What is Social Control?

Social control refers to the mechanisms a society uses to get individuals to conform. This post covers sociological perspectives on social control such as Functionalism, Marxism and Interactionism

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A broad definition of social control is ‘all of the formal and informal mechanisms and internal and external controls that operate to produce conformity’*

Social control is the opposite of deviance. Sociologists of deviance ask ‘why do people break social norms and values’? Social control theorists ask ‘why do people conform to social norms and values’?

NB for students studying the crime and deviance component of A-level sociology, most resources tend to focus on the ‘crime and deviance‘ aspect, NOT the social control aspect, but the question of why people conform is just as important as the question of why people break the rules!

Origins of the Concept of Social Control

The concept is often traced back to the seventeenth century Philosopher Thomas Hobbes who argued that in a society of self-interested individuals a great power (the State) was needed to prevent things deteriorating into a war of all against all.

Individuals agreed to give up some of their individual freedoms by promising to obey the laws of the State, and in return the State promised to protect individuals.

Talcottt Parsons (1937) developed one of the earliest sociological perspectives on social control. He argued that conformity was not just produced by external agencies coercing individuals to obey rules through the threat of punishment, but also through individuals internalizing norms and values through socialization.

Travis Hirschi (1969) developed this idea further when he argued that juvenile delinquency was the result of an individual’s bonds to society were weakened. His theory emphasized the importance of ties to family, peers and other social institutions such as education and work as important in maintaining social control.

Types of social control theory

One way of dividing up theories of social control is to separate them into conformity producing and deviance repressing approaches (Hudson 1997) suggested there were

Conformity producing theories tend to focus on how people learn to conform by internalising social norms and taking on social roles (like with the Functionalist view of the family or education)

Deviance repressing theories tend to look at the relationship between deviance behaviour and the measures used to reduce it (like with right and left realist approaches to deviance).

Better methods combine both types of approach

Parsons’ approach to social control

Parsons was interested in the question of how societies produce enough conformity to reproduce themselves (or carry on) across several generations.

He pointed out that the majority of people to do not seem to mind conforming to most of society’s norms and values for most of the time during most of their lives. In other words most people willingly conform.

Parsons argued that socialization was central to this ‘willing conformity’. Socialization within institutions such as the family and education helped individuals to internalize the norms and values of a society and convince people that a ‘good-person’ was one who willingly conformed to society’s rules.

Matza’s Techniques of Neutralisation

David Matza’s work on ‘techniques of neutralisation’ supported this view. He pointed out that even people who broke the laws of society still shared the general values of that society.

Matza argued that when people committed deviant acts, they employed ‘techniques of neutralisation’ to explain why they had broken social norms and/ or values.

Techniques of neutralization may include such things as ‘I was drunk, so I was out of control’ or ‘that person is nasty, they deserved it’, and they are used by individuals to justify why they were temporarily deviance on that particular occasion.

Matza argued that ‘techniques of neutralisation’ enabled people to convince themselves that there were exceptional circumstances which explained their occasional acts of deviance, while at the same time allowing them to maintain their self-concept as someone who generally conforms to social norms most of the time.

Hirschi’s Control Theory

Hirschi’s theory of social control emphasized the importance of attachments and social bonds. The more bonds an individual has to society, the more time he or she spends involved with other people and social institutions, then the less likely that individual is to commit deviance.

In Hirschi’s theory, deviance doesn’t really need explaining: it happens whenever an individual is cut free from social bonds and has the opportunity to be deviant.

Marxist Approaches to Social Control

Unlike the three consensus approaches above, Marxists tend to see social control as being consciously or unconsciously ‘engineered’ by the capitalist class and the state.

In terms of ‘conformity producing’ approaches – Marxists see the norms and values of education as working to produce a docile and passive workforce – as outlined in Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Theory.

The media is also seen as an important agent of social control – processes such as agenda setting and gatekeeping mean the elite’s view of the world is presented as normal, thus producing ideological control.

Marxists are also critical of how ‘deviance is reduced’ – seeing the police as working with the elite and the state – working class street crime is, for example, over-policed and prosecuted, while Corporate Crime is relatively under-policed and prosecuted.

Interactionist Approaches to Social Control

The labelling perspective sees social control and deviance as having an ironic relationship.

The more the agencies of social control try to prevent deviance, by labelling and policing certain behaviours as deviant, then the more deviance will be created.

A lot of research from the interactionist perspective has focused on how it is certain types of people (rather than behaviours) who tend to get labelled as deviant, and thus are more likely to become deviant.

Sources

(*) Giddens and Sutton (2017) Essential Concepts in Sociology

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Can religion lead gang members away from crime?

