Just Sociology

Understanding Social Control: Origins Theories and Perspectives

Social control is a fundamental concept in the field of sociology. It refers to the various mechanisms and processes through which individuals are encouraged or coerced to conform to social norms and values.

The origins of social control can be traced back to the early modern thinkers, such as Thomas Hobbes, who argued that without social regulation, individuals would succumb to their selfish interests and engage in a war of all against all. Over time, different theories have been developed to explain the nature and workings of social control.

This article aims to provide an overview of the definition and origins of social control, as well as the different types of social control theories.

1) Definition and Origins of Social Control

1.1 Definition of Social Control

The term social control refers to the set of formal and informal mechanisms that are employed to encourage individuals to conform to the established norms and values of their society. Formal mechanisms of social control include laws, regulations, and policies, while informal mechanisms include social pressure, peer pressure, and moral persuasion.

The ultimate goal of social control is to prevent individuals from engaging in deviant behavior, which threatens the stability and cohesion of society. Conformity is a key concept in social control.

Conformity refers to the process of internalizing the norms and values of one’s society and adhering to them through one’s behavior. Individuals who conform to social norms are rewarded with acceptance and approval, while those who deviate from them are subject to negative sanctions, such as ostracism, ridicule, or punishment.

1.2 Origins of Social Control

The origins of social control can be traced back to the classical social contract theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes argued that without the social regulation provided by the State, individuals would be driven by their selfish interests and engage in a war of all against all.

The State, therefore, plays a crucial role in restraining individual behavior, through the use of its coercive power and the establishment of laws and regulations. In addition to the State, socialization is another important source of social control.

Socialization refers to the process by which individuals are socialized into the norms, values, and roles of their society. Through socialization, individuals learn to internalize the moral codes of their society and internalize them as their own.

This, in turn, leads to social control, as individuals are motivated to conform to these norms and values in order to avoid negative sanctions. A more recent theorist of social control, Travis Hirschi, has argued that social bonds are an important source of social control.

Hirschi argues that individuals who are integrated into the social fabric of their society, through strong ties to family, friends, and community, are less likely to engage in deviant behavior. This is because social bonds promote a sense of obligation to conform to societal norms, as well as a fear of sanction and disapproval from significant others.

2) Types of Social Control Theory

2.1 Conformity Producing Theories

Conformity producing theories argue that social control operates by internalizing social norms within individuals. These theories emphasize the role of socialization and the importance of social roles in shaping individuals’ behavior.

According to functionalist views, society operates like a well-oiled machine, with each individual playing a specific role that contributes to the overall functioning of the system. Deviance, therefore, is seen as a malfunction of the system, and social control is aimed at restoring normalcy and stability.

2.2 Deviance Repressing Theories

Deviance repressing theories, on the other hand, argue that social control operates by suppressing deviant behavior through punishment, confinement, or other measures. These theories emphasize the relationship between deviant behavior and the measures used to control it.

Right and left realist approaches represent two different viewpoints on deviance repression. Right realists argue that harsh measures are necessary to deter deviant behavior, while left realists emphasize the importance of addressing the underlying social and economic causes of deviance.

2.3 Better Methods Combining Both Types of Approach

Rather than adhering to one specific type of approach, some theorists argue that a better method would be one that combines both conformity-producing and deviance-repressing strategies. These approaches recognize the importance of internalizing social norms, but also acknowledge the reality of deviant behavior and the need to respond to it through punishment and control.

This requires a delicate balance between promoting conformity and preventing deviance, while acknowledging the complex interplay between individual agency and social structure.

Conclusion

In conclusion, social control is a complex and multifaceted concept, which has its origins in the classical social contract theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Social control operates through a variety of formal and informal mechanisms, which seek to encourage individuals to conform to societal norms and values.

Different types of social control theory emphasize different aspects of social control, from conformity-producing to deviance-repressing approaches. Ultimately, a balanced and nuanced approach is necessary to address the complexities of social control and its relationship to individual behavior.

3) Parsons Approach to Social Control

3.1 Societys Reproduction through Conformity

Talcott Parsons, one of the most prominent sociologists of the 20th century, developed a theoretical approach to social control that emphasized the role of socialization in shaping individuals behavior. Parsons argued that society relies on the reproduction of its cultural norms and values in order to maintain stability and coherence over time.

This is achieved through the process of socialization, which starts in the family and continues through other social institutions, such as education and religion. According to Parsons, socialization helps to create a sense of shared cultural identity among individuals, which strengthens their commitment to societys norms and values.

