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Social Control

Social control is the study of the mechanisms in the form of pressure, through which society maintains social order and cohesion. These mechanisms establish and enforce a standard of behavior for members of a society and include various components, such as shame, coercion, force, restraint, and persuasion.

Social control is a concept within the disciplines of the social sciences. Social control is described as certain set of rules and standards in society that keep individuals bound to conventional standards and the use of formalized mechanisms.

Social control is exercised through individuals and institutions, ranging from the family to peers, and organizations such as the state, religious organizations, schools, and the workplace. Regardless of its source, social control aims to maintain conformity to established norms and rules.

Group members typically employ social control in response to anyone it considers deviant, problematic, threatening, or undesirable to ensure conformity. It is a broad subfield of sociology that involves criminologists, political sociologists, and those interested in the sociology of law and punishment and scholars from a variety of disciplines, including philosophy, anthropology, political science, economics, and law.


  • In 1894, the term "social control" was first introduced to sociology by Albion Woodbury Small and George Edgar Vincent.
  • Some social philosophers have played a role in developing social control, such as Thomas Hobbes in his work Leviathan, which discusses social order and how it exerts this using civil and military power.
  • Cesare Beccaria, in his work On Crimes and Punishmentsthat 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.
  • Sociologist Emile Durkheim also explored social control in work The Division of Labor in Society. He discussed the paradox of deviance, stating that social control is what makes us abide by laws in the first place.

Types of Social Control

Social control has two types of social control, such as Formal social control and Informal social control.

Social Control

1. Formal social control: Formal means of social control are generally state-determined by creating laws and their enforcement.

  • History
    Criminal persecutions first emerged around the sixth century B.C. as a form of formal social control in Athens, Greece. The purposes of these persecutions were to check certain groups and protect them from malicious interests.
  • Sanctions
    Formal sanctions are usually imposed by the government and organizations in the form of laws to reward or punish behavior. Some formal sanctions include fines and incarceration to deter negative behavior.
    Other forms of formal social control can include other sanctions that are more severe depending on the behavior seen as negative such as censorship, expulsion, and limits on political freedom.
  • Education
    Education is a great vehicle of social control. Education inculcates moral, intellectual and social values. It links one to one's heritage and sets a perspective before him. It gives the social vision of uniformity to the individual and fits him for a social role.
    The crisis of character that we experience today is no less due to the system of education, not rooted in our tradition, and is culturally alienating, socially non-collective, and politically fractious. With the increase in education's social role, attention is being given to it at all levels.
  • Law
    As observed by Professor Holland, the law is for all practical purposes, a general rule of external action enforced by a sovereign political authority". It is the state's general condition, and the members of the body politic are expected to follow it in given conditions. It is uniform and is meant for all.
    The earliest law was the custom which was enforced by the accepted authority. As a prescribed course of action, it developed out of the family, tribe, or clans' general usages. Some of these faded away with the change of circumstances. Those who were repeated generation after generation gained influence. Custom thus came to be an important source of law.
    Law is a broad term and includes common law, which is mostly based on custom and is enforced like law by the courts and statutory law, made by the Parliament. Another branch of law is the Constitutional law that is the law as provided in the Constitution. The law of the Constitution determines the authority of the organs of the Governments properly.

2. Informal social control: Informal social control refers to individuals' and groups' reactions to conformity norms and laws.

  • Social values
    Social values are the result of an individual internalizing certain norms and values. Social values present in individuals are informal social control products, exercised implicitly by a society through particular customs, norms, etc.
    Individuals internalize the values of their society, whether conscious or not of the indoctrination. Traditional society relies mostly on informal social control embedded in its traditional culture to socialize its members. The internalization of these values and norms is known as a process called socialization.
    It consists of culturally defined goals. It is held out as a valid object of realization for all members of society. It involves various degrees of "sentiments and significance".
  • Norms
    Norms are rooted in the institution. They provide the standard of behavior and are regulatory. The choice of an individual to strive towards the cultural goal is limited by institutional norms. These provide the guideline for action. The norms give cohesion to society.
    They influence the attitude of individuals. Broom and Selznick described norms as a blueprint for behavior, setting limits within which individuals may seek alternate ways to achieve their goals. A social norm operative in one social system is not equally operative in the other. Conformity to norms is qualified because of the socially defined situation.
  • Custom
    Custom is a rule of action. It is the result of some social expediency. It is followed as it involves sentiment based on some rational element. It is automatic, and no special agency is required to enforce it. Any disregard shown to it invokes social censure.
    It cannot be stretched to meet the changing requirements. It may, with the change of circumstances, fade into nonexistence. At a given time, it is a force and reflects the social consensus. As a blueprint for a specific social purpose, it develops over time. It takes time to evolve itself.

Need for Social Control

  1. Social control is necessary for an orderly social life. Society has to regulate and pattern individual behavior to maintain normative social order. Without social control, the organization of society is about to get disturbed.
  2. According to Kimball Young, it is necessary to bring about conformity, solidarity and continuity of a particular group or society.
  3. Society has to make use of its mechanism to accomplish the necessary order and discipline.

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