Social Control

Social control refers generally to societal and political mechanisms or processes that regulate individual and group behaviour in an attempt to gain conformity and compliance to the rules of a given society, state, or social group. Sociologists identify two basic forms of social control:

  1. Informal control - Internalisation of norms and values by a process known as socialization, which is defined as “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.”
  2. Formal 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.

While the concept of social control has been around since the formation of organized sociology, the meaning has been altered over time. Originally, the concept simply referred to society’s ability to regulate itself. However, in the 1930’s, the term took on its more modern meaning of an individual’s conversion to conformity. Social control theory began to be studied as a separate field in the early 20th century.

As briefly defined above, the means to enforce social control can be either informal or formal. 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. Nonetheless, formal social control systems established by municipalities across North America have detrimental consequences for the individuals these systems seek to constrain.

Read more about Social Control:  Informal, Formal

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