Sociology Unit III – Social Control

Social Control Meaning

According to Mannheim, social control is the sum of those methods by which a society tries to influence human behavior to maintain a given order.

Any society must have harmony and order. Where there is no harmony or order the society actually does not exist because society is a harmonious organization of human relationships.

Unless the individuals live up to the prescribed norms of conduct and unless their self seeking impulses are subjugated to the welfare of the whole it would be quite difficult to maintain effectively the social organization.

Society in order to exist and progress has to exercise a certain control over its members since any marked deviation from the established ways is considered a threat to its welfare. Such control has been termed by sociologists as social control.

Social control has been defined by Maclver as the way in which entire social order coheres and maintains itself- how it operates as a whole as a changing equilibrium. To Ogburn and Nimkoff the patterns of pressure that a society exerts to maintain order and established rules is social control.

According to Gillin and Gillin social control is that system of measures, suggestions, persuasions, restraint 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.

Need for Social Control

Social solidarity is essential for the existence of society.No two persons is alike in their nature, ideas, attitudes and interests. Every individual is a separate personality. There are cultural differences among the individuals. As a matter of fact society is a heterogeneous organization.

If every individual is allowed unrestricted freedom to act and behave, it may create social disorder. For an orderly social life social control is necessary. The aims of social control are to bring out conformity, solidarity and continuity of a particular group or society. Social control is necessary for maintaining order in the society.

It is necessary for every society or group to maintain its social order and this is possible only when its members behave in accordance with that social order. An important objective of social control is to maintain the old order. Although enforcement of the old order in a changing society may hinder social progress, yet it is necessary to maintain continuity and uniformity in society.

Without social control social unity would be a mere dream. Social control regulates behavior in accordance with established norms which brings uniformity of behavior and leads to unity among the individuals. The family maintains its unity because its members behave in a similar manner in accordance with family norms.

No two men are alike in their attitudes, ideas, interests and habits. Even the children of same parents do not have the same attitudes, habits or interests. Men believe in different religions, dress, eat differently and have different ideologies.

There are so many differences in the ways of living of the people that at every moment there is the possibility of clash be-tween them. In modern times this possibility has all the more increased because man has become too self centred.

Social control is necessary to protect social interests and satisfy common needs. If social control is removed and every individual is left to behave freely society would be reduced to a state of lawlessness.

The Mechanism of Social Control

The study of social control is an important aspect of sociology. It is a significant field of study. It is a unifying factor in the study of human behavior.

According to Kimball Young the aims of social control are to bring about conformity, solidarity and continuity of particular group or society. These aims are good but most individuals who endeavor to control their fellow men show little perspective in their efforts. They want that others should accept the modes of conduct which they themselves prefer.

This preference may be based on any factor-experience derived in life, desire to exploit others for one’s own gain, political, personal or economic.

Some reformers and leaders try to conceal their motives by good reasons in the form of altruistic rationalization. A newspaper advertisement that offer discount to those who make purchases by a particular date is an example of such rationalizations. It is difficult to know and classify the motives of the agents of social control.

The classification of the motives or purposes of the agents of social control –

  1. Exploitative, motivated by self interest.
  2. Regulative based upon habit and the desire for behavior of the customary types
  3. Creative or constructive based on social benefit

The results of social control are not always beneficial to society or to the individual. Even social control for constructive purposes may confuse the public and end in inactivity. Efforts to regulate behavior in accordance to custom may cause cultural lag, mental conflict and emotional instability

Agencies Of Social Control

Formal Agencies

Essay on the Agencies of Social Control – Society or group maintains social control by creating its own agencies which may enforce formal or informal control. Agencies such as law, education, physical coercion and codes on the one hand, folkways, mores, customs, convention, tradition, religion, etc., on the other, have been used by the society for this purpose.

The number and variety of devices and agencies employed depend on the degree of complexity of life in a society. The role of some of these agencies may be briefly discussed here.

