Social Control


What Is Social Control?

  • Any action, deliberate or unconscious, that influences conduct toward conformity, whether or not the persons being influenced are aware of the process
  • The primary function of law is to establish and maintain social control
  • Why is social control necessary?
    • Peaceful coexistence
    • Predictable coexistence 

MEANING OF SOCIAL CONTROL

  • The Social Control Theory instead of asking what drives people to commit crime or rebel (as in case of Marxist and feminists), they ask why do most people not commit crime( or do not rebel against the injustice in society as in case of Marxists).
  • All human beings suffer from innate human weaknesses which make them unable to resist temptation to commit crime and rebel but they don’t. This theory or different theories tries to answer the why part.
  • The theory is focused on analyzing the restraining or “controlling” factors that are broken or missing inside the personalities of criminals (as in case of normal social control theories) or inside rebels (as in case of Marxists and other left oriented theories).
  • Control theory investigate the ways in which our behavior is regulated, including the influences of family, school, morals, values, beliefs, etc. 
  • It is this regulation that is seen as leading to conformity and compliance with the rules of society 

Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917

Emile Durkheim studied societies during the peak of the industrial revolution in the late 19th century. It was a type of society in which the social solidarity or what he called mechanical solidarity or a sense of bond and attachment people had with each other had collapsed. Due to this the individuals were alone and culturally lost. 

Nature of social control



Durkheim was very clear in his argument that social control was stronger in rural areas and in non industrialized societies. In rural society people had strong attachment with the group and as a result they did not feel alone and lost. In urban setting people had organic solidarity which was the weakening of the “collective force of society”. Due to this there  was weakening of social bonds. This led to extreme individualism and caused suicide (anomie led suicide). Anomie is a social condition of normlessness under which individuals feel less or almost no pressure to conform to social norms. This leads to deviance. 

Purpose of social control 

Durkheim argued that the modern individual in industrialized urban societies were insufficiently integrated into society because of the weakening bonds, collapse of social and the controlling influence of society on the animal desires and interests of the individuals. The purpose of social control is to control these wild instructs of people and integrate them into society. If these wild instincts are not controlled then individuals lose interest in society and as a result die of anomie (meaning and purposelessness) 

Mechanism of social control

Durkheim argued that religion and education are some of the major mechanisms of social control. Religious ceremonies he argued brought people together and gave them a sense of solidarity.   Durkheim believed that education served as an instrument to reinforce social solidarity. School is a society in miniature: it has a similar hierarchy, rules, expectations to the “outside world,” and trains people to fulfill roles. Durkheim was clear that  anomie is a social construct not an individual attribute (anomia).Social control comprises all mechanisms at preventing anomie 

Max Weber’s authority as social control

Nature of social control

Traditional society is controlled by traditional values and sometimes by values of new charismatic leaders. But social control in traditional society is by traditional authority. In modern system however the social control is done through rational authority. That means a highly rational and calculative system controls modern society. 

Purpose of social control 

 The purpose of social control in society is goal attainment through efficient system . The goal attainment could be profit or power. 

Mechanism of social control

In traditional society, the mechanism was traditional organizations like family, religion.

In modern society, the mechanism is bureaucracy based on meritocracy and rationality.   

Karl Marx

Nature of social control

Those who control the economy are the exploiters. They need to create superstructure (law and ideology) to secure the economic system. 

Purpose of social control 

The purpose of social control is to prevent the exploited class from revolting against the system so as to run the system in a smooth manner. 

Mechanism of social control

 Marx argued that all ideology manufacturing institutes like religion, law, and education were controlled by the economic elites hence the ideology and education they manufactured were aimed at producing people who could not revolt against the system. 

Noam Chomsky and  Edward S. Herman

In the book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. The two authors talk about media as social control.

Nature of social control

The model suggests the existence of a set of news “filters”, which dilute the raw news content into a content that suits the dominant corporate and governmental interests. Herman and Chomsky’s “propaganda model” describes five editorially distorting filters applied to news reporting in mass media:

  1. FILTER 1: Corporate ownership:Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation: The dominant mass-media outlets are large firms which are run for profit. Therefore they must cater to the financial interest of their owners – often corporations or particular controlling investors. The size of the firms is a necessary consequence of the capital requirements for the technology to reach a mass audience. The media is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small number of private companies, owned by wealthy individuals.
  2. FILTER 2: Financial reliance on advertising: Since the majority of the revenue of major media outlets derives from advertising(not from sales or subscriptions), advertisers have acquired a “de-facto licensing authority”. Media outlets are not commercially viable without the support of advertisers. News media must therefore cater to the political prejudices and economic desires of their advertisers. This has weakened the interest of the working class.
  3. FILTER 3: Reliance on PR for information: Sourcing Mass Media News: Herman and Chomsky argue that “the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access [to the news], by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring […] and producing, news. The large entities that provide this subsidy become ‘routine’ news sources and have privileged access to the gates. Non-routine sources must struggle for access, and may be ignored by the arbitrary decision of the gatekeepers.” 
  4. Flak and the Enforcers: “Flak” refers to negative responses to a media statement or program (e.g. letters, complaints, lawsuits, or legislative actions). Flak can be expensive to the media, either due to loss of advertising revenue, or due to the costs of legal defense or defense of the media outlet’s public image. Flak can be organized by powerful, private influence groups (e.g. think tanks). The prospect of eliciting flak can be a deterrent to the reporting of certain kinds of facts or opinions.
  5. Anti-Communism: This was included as a filter in the original 1988 edition of the book, but Chomsky argues that since the end of the Cold War (1945–91), anticommunism was replaced by the “War on Terror”, as the major social control mechanism.

