Social Control Theory

Social Control Theory There are many things in today’s society that unknowingly control our actions and behaviors. Bonds that exist with our surroundings have a profound effect on how we live our lives. Since the 1900’s conformity has been the focus of every society here on Earth. If people are given an idea about what is right or wrong and the outcomes for each decision are clearly shown; the chance for deviance is greatly lessened. This summary will contain history of the social control theory and how its ideas and beliefs have evolved today.

The earliest known definition of the social control theory was taken from E. A. Ross, a sociologist from the 1900’s. He believed that the things people believed in made them conform to their society and understand what might be good or bad. Since that time the social control theory has been taken a variety of ways by many other sociologists. The way we define this theory today is generally stated as what regulates normal human behavior, how we are influenced by our family and those around us, ties with our school and its importance, and our general acceptance of society.

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With that said it’s easy to see how broad of a definition it really is. You can find examples of social control everywhere; it’s a guideline or standard set for things we experience everyday. For example a high school student attends an after school party and finds out that he wont be accepted by his fellow classmates unless he decides to consume alcohol, this is an example of a standard teenagers set for each other to define who is liked and who isn’t. As time progresses and things change so does the definition of social control.

Things that were once accepted and thought to be right may be outlawed or viewed as unethical in the near future. Things like clothes, legal age to drink or smoke have followed this path of constant change. Travis Hirschi, a well known sociologist, examines the depth of delinquency and its relation ship to conformity by social control. Attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief were the four things that, if used positively, would enhance a person’s life and lead them away from deviance. These four bonds provide a very brief outline on how to avoid negative situations.

The more involved a person is in sports, church, or school the less likely they are to rob a bank, or steal from a grocery store. The intensity of a bond between the child and the parent determines the likeliness of the child to act negatively or be delinquent. The reason for the child acting this way is due to the fact that the relationship between him/her and the parent is valued and important, something that the child wouldn’t want tainted. The same goes for school, if a child appreciates what schools do for them they tend to like and accept school as something positive.

Say a child just doesn’t understand school and fails to see what it provides; this child is more likely to make negative choices and stray from accepted behavior. The genuine bond a child has with his/her parent determines how close the beliefs of the child follow to the parent. Children rose in broken homes or orphanages don’t ever get a chance to be raised properly, and this will have an obvious effect of When people commit to things such as jobs, or hobbies they tend to consume themselves in whatever it is that particular activity has to offer.

Unknowingly this has prevented them from feeling the need to commit crimes or break laws. The more a person commits to different things the greater the chance he/she has of a positive and more rewarding result. Putting in hours behind a desk or out in the field with a full time job leaves little time to spend on deviant acts. The involvement bond also coincides with commitment. Society provides different activities in which its people can participate in, staying involved in things inner murals, chess club, or car shows gives them another way to express themselves in a positive way.

These bonds are somewhat of the skeleton to the social control theory. The last bond that Hirschi discusses is belief. There are so many different things to believe in. The things people choose to believe make them who they are. There are negative beliefs and positive ones. Everyone has them, most are brought up to believe a certain way or practice a certain type of religion. Families pass down beliefs and ways of life from generation to generation. Different races believe in different things, many religious but others exist too.

When people believe in the system its government provides they give back to it, and respect it. However, what some people believe in conflict with the beliefs of others, and when two different types of beliefs clash the result can be ugly. The bond between people and their society lessen when they don’t believe in what it stands for. Demonstrators for abortion or war are perfect examples of the beliefs people have and how they choose to express their emotions physically. The containment theory states that every person has an exterior structure and a protected interior structure.

Both of these different types of structures are used as a buffer for delinquency. Examples of a person’s exterior structure could be belonging to a group of people, the opportunity to gain a certain type of status within society, or a set of limitations or responsibilities. Internal construction can be capitalized on by having a general positive outlook on life, believing in ones self, and a good conscience. When these different constructs weaken in a person the chance for deviant acts increase as well.

