Advancing institutional anomie theory a microlevel examination connecting culture, institutions, and deviance

Therapy and Comparative
International Journal of Offender

Advancing Institutional
Anomie Theory
A Microlevel Examination Connecting
Culture, Institutions, and Deviance
Lisa R. Muftic′
North Dakota State University
Institutional anomie theory (IAT) contends that crime can be explained by an examination
of American society, particularly the exaggerated emphasis on economic success inherent
in American culture, which has created a “cheating orientation” that permeates structural
institutions, including academia. Consistent with its macrosocial perspective, previous tests
of IAT have examined IAT variables at the structural level only. The current study tests the
robustness of IAT by operationalizing IAT variables at the individual level and looking at
a minor form of deviance, student cheating. The author also examines the role statistical
modeling has in testing the theory at the microlevel. Undergraduates, 122 American born
and 48 international, were surveyed about their cheating behaviors and adherence to economic
goal orientations. Results related to the hypothesis that American students, relative
to foreign-born students, will have an increased adherence to economic goal orientations
that increase cheating behaviors are presented, as are suggestions for future studies.
Keywords: institutional anomie theory; culture; institutions; cheating; comparative
Institutional anomie theory (IAT) emerged in the 1990s, the product of Stephen
Messner and Richard Rosenfeld. Since 1994, IAT has undergone several revisions
(in 2006, 2001, 1996) and a growing number of empirical tests (Batton & Jensen,
2000; Chamlin & Cochran, 1995, 1997; Kim & Pridemore, 2005; Maume & Lee,
2003; Piquero & Piquero, 1998; Savolainen, 2000). At first blush, IAT appears relatively
parsimonious, proposing that crime can be explained by an examination of
American society, particularly the exaggerated emphasis on economic success specific
to American culture. Further inspection of the theory, however, reveals complex and,
at times, convoluted theoretical propositions specifying the interrelated relationships
among American institutions, cultural values, and crime.
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Muftic′ / Institutional Anomie Theory 631
Theoretical Overview
Institutional Structures
The crux of IAT is that crime flourishes in societies where the institutional balance
is skewed toward the economy. In contrast, when there is equality between institutions,
noneconomic organizations (i.e., family, education, and the polity) are capable
of offsetting the criminogenic effects of American culture (i.e., the American Dream).
Institutions are important because they are viewed as social structures that control
human behavior to “meet the basic needs of a society” (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2001,
p. 65). As such, the four primary institutions examined in IAT are the economy, polity,
family, and education. Each institution provides a separate, but related way society
can go about meeting its basic social needs. These needs include the “(1) adaptation
to the environment, (2) mobilization and deployment of resources for the achievement
of collective goals, and (3) the socialization of members to accept the society’s fundamental
normative patterns” (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2001, p. 65). For instance, the
economy is responsible for providing ways in which society can meet “basic material
requirements for human existence” (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2001, p.