In this essay I shall try to explore what homelessness is. Due to the complexity and diversity of the subject, I chosen to focus on the sociological theory of anomie popularised by Emile Durkheim. In doing this I hope to avoid the mire of ever changing policy and legislation, and find a steady viewpoint. I shall explore how anomie defines and creates the social condition of homelessness. In doing so I shall highlight the role society plays in maintaining a state of homelessness and the dualism of conformity and anomie.
French sociologist, Emile Durkheim defined the social state of anomie as a situation in which social and/or moral norms are confused, blurred, or nonexistent. Durkheim felt this state of “normlessness” gave rise to deviance and irregular behaviours in individuals. Durkheim cites that anomie is triggered when social controls are weak, moral obligations which constrain and keep individuals in check; break down and can no longer imprint social conformity. In times of rapid social change the prevalence of this phenomenon is escalated, such as in times of recession, industrial booms and political uprisings. These rapid changes in norms skew peoples desires, expectations and ability to succeed. Individuals, who cannot adapt to this swift change, are washed away by the social tidal wave, becoming the flotsam and jetsam in a pool labelled anomie. Durkheim extrapolates on this, reasoning “The scale is upset; but a new scale cannot be immediately improvised. Time is required for the public conscience to reclassify men and things” (Haralambos and Holborn 1995:185). During the course of this, individualism and self-interest breeds into the social psyche. The authority of shared norms and morality is battered and individuals gain the power to apply autonomy towards their behaviour. This social evolution or survival of the social fittest detracts from social solidarity, moving from a herd mentality of shared duty, responsibility and unity to a...
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