  1. Control by Law:

Law is the most powerful formal means of social control in the modern society. Laws appear only in societies with a political organisation that is a government. The term ‘Law’ has been defined in various ways. J.S. Roucek opines that “Laws are a form of social rule emanating from political agencies”. Roscoe Pound says that “law is an authoritative canon of value laid down by the force of politically organised society”.

The main characteristics of law are:

  • Laws are the general conditions of human activity prescribed by the state for its members.
  • Law is called law, only if enacted by a proper lawmaking authority. It is a product of conscious thought, deliberate attempts and careful planning.
  • Law is definite, clear and precise.
  • Law applies equally to all without exception in identical circumstances.
  • Violation of law is followed by penalties and punishments determined by the authority of the state.
  • Laws are always written down and recorded in some fashion. Hence they cannot appear in non-literate society.
  • Laws are not the result of voluntary consent of persons against whom they are directed. Law is derived from various sources. As J.S. Roucek has pointed out, “All social rules including political rules, or laws, originated first in custom or folkways of long standing and are based upon existing conceptions of justice and right in a given community”.

It is true that “in all societies law is based upon moral notions”. Laws are made and legislations are enacted on the basis of social doctrines, ideals and mores. It does not mean that the domains of law and morals are co-extensive.

Still it can be said that the maintenance of legal order depends upon the moral climate of a society”. (Bottomore). The effectiveness of legal regulation never rests solely upon the threat of physical sanctions. It very much depends upon a general attitude of respect for law, and for a particular legal order. This attitude itself is determined by moral approval of law as containing social justice.

Law requires enforcing agencies. Laws are enforced with the help of the police, the court, and sometimes the armed forces. Administrative machinery of the state is the main law-enforcing agency.

Increasing complexity of the modern industrial society has necessitated enormous growth of administrative agencies. Law is, in fact the control of administrative power which is vested in the government officials.

Law as an instrument of control performs two functions: (i) It eliminates and suppresses the homicidal activities of individuals, (ii) Law persuades individuals to pay attention to the rights of others as well as to act in co-operation with others. In this way law tries to protect the individuals and society and promotes social welfare.

It is almost impossible now-a-days to conceive of a society of any degree of complexity in which social behaviour would be completely regulated by moral sanctions. Law has thus become inevitably a pervasive phenomenon.

Contemporary international relations would reveal the importance of law in social control. It may be true that the moral unity of the mankind is now greater than ever before. But moral sentiments alone are not enough today to regulate relations. They are by necessity supplemented by the law.

2. Control by Education:

Education may be defined as a process whereby the social heritage of a group is passed on from one generation to another. It is in this sense, Durkheim conceived of education as “the socialisation of the younger generation”. He also stated, “It is actually a continuous effort to impose on the child ways of seeing, feeling and acting which he could not have arrived at spontaneously”.

Brown and Roucek have said that education is “the sum total of the experience which moulds the attitudes and determines the conduct of both the child and the adult”. Education is every experience, trifling or profound, which durably modifies, thought, feeling or action.

Education is not just concerned with transmitting a way of life. In the modern times it is largely devoted to the communication of empirical knowledge. It is required today to prepare individuals for a changing rather than a static world.

Formal education has been communicating ideas and values which play a part in regulating behaviour. In modern society science and technology are the basis of a general rational approach to nature and social life. The whole rationalisation of the modern world is connected with the development of science. The chief instrument of this development is educational system.

In this way, formal education can be viewed as a type of social control. Education has contributed to the regulation of conduct in the early socialisation of the child. Educational reformers such as Montessori and Froebel have brought about great changes in the education of young children. These reforms reveal the moral notions external to the educational system.

But they have been influential in changing moral ideas in society at large.

Some educators have suggested that education must be used for making a “good society”. Education is not primarily an attempt to stuff the mind with information, but train people to think to distinguish between truth and error to arrive at reality. In this regard, the school is taken to mean a “community of experience” rather than as a “series of planned lessons”.