Parents, for example, play a crucial role in socializing their children by teaching them the basic rules and values of their culture. Education further reinforces these cultural values, helping to shape individuals behavior through a process of anticipatory socialization.

Through socialization, individuals learn to internalize the norms and values of their society, accepting them as their own. This, in turn, helps to promote conformity, to the extent that individuals are motivated to behave in accordance with the expectations of their community.

Conformity, from Parsons’ perspective, is necessary for the reproduction of a stable and coherent society. 3.2 Importance of Socialization for Conformity

According to Parsons, the importance of socialization for conformity lies in the ability of cultural norms and values to convince people to be good persons and adhere to the expectations of their community.

Parsons argues that socialization is necessary to instill the norms and values of a society in individuals to a level that they accept them as true and natural. Individuals who have fully internalized these norms and values will be less likely to engage in deviant behavior, as the potential social sanctions associated with deviance will be perceived as stronger than any potential benefits.

However, other scholars have noted that individuals can sometimes rationalize or justify deviant behavior through a process of techniques of neutralization. David Matza, for example, has argued that individuals use five specific techniques (denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of the victim, condemnation of the condemners, and appeal to higher loyalties) to disengage from the social norms and values of their society momentarily.

Despite this, Parsons focus on the role of cultural norms and values, and socialization in developing conformity and promoting social cohesion remains relevant.

4) Hirschis Control Theory

4.1 Importance of Social Bonds for Conformity

Travis Hirschis control theory represents another theoretical approach to social control that emphasizes the importance of social bonds in shaping individuals behavior. Hirschi argues that individuals who are integrated into the social fabric of their community, through strong attachments to family, peers, and social institutions, are less likely to engage in deviant behavior.

Social bonds, therefore, play a crucial role in promoting conformity and reducing deviance. Hirschi emphasizes four types of social bonds that promote conformity: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.

Attachment refers to the emotional connections that individuals have with others, such as family or friends. Commitment involves having a sense of investment in a future involving education, work, or other goals.

Involvement refers to the amount of time individuals spend engaged in positive social activities. Belief is the acceptance of social norms and values as valid.

According to Hirschi, individuals who have strong social bonds are less likely to engage in deviant behavior, as the potential costs (of losing those social bonds) are perceived as greater than any potential benefits. Conversely, individuals who lack strong social bonds may be more likely to engage in deviant behavior, as they do not feel as invested in their community and are less likely to fear the potential social sanctions that might occur as a result of their deviance.

4.2 Deviance Explanation through Social Bonds

Hirschis control theory explains deviance through the absence of social bonds. Individuals who lack strong social bonds are more likely to engage in deviant behavior because they do not feel a sense of obligation to conform to societal norms and values.

Deviance, from Hirschi’s perspective, is a result of a weak social bond system, in which individuals lack the attachment, commitment, involvement, or belief necessary to promote conformity. In contrast, individuals who have strong social bonds are more likely to internalize societal norms and values and to behave in accordance with these expectations.

Through social bonds, individuals develop a sense of belonging to their community, which strengthens their attachment to its norms and values. This, in turn, helps to create a culture of conformity, which reinforces social control and promotes social cohesion.

Conclusion

Theoretical approaches to social control, such as the ones presented by Parsons and Hirschi, help to inform our understanding of the complex interplay between individual behavior and social structure. Parsons approach emphasizes the role of socialization in shaping individuals behavior and promoting conformity, while Hirschis control theory emphasizes the importance of social bonds in promoting conformity and reducing deviance.

Together, these approaches help to provide a more nuanced understanding of social control and the mechanisms through it operates. Ultimately, the ability to understand and regulate human behavior is a crucial element in maintaining a stable and cohesive society, turning theoretical insights into effective, relevant policies for social welfare in any given context.

5) Marxist Approaches to Social Control

5.1 Conformity Producing Approaches

Marxist approaches to social control are rooted in the understanding that society is structured around class struggle, and that the ruling class seeks to maintain their power and control over society. One way they do this is through conformity producing approaches, which are designed to produce a docile and passive workforce that is compliant with the demands of the ruling elite.

Education is one example of a conformity-producing approach. According to Marxist theory, education is controlled by the ruling class and serves to reinforce their values and beliefs.