There are three different types of control that can change the status of the structures stated above. Francis Ivan Nye came up with internalized, indirect, and direct control. Internalized control is a result of guilt or ideas that develop in the conscience that lead people to make decisions based on what they feel inside is right or wrong. Indirect control Nye believes comes from a persons desire to not associate his/her self with people or activities that loved ones or close friends would see as degrading or unacceptable.

Direct control is a result of guild lines set by governments, officials, parents or any person in power over someone else. They have a direct effect on how many people live their lives, enforcement of laws ensure that society acts as its superiors wish. All these different types of control lead a person to conform to his/her society differently. In every society actions that are viewed as good or bad are plainly stated in black and white by codes or laws written by superiors. From those documents societies are forced to conform whether it’s something they want to do, or something they don’t agree with.

If a person doesn’t feel like the direct control from laws applies to them on the account that it doesn’t coincide with their beliefs, they tend to act how they believe which definitely has its negative effects. There are many arguments brought against the containment theory. How can a young child raised without his father, or raised around drugs and violence ever become a law abiding adult? Most people raised this way pay no attention to laws, or the rules of society. They have only one goal, and that is being prosperous in whatever it is they do. Money is usually the cause of illicit drug trade, or prostitution.

These people feel like the direct control placed over them isn’t fair because they weren’t given a fair chance like a normal child has. Putting food on the table and getting through the day is what we all are forced to do; some of us just go about it differently because of demanding exterior factors like money or material things that are “needed. ” The integrated theory provides that even though a child may have a really positive childhood, deviance isn’t totally avoided. Something between the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood could taint the person’s outcome.

For example someone could be raised from loving parents and learn great values and beliefs but a string of negative happenings could occur that leave the person’s character wounded and vulnerable to deceive social norms. Maybe something along the way prevented the person from experiencing a goal or achieving something important leaving that person with negative feelings. Children that go to catholic schools, and switch to a public school are at risk for this kind of change in behavior. What they thought was right might change as they are introduced into a new and very different type of surrounding.

These are all things sociologists have to consider when trying to define social conformity. In A General Theory of Crime by Hirschi he comes up with a “general theory. ” This general theory is an explanation to why crime occurs. Imagine a starving homeless human being begging for money to eat, as the hours pass he becomes even hungrier and starts to come up with different strategies to rob a nearby gas station for things he needs at that moment. The homeless man winds up robbing the gas station and being arrested for trying to steal as a result of an impulsive behavior.

These types of criminals are different from those who aren’t just trying to survive, however the same situation could apply to anyone. Stealing on impulse because it seems like a good idea at the time, who knows maybe no one will ever find out about it. Hirschi states that, “crime is a function of poor self-control. ” He also goes on to explain that the same type of criminals that involve themselves in these types of activity are also known to drink, smoke, and involve themselves in other types of negative behavior. This poor behavior could be caused from poor indirect control a person has over different situations.

He/she might not even care what other people think when stealing or vandalizing. It’s also a possibility that the person feels alone and far away from any type of social norm. All of these factors are different and the possibilities are endless as to why a criminal strays from social norms and conformity. The four social bonds Hirschi developed are an essential part to living a prosperous life under the social norms provided by officials. If any of these bonds are absent as a person is raised and throughout the duration of his/her life the chance for deviance and crime greatly increase.

Those who are raised to be successful people are only successful in the eyes of the people that created the ideal that how they carried out their life was accepted by their standards, to others they might have all the money in the world but have no life to show for it. These ideas can change at any time; things people hold close to them will always be the foundation for their actions and no matter what Social conformity is a needed ideal in every society to prevent chaos, if people don’t know their limits they may step over boundaries they didn’t know existed and break a law and get into unwanted trouble.

The idea of conformity will be around as long as mankind exists. Humans will conform to what they are taught is right and stray from what is wrong if the bonds they express with their surroundings are positive and healthy. Citation Adler , Freda. Mueller, Gerhard O. W. Laufer, William S. Criminology and the Criminal Justice System. Phillip A. Butcher, 2007.

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Social Control Theory. (2018, May 06). Retrieved from