Sociology Index

Social Control

Books on Social Control, Social Control Theory

Society has several mechanisms for building us and our personality. The first mechanism is socialization. The second mechanism society has for building us is social control, which is used to re-build deviants or at least keep them from interfering with the normal operation of society.

Social control ranges from gossip and ridicule to imprisonment and execution. Society also has mechanisms for distributing valued resources. Through stratification society categorizes people and distributes valued resources to them based on the categories. Among the most important categories are class, race and gender.

What is social control? Social control is the oldest concept in sociology. Social control has remained alive in sociology and criminology, though with different meanings. Social control refers to those mechanisms that are put into operation in response to crime, deviant behavior, or other deviations from socially prescribed norms. Recent years have seen new forms of social control, generally thought of as progressive and rational alternatives to oppressive and coercive means.

Society is best conceived as the product of social interaction between component individuals which are controlled by a body of traditions and norms that arise in the process of interaction. Social control is "the central fact and the central problem of society" - Park

Through socialization we learn who we are and what is expected of us and others in our culture. All of our identities come from society. Socialization begins in childhood and continues throughout our lives as we encounter and move through different institutions. By defining what behavior is good, society also defines what is deviant behavior.

Our class, race and gender affect how we are socialized, what type of social control we face, what opportunities we receive and what obstacles weface. Finally, society provides us with ideologies, justifications for our systems of socialization, social control and stratification, and other social arrangements. Sociologists use the term sociological imagination to describe the ability to see the impact of these processes on our private lives, we are a consequence of society. People are also the cause of society, we build it. Many important changes happen because of social movements, which consist of many people organized to promote social change. We participate in socializing others, carrying out social control, reproducing the stratification system, and promoting ideologies. Sociologists use the term the social construction of reality to describe how people build the social world. - David Schweingruber.

Social control is defined as any effort to ensure conformity to laws, rules, or norms. It is the flip side of deviant behavior. One often causes the other. When people find behaviors or attributes offensive, they create laws, rules, or norms that prohibit those deviances. Then they will attempt to ensure conformity by enforcing sanctions.

Although it is created to deter deviant behavior, social control may also cause deviant behavior. Gary Marx's article, Ironies of Social Control, describes three ways in which social control can result in deviant behavior. Note the three concepts in Marx's title: escalation, nonenforcement, and covert facilitation.

Social Control and Political Order - European Perspectives at the End of the Century
Edited by: Roberto Bergalli University of Barcelona, Spain
Colin S Sumner University of Salford, UK
Assessment of issues surrounding the concept of social control, and indicates its significance for the new political orders developing in contemporary Europe. The contributors debate the issues relating to the future of social control from a range of perspectives.

Women and the Social Control of Their Bodies. Reading, Berkshire: Research Publications for the British Library of Political and Economic Science, 1988
COVERAGE The institutions of marriage and family were threatened by the new methods of birth control which became available in the late 19th century. The first organization in England dedicated to advocating the practice of birth control was the Malthusian League.