George S. Counts has remarked that “Education, emptied of all social control and considered solely as method, points nowhere and can arrive nowhere….”Today people send their children to the schools to be taught properly. “To be taught properly means, of course, to be taught in accordance with the wishes of the community”.

The community is most sensitive; in particular, to those aspects of teaching that have social and moral significance. Hence much attention is paid to select right persons for the teaching profession.

Education from infancy to adulthood is a vital means of social control. Through education new generation learns the social norms and the penalties for violating them. Theoretical education, that is reading and writing, serves to form the intellectual basis and with practical education one learns to put this into practice.

Without proper education the harmony of the individual and society is not merely difficult but also impossible. Education makes social control quite normal. It converts social control into self-control.

In the absence of a well organised educational system, social control would remain merely as an arbitrary pressure which may not last long. Hence, education is a necessary condition for the proper exercise of social control.

3. Control by the Public Opinion:

Public Opinion is an important agency of social control. As K. Young has said, “Public Opinion consists of the opinion held by a public at a certain time “. According to V. V. Akolkar, “Public opinion simply refers to that mass of ideas which people have to express on a given issue”. Public opinion may be said to be the collective opinion of majority of members of a group.

Public opinion is of great significance especially indemocratic societies. Through public opinion the knowledge of the needs, ideas, beliefs, and values of people can be ascertained. It influences the social behaviour of people. Behaviour of the people is influenced by ideas, attitudes and desires which are reflected by public opinion.

People get recognition and respectability when they behave according to accepted social expectations. Public opinion helps us to know what type of behaviour is acceptable and what is not.

There are various agencies for the formulation and expression of public opinion. The press, radio, movies and legislatures are the main controlling agencies of public opinion.

The ‘press’ includes newspapers, magazines and journals of various kinds. The newspaper provides the stuff of opinion for it covers everyday events and policies. Many decisions of the people are influenced by information available through the press.

As an agency of social control the press seeks to influence the tastes, ideas, attitudes and preferences of the readers. It affects their ideology also. It enforces morality by exposing the moral lapses of the leaders.

Radio is another agency of public opinion that influences behaviour. It influences our language, customs and institutions. It is through the radio that human voice can reach millions of people at the same time. It can dramatise and popularise events and ideas. In the same way, television has also been influencing people’s behaviour.

Movies or motion pictures exert great influence on public opinion. They have effectively changed the attitudes and behaviour of the people. Movie-goers are relaxed and unaware of the fact that they are being affected by ideas and values.

They identify themselves with the leading characters and unconsciously accept the attitudes, values, etc., implicit in the role. Some emotionally disturbed people often search solutions for their problems through, movies. Through films it is possible to improve people’s tastes, ideas and attitudes to some extent.

Legislature at present is the most effective agency for the formulation and expression of public opinion. The debates in the legislatures influence public opinion particularly in democratic system. It makes laws that control people’s life and activities. It should be noted that legislature itself is subject to the influence of the people.

4. Control by Propaganda:

“Propaganda is an organised or systematic attempt made by a person or a group to influence public opinion and attitudes in any sphere “.-Akolkar. It refers to the techniques of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations. It is a means of influencing others, often towards a desirable end.

Propaganda can affect people’s faith, ideology, attitude and behaviour. It can also be used to replace old beliefs and practices with the new ones. Propaganda may bring about positive as well as negative results.

Governmental departments such as medical department, planning department, cooperative department, customs department, income tax department, etc. make propaganda to help people to mend their ways and also to develop right habits, practices and approaches.

Every government maintains a department to influence people in the direction of accepted patterns. This department is called the department of ‘public relation’ or “publicity”. The health department may make use of various devices and techniques of propaganda to impress upon people to take precautions to control contagious diseases.

The planning department may try to appeal to the people through effective propaganda the necessity of controlling birth rate. The income tax department may try to create fear in the minds of tax payers of the consequences of evading taxes through propaganda.