The aim of education, from the Marxist perspective, is not to encourage critical thinking but to produce a compliant and submissive workforce that is capable of following orders and conforming to authority. This approach is supported by Correspondence Theory, which suggests that the hidden curriculum of schools, which reinforces discipline and obedience, is used to promote conformity to the larger social structure.

In this view, the disciplinary measures employed by schools (e.g., detention, suspension, and expulsion) function as a form of social control, encouraging conformity among students. 5.2 Deviance Reducing Approaches

Marxist approaches to social control also include deviance-reducing approaches, which are designed to maintain the social order by reducing deviant behavior.

One of the primary ways in which this is achieved is through the police and the criminal justice system. However, Marxists argue that the police and the criminal justice system are biased towards protecting the interests of the ruling elite, who use their power and influence to shape the legal system to their advantage.

This bias is evident in the disproportionate policing of certain communities, particularly those that are poor and marginalized, leading to under-prosecution of crimes committed by those in power, such as corporate crime. Marxists argue that these biases are a reflection of the fact that the legal system is shaped by the interests of the ruling class, rather than by objective legal principles.

According to this perspective, laws are used to maintain the status quo and protect the interests of the powerful, rather than promoting public safety and social welfare.

6) Interactionist Approaches to Social Control

6.1 Ironic Relationship between Social Control and Deviance

Interactionist approaches to social control focus on the ways in which social control and deviance are linked. Interactionist theorists, such as Howard Becker, argue that deviance is not an objective phenomenon but rather a social construct created through the process of labelling.

According to this perspective, deviance is not inherent in certain behaviors but rather the product of the way those behaviors are defined and treated by others. The labelling perspective, therefore, suggests an ironic relationship between social control and deviance, in which social control efforts actually create the deviant behaviors they seek to control.

This is because the labeling of deviant behavior, particularly in the criminal justice system, reinforces the stigmatization of certain individuals or groups, making it more difficult for them to reintegrate into society and leading them to become more deviant. 6.2 Certain Types of People Getting Labeled as Deviant

Interactionist approaches to social control also highlight how labeling practices are biased and disproportionate, with certain types of people becoming labeled as deviant more frequently than others.

For example, individuals from marginalized communities, such as members of racial or ethnic minorities, are more likely to be labeled as deviant, as are individuals who are poor, homeless, or mentally ill. This is due, in part, to the stereotypes and prejudices held by those in power, as well as the power dynamics that exist within social groups.

Once an individual is labeled as deviant, this label becomes a part of their identity, influencing how they view themselves and how others view them, often perpetuating deviance and criminal behavior. As such, interactionist approaches to social control highlight the importance of understanding the social construction of deviance and developing more effective and equitable approaches to social control.

Conclusion

Marxist approaches to social control emphasize the role of the ruling class in maintaining power and control over society. They suggest that conformity-producing approaches, such as education and the criminal justice system, are used to promote compliance and obedience among the general population, while deviance-reducing approaches disproportionately target marginalized communities.

Interactionist approaches to social control highlight the social construction of deviance and how labeling practices are biased and disproportionate, perpetuating deviant behavior among certain types of people. Both theoretical perspectives emphasize the need for more equitable and effective approaches to social control, grounded in a deep understanding of the complex interplay between social structure and individual agency.

In conclusion, social control is a complex concept that is explored through several theoretical perspectives including Parsons’, Hirschi’s, Marxist, and Interactionist approaches. Each perspective provides a unique understanding of the complex interplay between individual behavior and social structure, grounded in the importance of socialization, social bonds, conformity, and deviance.

An equitable and effective approach to social control must acknowledge and address biases and disproportionate justice, and offer solutions to promote social welfare and cohesion.

FAQs:

Q: What is social control?

A: Social control refers to the various mechanisms and processes through which individuals are encouraged or coerced to conform to social norms and values. Q: Why is conformity important in social control?

A: Conformity is crucial in social control because it promotes adherence to social norms and values that help maintain social cohesion and stability. Q: What are some common techniques of neutralization?

A: Techniques of neutralization include denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of the victim, condemnation of the condemners, and appeal to higher loyalties. Q: What is the labelling perspective?

A: The labelling perspective is an interactionist approach to social control that suggests that deviance is not an objective phenomenon but rather a social construct created through the process of labelling. Q: How do social bonds promote conformity?

A: Social bonds, such as attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief, create a sense of belonging to a community that strengthens individuals’ attachment to its norms and values, and promotes conformity. Q: How do Marxist approaches to social control view conformity producing techniques,

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