Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Bruce DiCristina


Emile Durkheim serves as one of the seminal contributors to the field of sociology; his contributions to criminology are numerous as well. Many authors consider Durkheim’s concept of anomie to be his most important contribution to the field of criminology (Lunden, 1972). Durkheim’s anomie theory has been subject to extensive empirical examination, these efforts have resulted in disparate findings. Graeff and Mehlkop (2007) insist this lack of coherence is due to improper operationalization of Durkheim’s anomie by some researchers. In particular, it is the utilization of cross sectional data in these previous studies which contributes to these disparate results. The current endeavor utilizes an opportunity for a unique natural experiment provided by the Bakken region in western North Dakota to test the empirical status of Durkheim’s anomie theory.

The recent increase in oil production in western North Dakota has garnered a great deal of attention on both a national and international level. This most recent bout of drilling in the Bakken commenced in 2005, and began what Seifert (2009, p. 2) maintains is a “period of unprecedented growth in the oil industry”. The breakneck pace at which the oil industry has expanded has led to “unprecedented growth” in multiple areas besides oil production, including population and economic prosperity for the region (Hodur & Bangsund, 2015). Disruptions associated with this expansion have drastically altered the realities for many communities in western North Dakota (Fernando & Cooley, 2015). This work presents an empirical assessment of Durkheim’s theory with the Bakken region serving as a crucial test case.

Both quantitative trends in violent crime, suicide and worker deaths and qualitative accounts from Bakken residents offer support for theoretical predictions extrapolated from Durkheim’s theory, and by extension his theory of anomie.