Propaganda plays a vital role in both democratic and dictatorial countries. In democratic countries propaganda is mainly used to persuade people to accept some opinions or reject some others or to follow some new practices or drop out some old ones.

But in dictatorial countries it is used by the government mainly to suppress public opinion or to make people to believe what it wants them to believe. Mass media of communication are used for this purpose. Propaganda by itself is neither good nor bad. It depends on the purpose for which it is used and how it is used.

To make propaganda very effective the propagandists repeat them regularly and systematically. They present only one side of the question and furnish vast evidences in support of it. They condemn their opponents and resort to self-praise in an intelligent way.

To get enduring effects they concentrate on children and try to ‘brainwash’ them. Totalitarian states normally try to do this. They even make education an instrument of propaganda.

5. Control by Coercion:

Coercion, that is, the use of physical force is one of the forms of social control. Coercion refers to the use of physical force to stop or control a work or an action. Whenever people are refrained from doing a particular work or whenever some limits are put deliberately on the range of their choice through the use of force, or through the threat of its consequences, they may be said to be under coercion.

Coercion is an extreme form of violence. State is the only association which is empowered to use coercion in social control. No other association is vested with this power. It becomes necessary for the state to resort to coercion to suppress anti-social trends and activities.

Otherwise there would be no security for social life. It is necessary to keep within limits the self-interest, the greed, the lawlessness, and the intolerance ever ready to assert its will over others. It is necessary to protect the interests of the weaker groups, minorities, servants, slaves, poor and the like. Safeguarding the political and social order is the main service of force.

Force alone cannot protect the social order, but without force the order could never be secure. “Without force law is in danger of being dethroned, though force alone can never keep law in its throne”.

Though force is essential, it has its own limitations. The intervention of force substitutes a mechanical for a social relationship. The use of force indicates the denial of the possibility of cooperation. It treats the human being as though he were merely a physical object. Force is the end of mutuality.

Force by itself admits no expression of human impulses against whom it is wielded. Further, the exercise of power is a wasteful operation. It checks all the ordinary processes of life, all the give-and-take of common living. The more it is used the more it breeds resistance, thus necessitating still more enforcement.

Human experience has revealed that coercion or force is necessary as the guarantee of political laws. Its service is best rendered when it is used to the minimum. Where a common rule is considered necessary or beneficial for the common good, some degree of compulsion is involved.

Hence force becomes necessary to enforce the common rule. But only when the use of force is limited it becomes the servant of fundamental liberties of people. Only then the harmony of individuality and society could be most fully achieved.

‘Customs’ represent a kind of informal social control. “The socially accredited ways of acting are the customs of society”. Many of our daily activities are regulated by customs.

Our ways of dressing, speaking, eating, working, worshipping, training the young, celebrating festivals, etc., are all controlled by customs. They are self-accepted rules of social life. Individuals can hardly escape their hold.

All normal people prefer to live according to the customs for they save much of our energy and time. They save us from the objections and ridicule of the society. Customs give guidance for people in every activity.

One need not have to resort to original thinking on every aspect. The role played by customs in life is comparable to the role of instincts in animals. Customs enlighten man in his social life.

Customs are conformed mostly unconsciously. Man learns them from his very childhood and goes on obeying them. Customs are very rarely opposed. Even the harmful customs are also obeyed by most of the people because they do not consider them harmful.

While those who consider them harmful lack the courage to oppose them, only some exceptional individuals have the courage of going against them or carrying on protest against them.

Customs are basic to our collective life. They are found everywhere. They are more influential and dominant in the primitive society than in the modern society. In the tribal societies they act as the “King of Man “. In the modern complex society custom is slowly losing its hold over people, and giving place to law.

6. Control by Folkways and Mores:

Folkways and mores represent two important types of informal control.


