The stoplight ahead of you turns red, so, naturally you bring your vehicle to a halt and wait for the light to turn green. When the light turns green you lift your foot off the break, press the gas pedal, and proceed through the intersection. As you drive down the street, you stay in your designated lane and oncoming traffic stays in theirs. When you hear an ambulance coming from behind, you, along with the other surrounding vehicles, pull over and make way for the ambulance to pass. You do not go over the speed limit because you are fearful of breaking the law and getting pulled over by the police. When it comes to driving, you are a law abiding citizen, but have you ever asked yourself why? Why do you follow the standards of the road? And what if one day everybody stopped following the rules of the road, what would happen then? So often we overlook the norms of society, and fail to remember that most things do not just happen without reason, society functions in an extremely influenced manner.
Social Control is a force that prevents one from behaving in a deviant manner, and instead encourages the individual to behave in an approved manner. In other words, social control is a way in which society maintains a sense of order. Every group uses social control as an effective way to keep conformity among individuals, for example, soldiers, monks, and even members in gangs follow some sort of required or preferred set of standards. Whether we are following conformity, which is following the actions of our peers, or someone who has no authority to direct what we do and don’t do (such as peer pressure), or whether we are following obedience, which is the cooperation and following of authority figures (police officers), humans will constantly be influenced by some sort of social control whether they want to be or not.
Social Control is not necessarily a bad thing, without it society would be unable to survive. As humans, we accept social control and follow social norms because we are afraid. One of the ways we are afraid is being subjected to social disapproval. Nobody desires to be looked down upon, or to be subjected to humiliation by others, so therefore humans tend to follow certain hygiene, dress, and even personality trends to “fit in”. So how do you know what is socially acceptable? As humans we have developed a type of social control called Informal Social Control. These are the cues that let us know whether we are practicing behavior that is or is not acceptable, such as laughter, smiling, dirty looks, and ridicule. For example, at the high school I went to, there was a certain group of kids who decided to wear fake animal tails on the back of their pants. These kids were instantly labeled as “weird” and were made fun of by students, and even at times, by teachers. Eventually the bullying got so bad that faculty banned the wearing of tails to minimize bullying. The kids could no longer wear the tails simply because it was not socially acceptable.
Another reason that we as humans accept social control due to fear is another form of social control, called Formal social control. This is a type of control carried out by police officers, judges, teachers, principals, employers, and managers. They enforce social control by punishing those who fail to follow desired behavior. This can range from putting gum in your classmate’s hair and therefore being put in timeout by a teacher to murder, rape, and other heinous crimes which are controlled by the police force and legal system. Some norms are so important that they become laws; this is a type of governmental social control. Some laws are directed at all members of society (such as murder) while others are directed at certain groups often depending on where you live.
So if social control is everywhere we go, why do some people go so far as to commit crimes and other deviant acts? This can be explained by the Social control theory. This proposes that people’s relationships, commitments, values, and norms encourage them to not break the law, basically saying that socialization steers us to following correct behavior. As humans we are socialized to desire the need to belong and to fear being deviant or acting out of the ordinary. For example, a child who is exposed to media, interacts with other children, and is disciplined has a far less chance of performing deviant acts than a child whom is sheltered from others and who has no role models or disciplinary in their lives.
Overall, social control cannot be avoided. It is part of everyday life. It is how we live and maintain a functioning and somewhat safe society. Yes there will always be those who choose deviance. But with the correct socialization and with formal social control we can increase the number of those who prove the Social Control Theory, and decrease deviance and crime.
“Bolender Initiatives.” Sociology Overview: Social Control. N.p. , n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2013