Social control

Signs warning of prohibited activities; an example of a social control

Social control is a concept within the disciplines of the social sciences.[1]

History of Social Control

The term Social Control was first coined by Albion Woodbury Small and George Edgar Vincent in 1894; however, at the time sociologists only showed sporadic interest in the subject.[2]

Some social philosophers have played a role in the development of social control such as Thomas Hobbes in his work Leviathan that discusses social order and how the state exerts this using civil and military power; as well as Cesare Beccaria's On crimes and punishments that argues that people will avoid criminal behavior if their acts result in harsher punishment, stating that changes in punishment will act as a form of social control.[3] Sociologist Èmile Durkheim also explored social control in the work The Division of Labor in Society and discusses the paradox of deviance, stating that social control is what makes us abide by laws in the first place.[4]

Society uses certain sanctions to enforce a standard of behavior that is deemed socially acceptable. Individuals and institutions utilize social control to establish social norms and rules, which can be exercised by peers or friends, family, state and religious organizations, schools, and the workplace. The goal of social control is to maintain order in society and ensure conformity in those who are deemed as deviant or undesirable in society.[3]

Sociologists identify two basic forms of social control:

  1. Informal means of controlInternalization of norms and values by a process known as socialization, which is "the process by which an individual, born with behavioral potentialities of enormously wide range, is led to develop actual behavior which is confined to the narrower range of what is acceptable for him by the group standards."[5]
  2. Formal means of social control – External sanctions enforced by government to prevent the establishment of chaos or anomie in society. Some theorists, such as Émile Durkheim, refer to this form of control as regulation.

As briefly defined above, the means to enforce social control can be either informal or formal.[6] Sociologist Edward A. Ross argues that belief systems exert a greater control on human behavior than laws imposed by government, no matter what form the beliefs take.[7]

Social control is considered one of the foundations of order within society.[8]