‘Folkways’ refer to the ways of the people. They are “the repetitive petty acts of the people “. Folkways are the norms to which people conform because it is expected of them. Conformity to the folkways is neither required by law nor enforced by any special agency of society. For example, there is no law that compels us to wash clothes, to take bath, to brush teeth, to greet friends, to give respect to elders, etc. Still we do many such activities without thinking over them. It is a matter of usage. They are our folkways.

Folkways are not as compulsive and obligatory as laws or morals. Those who violate folkways are not punished by formal means. But the violators are put to gossip, slander and ridicule. One can ignore a few of the folkways but no one can neglect or violate all of them.

They constitute an important part of the social structure.

They contribute to the order and stability of social relations. Human infants learn them through their elders through socialisation. They learn different folkways at different stages relevant to their class, caste, ethnic, religious, occupational, marital and other statuses. We are made to follow them because they are binding. They become with us a matter of habit.

The Mores:

‘Mores’ or’ Morals’ represent another category of norms. When folkways’ act as regulators of behaviour then they become ‘mores’. Mores are considered to be essential for group welfare. The positive mores prescribe behaviour patterns while the negative mores or taboos prescribe or prohibit behaviour patterns.

Mores for example, instruct people to love their country, to look after their wives and children, to tell the truth, to be helpful to others, etc. They also insist on people not to become unpatriotic, not to show disrespect to the god, not to steal, cheat, etc.

Mores represent the living character of the group. They are always considered as ‘right’ by the people who share them. They are morally right and their violation morally wrong. Hence they are more compulsive in nature.

Mores contribute to the solidarity and harmony of the group. They help the individuals to identify themselves with the group. Every group has its own mores. There are more for each sex, for all ages, for all classes, for all families and so on.

7. Control by Sanctions:

Sanctions are the supporters of norms. ‘Sanctions’ refer to “the rewards or punishments used to establish social control, that is, to enforce the norms in a society”. The basic purpose of sanction is to bring about conformity. They are used to force or persuade an individual or group to conform to social expectations.

Sanctions may be applied in various ways, ranging from the use of physical force to symbolic means, such as flattery. Negatively, they may be anything from a raised eyebrow to the death sentence. Positively, they range from a smile to an honorary degree.

Sanctions are applied in various ways. The type of sanctions also varies with the groups and situations. They may be positive or negative. Those sanctions which inflict pain or threaten to do so are negative. Those which elicit and facilitate response by rewards are positive. Both positive and negative sanctions may apply a wide variety of means.

Positive sanctions include verbal methods such as praise, flattery, suggestion, persuasion, some of education, indoctrination, advertising, propaganda, slogans, giving rewards, medals, badges, uniforms, titles, etc.

Negative means include-gossip, slander, satire, laughing at others, name-calling, threats, commands, censorship, and finally overt action. The method of overt action is the final sanction when no other way remains open.

In this method pain, suffering and even death is included. Overt action also includes fines, imprisonment, whipping, mutilation, torture, banishment, ostracism and death. Extreme negative sanctions are applied only by the state.

8. Control by Miscellaneous Norms:

  • Fashion:

Fashion may be defined as permitted range of variation around a norm. People want to be like their associates and friends and also want to be different from them. Fashion is a device beautifully suited to reconcile these opposing tendencies. Fashion permits and regulates variety and thereby avoids a dull and deadening uniformity. They help us to express our individuality without going against norms.

In conforming to fashion we imitate our contemporaries. Sanctions that support conformity to fashion in dress are very powerful. Thus no woman wants to attend a dinner party in a night dress. Superficial or trivial changes in fashions are called fads’. People follow both and try to conform to their requirements. Fashion has become all pervasive. People want to eat fashionable foods, wear fashionable-dresses, read fashionable books, enjoy fashionable amusements, etc.

  • Rites, Rituals and Ceremonies:

Rites, rituals and ceremonies add dignity and a kind of special significance to various events of social life. They mark some occasions with solemnity and introduce enjoyment to others. More than that they serve to identify the individual with his groups, his community, and his nation.

