Global anomie theory (GAT), as articulated by Nikos Passas, provides an explanation of the impact of globalization and neoliberalism on nations and the conditions within them to create anomie resulting in deviance. Drawing on Merton’s anomie theory, GAT includes an analysis of the global structural and cultural forces acting on the relations between society and individuals. The theory is integrative, incorporating anomie with other criminological approaches and with knowledge from related social sciences. GAT is designed to provide a comprehensive macro-level theory on the social context for deviance.
The global anomie approach suggests that neoliberal globalization is a root cause of anomie and dysnomie, creating an environment conducive to crime and social harm. The theory posits that the growth and intensity of neoliberalization has multiplied criminogenic asymmetries creating discrepancies between cultural goals and the legitimate means of achieving those goals. The interconnections generated by globalization are manifest through increased social mobility, enhanced international communication, and intensified international trade. This process has been magnified globally, stressing the importance of an unfettered free market, espousing material goals, economic growth, and consumerism. In this environment of growing interconnectedness, reference groups are broadened, which influence aspirations, steering them increasingly toward economic goals. Simultaneously, the process of globalization exposes inequities, stratifications, exclusions, and marginalization, which impede access to the sought-after material goals, creating both absolute and relative deprivation. Echoing Merton’s work, Passas argues that when aspirations are not realized, such blockages lead to systematic frustrations. Individuals adapt to the strain in different ways, some through deviance. Deviant behavior is rationalized under these structural conditions, which when successful and allowed to continue with impunity, becomes established and normative for others in society, including for those that do not experience the original strain. At the same time, the theory identifies the impact of neoliberal globalization on governance. Normative standards and control mechanisms are reduced in an effort to shrink government intervention and oversight; this includes reducing social support mechanisms to make way for a privatized market. The ability of governments to act effectively is further impeded as deviant adaptations become normalized, creating an environment of dysnomie.