Social Control in Sociology has been defined by various scholars. The most prominent meaning and definition of social control in sociology are:

Meaning and Definition of Social Control in Sociology

A. Ross, who was among the first American Sociologist to deal at length with Social Control in his book ‘Social Control’. According to him, social control is “ the system of devices whereby society brings its members into conformity with the accepted standards of behavior”

P.H.Landis “Social Control is a social process by which the individual is made group responsive and by which social organization is built and maintained.”

Gillin and Gillin “ Social Control is that system of measures, suggestions, persuasions, restraints, and coercion by whatever means including physical force by which a society brings into conformity to the approved pattern of behavior or subgroup, or by which a group molds into conformity its members”

Maclver defines it as “the way in which the entire social order coheres and maintains itself-how it operates as a whole, as a changing equilibrium.”

Ogburn and Nimkoff “the pattern of pressure which society exerts to maintain order and establish rules in social control.”

Luther L. Bernard -Social Control is a process by which stimuli are brought to bear effectively upon some person or group of persons, thus producing responses that function its adjustment.

Thus, social Control may then be generally defined as any influence which the society exerts upon its members for the purpose of providing security, unity, maintaining order, and safeguarding the welfare of the group as a whole, through positive and negative sanctions.

Need for Social Control in Sociology

Society has certain norms (rules and obligations) which it expects its members to conform. Norms can be explained as Prescriptive behavior which also implies they can be disobeyed or not followed. We find people tend to deviate in behavior from the general expectation. In other words, they and everybody do not conform all the time. Some of these norms do not affect the whole society may take the form of folkways.

If one does not conform to a folkway, one may only probably suffer from ridicule, but if one breaks a More of society like murder, for instance, the mechanism of social control or the sanctions against such behavior is stronger, society can either take away the liberty (jail) or the life of that person. So the sanctions against non-conformists vary in degree according to the importance of a particular norm.

Most people however conform because they either:

  1. Fear negative sanctions (punishment) or reactions.
  2. Want to be praised or approved or rewarded by society i.e. positive sanctions.
  3. Because the norms are so internally socialized that they do not want to break them personally. It affects their social conscience, their sense of right and wrong.

Negative and Positive Sanctions

Negative sanctions aim at restraining deviant behavior. They may be based on force or coercion or take the form of gossip, ridicule, criticism, threats, punishment, censorship, public opinion, or name-calling. The means of Social Control in Sociology may be informal like gossip or formal like the enforcement of the Law.

Positive sanctions may also be either informal like flattery or praise or maybe formal rewards recognized by the public like awards, prizes, or even monetary rewards.

Positive sanctions are more effective and desirable because human nature usually responds more to rewards than to threats. Social Control comes from the individual himself.

Through the process of Socialization and the internalization of religious and moral values as well as to the habits of custom and tradition, the individual has a strong sense of right and wrong.

He conforms because he/she wants to. In modern society, the forms or means of social control are more effective because it appeals to the conscience and the reasoning power of the individual.

The use of force or coercive methods may not be as effective as the method of education and mass media and propaganda. Scientific values, political values, and other values are taught and spread.

Individuals are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and are made responsible for others too.

Physical force, convention, and tradition, and custom and religion were quite effective means of social control especially in traditional and primitive societies e.g. people obeyed the King because of the claim of divine right.

In modern society, however, with technical and economic development and society becoming more complex, new social problems come up which necessitated the control of more formal agencies like the State and other associations that represented the collective will of the community. In fact, agencies of Social Control in sociology-Economic, political, social, and religious are so pervasive now that man finds himself at every step of life under the control of some agency or the other.

The informal means give way to formal such as laws and various codes. The indirect forms become more direct and specific. However what people say “social suggestion…still exercise control over man’s behavior as also folkways and Mores, law, fashion, religion, and morality.

Kingsley Davis observes “Norms act as controls. Through them, human society regulates the behavior of its members in such ways that they perform activities fulfilling societal needs.”

The negative norms of society are standards set up by a group to control the conduct of its members in relation to one another and to the group as a whole. They are not merely imposed or forced on people. They are not laws but ways in which a group finds most convenient to accept the necessity of living together. Also, they are principles in which the group/society has learned and gathered from the past through experience. They also give room for change as new needs arise.

“Folkways and Mores represent the norms or modes of procedures in society, they present to us the most frequent or most accepted way of doing this or that. They regulate or exert pressure upon individuals and groups conform to the norms.

In their role of serving as a standard and exercising control, these social regulations fall into certain systems or codes.

In modern society, there is the legal Code, but there are powerful codes the codes of custom and religion. Because people may violate or break these, they are all guarded by special provisions or sanctions to discourage violation of disobedience.

Sanctions may be:

  1. Be applied to specific rewards attached to conformity, in which case it is positive e.g. praise
  2. More generally, it refers to specific penalty/ punishment attached by the society to the violation of the code. It may be a denial of privileges or cancellation of rights or in the case of legal code; it might mean loss of liberty. Each type of code has its own form of sanction. People usually conform because
  3. they think it right
  4. they are afraid of punishment
  5. It serves their interest or
  6. They become habituated to it.

Codes may also either be imposed by virtue of being members in an association (associational codes). We obey the rules or suffer the consequences. Codes may also be regulated by the community (Communal codes). The role of fashion and of custom especially has very strong influence/sanctions for e.g. through ostracism or gossip. There are also moral codes, which mean a rule of conduct, considered to be right, good, and proper (usually associated with Religion). In fact, these are the Mores of society, which has an even stronger sanction than customs. Moral codes may vary from person to person but mores characterize the group or community.

Finally, there is the legal code that is increasingly important in modern societies and it has the ultimate sanction of physical enforcement. It is the State who upholds the legal code and can wield/use the sanction of force. As society becomes more complex, the codes or means of social control become more varied and increases. There are codes of family life, economic and professional codes (business ethics), even codes among criminals. The code of the State is the main code in maintaining social order but it is supplemented by all these other Codes Which are more flexible in nature and have milder forms of sanctions.

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