believed was occurring was destabilizing to society, as individuals no longere had acceptable frames of reference from which to draw inspiration and models of conduct.
Anomie, in effect, is the conceptual opposite, then, of continuity theory. Continuity theory refers to the evolutionary concept of the individual as acting and thinking based upon his or her prior experiences. This theory, then, posits that there is a predictability inherent in human nature if people are using their own lives as reference points. Durkheim's theories were formulated for the purpose of helping society to regain the social norms that were the product of the way people had historically or traditionally conducted themselves within the broader framework of a working social order. Absent what he called mechanical solidarity -- the shared beliefs and experiences that allowed for the development of social cohesion -- a society could not survive in its present form. In short, helping societies to reinstitute a sense of continuity was the goal that Durkheim's sociological work sought to address.
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