The ‘Social Control’ Theory sees crime as a result of social institutions losing control over individuals. Weak institutions such as certain types of families, the breakdown of local communities, and the breakdown of trust in the government and the police are all linked to higher crime rates.
Hirschi: Bonds of Attachment
Travis Hirschi argued that criminal activity occurs when an individual’s attachment to society is weakened. This attachment depends on the strength of social bonds that hold people to society. According to Hirschi there are four social bonds that bind us together – Attachment; Commitment; Involvement and Belief.
According to this theory one would predict the ‘typical delinquent’ to be young, single, unemployed and probably male. Conversely, those who are married and in work are less likely to commit crime – those who are involved and part of social institutions are less likely to go astray.
Politicians of all persuasions tend to talk in terms of social control theory. Jack Straw from the labour party has argued that ‘lads need dads’ and David Cameron has made recent speeches about the importance of the family and the problems associated with absent fathers. These views are also popular with the right wing press, which often reminds their (middle class, nuclear family) readers that ‘Seventy per cent of young offenders come from lone-parent families; children from broken homes’
Supporting evidence for Social Control Theory
Evidence for Social Control Theory tends to focus on three problem areas that are correlated with higher crime rates. These are: Absentee parents; Truancy; Unemployment
The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Farington and West 1991). Looked at 411 ‘working class’ males born in 1953 who were studied until their late 30s. Found that offenders were more likely to come from poorer, single parent families with poor parenting and parents who were themselves offenders. This study suggests that good primary socialisation is essential in preventing crime.
Martin Glyn has pointed out that many young offenders suffer from what he calls ‘parent deficit’. He argues that this is the single most important factor in explaining youth offending. He argues that children need both discipline and love, two things that are often both absent with absent parents.
Research commissioned by NASUWT, a teachers’ union, based on reviewing existing literature and in depth studies of two schools in Birmingham and London found that Family breakdown and a lack of father figures could be to blame for pupils joining gangs, Children as young as nine are being drawn into organised crime for protection and to gain a “sense of belonging” because of the lack of positive role models at home, it is claimed. Others are being effectively “born into” gangs as membership is common among older brothers and even parents in some areas. The problem is increasingly threatening some inner-city schools, with teachers claiming that the influence of gang culture has soared over the past three years.
Criticisms of Social Control Theory
- Some crimes are more likely to be committed by people with lots of social connections – e.g. Corporate Crime
- Marxism – It’s unfair to blame marginalised people – they are victims of an unfair society which does not provide sufficient opportunities for work etc.
- Interactionism – Middle class crimes are less likely to appear in the statistics – In reality the attached (middle classes) are just as criminal.
- By focussing on the crimes of the marginalised, the right wing elite dupe the public into thinking we need them to protect us from criminals (whereas in reality we need protecting from the elite)
- This may be a case of blaming the victim – We need to look at structural factors that lead to family breakdown (poverty, long working hours, unemployment.)
- Parent deficit does not automatically lead to children becoming criminals. There are also ‘pull factors’ such as peer group pressure.
Revision Notes for Sale
If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Notes – 31 pages of revision notes covering the following topics:
- Consensus based theories part 1 – Functionalism; Social control’ theory; Strain theory
- Consensus based theories part 2 – Sub cultural theories
- The Traditional Marxist and Neo-Marxist perspective on crime
- Labelling Theory
- Left- Realist and Right-Realist Criminology (including situational, environmental and community crime prevention)
- Post-Modernism, Late-Modernism and Crime (Social change and crime)
- Sociological Perspectives on controlling crime – the role of the community and policing in preventing crime
- Sociological Perspectives on Surveillance
- Sociological Perspectives on Punishment
- Social Class and Crime
- Ethnicity and Crime
- Gender and crime (including Girl gangs and Rape and domestic violence)
- Victimology – Why are some people more likely to be criminals than others
- Global crime, State crime and Environmental crime (Green crime)
- The Media and Crime, including moral panics
Social Control Theory is a major component of consensus theories of crime, usually taught as part of the Crime and Deviance module within the AQA’s A-level sociology specification