Ceremonies are observed everywhere. The birth of a baby, confirmation, graduation, the death of an old man, the inauguration of a new factory, a promotion, the publication of a book, a new record in athletics, etc., are all events that draw special attention. Ceremony confers public recognition to them.

Ceremony regularises or standardises situations which people confront for which they may not otherwise find a guide for action. For example, the funeral ceremony helps the survivors to meet the crisis of death.

‘Rite’ also refers to a ceremony. It sometimes conveys a sense of secrecy, of a ceremony known only to the initiated. All secret societies have their rites and also people with high qualifications have them. Example: An oral examination for the degree of doctor of philosophy. Through this the candidate joins the limited and selected few.

Ritual is also a ceremony but it is characterised by repetition. It is periodically or repeatedly performed. Ex. Republic Day, Independence Day, Wedding Anniversary, New Year’s Day, Martyrs’ Day, May Day, etc. Ritual introduces temporal regularity and a precision of detail into many of the events that characterise our social life. Ritual also induces a sense of identification with the group.

Etiquette – Sociology

Etiquette is a code of precise procedures that governs the social interaction of people. It contains the notion of propriety. Example: To give some gifts to the host, to place a guest of honour at appropriate seat at a formal dinner, to present some gift to the bride, etc.,

Sociologically speaking, etiquette serves three functions.

(i) It prescribes standard procedures to be followed on specific occasions,

(ii) It indicates membership in a certain social class, and

(iii) It serves to maintain social distance where intimacy or familiarity is not required. Etiquette repels unwanted approaches at specific occasions.

Social control can be considered as an important aspect of an individual’s socialization process. There are some universal norms or rules which should be followed by members of all societies. Any deviation from these norms may result in a minimum level of punishment for ensuring the social order.

It refers to the processes of regulation of an individual or group behavior in a society, which encourages conformity and obedience. It may include social or political mechanisms. Its two forms are formal and informal controls.

Formal Social Control

Formal social control is implemented by authorized agents including police officers, employers, military officers, and others. It is carried out as a last option at some places when the desired behavior is not possible through informal social control. The situations and severity where formal control is practiced varies with countries.

This is practiced through law as statutes, rules, and regulations against deviant social behavior. For example, certain laws like prohibition of murder can be directed at all members of a society. Fishing and hunting regulations are made for certain groups. Corporate laws are laid for governing the behavior of social institutions.

Formal control is conducted by government and organizations through law enforcement mechanisms. It can also be conducted through some formal sanctions including fines and imprisonment. Processes of formal control in democratic societies are determined and designed through legislation by elected representatives.

Courts or judges, military officers, police officers, school systems or teachers, and government agencies or bureaucrats, enforce formal control.

Informal Social Control

It is exercised by a society without stating any rules or laws. It is expressed through norms and customs. Social control is performed by informal agents on their own in an unofficial capacity. Traditional societies mostly embed informal social control culture to establish social order.

Shame, sarcasm, criticism, ridicule and disapproval are some of the informal sanctions. Social discrimination and exclusion are included in informal control at extreme deviant cases.

Self-identity, self-worth and self-esteem are affected in informal control through loss of group approval or membership. The severity and nature of informal control mechanisms differ from varied individuals, groups, and societies.

Informal is effective in small group settings including friends, family, neighborhood, work group and others. However, in some large and complex societies, informal social control and disapproval is ignored easily. At such situations, it is necessary to follow the formal one.

Some of the differences of formal and informal social control are:

  • Formal social control includes written, formalized and codified statements in laws, rules, and regulations. Whereas informal control does not contain any written rules.
  • Formal control agencies are authorized ones created by government and informal control agencies are created by social networks and organizations but not by government.
  • Formal control is much effective and stronger than informal social control. Any situations which cannot be handled by informal control are subjected to formal one.
  • Formal control is effective for even large groups of population but informal control is effective only for a small group of people.

Social control, formal or informal, thus helps in regulation of society. The study of social control includes disciplines of sociology, anthropology, psychology, law and political science.

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