Purpose of social control 

The purpose of social control is to prevent people from having access to the truth so that they will accept society as it is.

 Mechanism of social control

Social control is through media which is controlled by economic elites. 

Ivan Nye

Nature of social control

Ivan Nye argued that there are three types of social control in society:

  • Direct control, by which punishment is imposed for misconduct and compliance is rewarded. For example a thief is sent to jail or a coldblooded murder is given death sentence. 
  • Indirect control, by which a individuals refrains from delinquency because such acts might cause pain/disappointment to their loved ones or significant others
  • Internal control, by which a individuals are taught that to violate social norms is bad. They feel guilty when they are engaged in delinquent acts

Purpose of social control 

The main purpose of social control is to prevent youths from performing deviant or delinquent behavior. 

Mechanism of social control

Family is the most important agent of social control according to him. The more young individuals need for affection, security, and recognition through the family, the less they will deviate from social norms.

Travis Hirschi’s social bond theory

Nature of social control

Travis Hirschi’s social bonding theory may be the most popular criminological theory in criminology. It was first presented in 1969. Hirschi questioned why people do not commit the crime. Hirschi theorized that crime is more common among individuals who had a weak relationship with social institutions such as family and religion.

Purpose of social control 

For Hirschi, the purpose of social control was to control delinquency and crime. 

Mechanism of social control

Travis Hirschi assumes that all people have the capacity to be delinquent. Preventing most people from engaging in law-breaking is a “bonding” to society. Hirschi identifies 4 elements to the social bond which can prevent crime: 

  1. Attachment:
    1. Attachment to parents, teachers, peers (attachment to parents is the most important).
    2. Attachment deters criminal activities
  2. Commitment:
    1. The more an individual is attached with parents or loved ones the more he or she is committed to social goals. 
    2. The more an individual is attached to social goal the more likely that a person will not commit crime as the crime could disturb her from achieving the social goal
  3. Involvement:  
    1. A person who wants to achieve a social goal will be busy in the activities that help him to achieve his social goal.
    2. People who are involved with social goal-oriented activities will not be able to find time to commit a crime
  4. Belief
    1. People who believe that laws and social values are good for them and for society will respect the law and will not break it. 

Basically, Hirschi is arguing that if a person is bonded to society, they are not as likely to break the law.  

  • they have too much to lose
  • they have little time to break the law
  • they are too sensitive to the feelings of others to victimize them

David Matza and Gresham Skyes ‘  neutralization theory.

Nature of social control

Matza and Skyes argue that criminals do not enjoy or feel good when they are committing crime. They actually feel guilty when committing crime. They, however, have developed a psychological technique called neutralization to justify their criminal activities. 

Purpose of social control 

The purpose of social control for Matza and Skyes is to control delinquency or crimal behavior. 

Mechanism of social control

Criminals according to  Matza and Skyes used neutralization as an instrument to justify their crime. These neutralization techniques are as follows:

    1. Denial of Responsibility – behavior is due to forces beyond their control
      • For example, an exploiter in a factory may claim ‘I have to exploit workers otherwise I will not be able to send my children to expensive private schools. I can’t help it’
    2. Denial of Injury – no one was hurt
      • Paying less money to the workers is okay because they can still send their children to schools that are less expensive. Less expensive schools also have good teachers so my exploitation of workers is okay and not that injurious to them.
    3. Denial of the Victim – they deserved it
      • I have to exploit workers. If today I raise their wages or salaries then tomorrow they might demand extra holiday. I have to exploit them.
    4. Condemnation of the Condemner – they made me do it.
      • I had to beat my servant. He was not working properly. He made me hit him.
    5. Appeal to Higher Loyalties – I had no choice. If I don’t beat my servants then they will not work. If they don’t work then my money is wasted. So I have to beat him.

Containment Theory of Walter Reckless

Nature of social control

This theory was developed in the 1950s by Walter Reckless. Reckless proposed that positive self-concepts imposed by society on an individual such as being a good daughter could protect individuals from committing crimes. These concepts were instilled by one’s immediate family and other social forces.

Containment Theory assumes that almost every individual can be prevented from committing crime by using outer and internal containment. Reckless suggests that the probability of deviance is directly related to the extent to which internal pushes and external pulls are controlled by one’s inner and outer containment. The primary containment factor is found in self-concept.

Purpose of social control :

To prevent people from committing crime.

Mechanism of social control

Criminal behavior can be controlled by outer and internal containment 

  • Internal social control lies within the individual and is developed during socialization.  You are practising internal social control when you act according to your conscience (ie. you do something because it is the right thing to do).  
    • Most people act according to this internal social control (ie. they do the right thing) – most of the time.  
    • The process of socialization does not ensure that all people will conform all of the time.  For this reason, external social control must also be present.  
  • External social control is based on social sanctions – rewards and punishments designed to encourage desired behavior.  
    • Positive sanctions (eg. smile of approval, awards, raises) are used to encourage conformity.  
    • Negative sanctions (eg. criticism, fines, imprisonment) are intended to stop socially unacceptable behavior.  

Albert J. Reiss

Nature of social control

Delinquency is a result of the failure of individuals to internalize socially accepted norms and behavior.

Purpose of social control 

To prevent people from delinquent behavior.  

Mechanism of social control

Social control can be activated by creating internal control by convincing people that breaking the law is wrong or by social rules which control people by telling them how they are punished for breaking these social rules (the family, the school, and other important social groups).