The short answer is yes: ex gang members who join a religious ‘support’ programme as a way out of crime have lower re-offending rates. However, the re-offending rates of those who quit such programmes have higher reoffending rates than those who never took part at all!

This is according to some recent research summarized in this interesting Thinking Allowed podcast. The research summarized is clearly relevant to both the beliefs in society module and the crime and deviance module.

The podcast starts off with a discussion of what gangs are, focusing mainly on how uncritically the term is used.

There’s an especially interesting discussion on labelling as applied to gangs and how naming a gang can sometimes be enough to bring it into existence.

There is also commentary on how the gang label is typically applied to groups of young people, and how it has racial connotations, being applied more to black youth.

The podcast then moves onto routes into gangs, outlining how various ‘causal factors’ have been identified through research, such as poverty, deprivation, and childhood trauma.

However research on causes is a bit 1990s, and the focus today is more on routes out of crime, or what criminologists call desistance

Desistance: Routes out of Crime

This episode of Thinking Allowed finishes off with a summary of Professor Ross Deuchar‘s work on the routes out of gangs.

He has spent time with gang members who have served their time for gang related offenses and in a liminal phase, trying to transition away from gang life, and his research has a real global focus, he’s researched desistance in Scotland, the US and Asia.

Previous research of his highlighted the fact that traditional, or hegemonic masculinity played a big part in gang members criminality – much of the violence was about playing out a hyper masculine role.

His research shows that religious groups offering therapeutic support to ex gang members have a higher success rate than usual in helping ex gang members to desist from crime.

He suggests this might be because the focus on spirituality (rather than dogma) allows for a deepening awareness of self an others and it helps ex-gang members learn how to be men in different ways to previously.

There is a lot more to this podcast, and I suggest you check it out, click the link above to find out more!

Crime and Deviance Teaching Resource Bundle

I’ve just release a new crime and deviance teaching resource bundle as part of my A-level sociology teaching resource subscription

This teaching resource bundle contains everything teachers need to deliver 10-hour long lessons in the sociology of crime and deviance for A level sociology.  

Each lesson includes a student work-pack, supplementary resources such as PowerPoints, a detailed lesson plan and numerous lesson activities including starters, plenaries and links to some Socrative quizzes.

There is also some material on exams or formal assessment, but the main focus of these lessons is on content delivery rather than revision. If you’re interested in more assessment resources please see my you might like my various ‘revision bundles’, assessment details are contained within the relevant documents in each of these.

The resources have been designed for A-level sociology and cover the core themes on the AQA’s specification but are suitable for new 16-19 students studying any specification.

An overview of the ten introductory lessons:

  1. An introduction to Crime and Deviance
  2. An introduction to crime statistics
  3. Applying sociological perspectives to the London Riots
  4. Consensus theories of crime review lesson
  5. The Marxist perspective on crime lesson 1
  6. The Marxist perspective on crime lesson 2
  7. Research and letter- to MP writing lesson on corporate and white-collar crime
  8. The Right Realist perspective on crime lesson 1
  9. The Right Realist perspective on crime lesson 2
  10. Researching Right and Left Realist policy solutions to knife crime.

Resources in the bundle include:

  • Five student workbooks covering all of the above lessons
  • Eight Power Points covering most of the above lessons (not for riots or the corporate crime research lesson.
  • 10 lesson plans covering all of the above lessons.
  • Various supplementary hand-outs for some of the above lessons as necessary.
  • Starters and plenaries for crime and deviance
  • Extensive gap-fill crime and deviance revision grids with answers.
  • Full crime and deviance scheme of work.

Fully modifiable resources

Every teacher likes to make resources their own by adding some things in and cutting other things out – and you can do this with both the work pack and the PowerPoints because I’m selling them in Word and PPT, rather than as PDFs, so you can modify them!

NB – I have had to remove most the pictures I use personally, for copyright reasons, but I’m sure you can find your own to fit in. It’s obvious where I’ve taken them out!

The social construction of crime

A key idea in the sociology of crime and deviance is that crime is socially constructed which means that whether an act is criminal or not is determined by social processes. In the case of crime, the introduction of new Acts of Parliament which change the law constantly change the nature of crime.

As a result, there are many things that were not illegal in the past which are criminal and thus illegal now.

A brief timeline of some recent changes to the law illustrate this…

1973 – Motorcycle helmets made compulsory

Before 1973 it was perfectly legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, not so from 1973.

(Source)

1991 – rape within marriage made illegal.

Previous to this it was held that men could not rape women within marriage, because the marriage union was equivalent to consensual sex at any time. The illegality of rape within marriage was not formalised until the 2003 sexual offenses act.

Source: The Week

1994 – informally organised Raves made illegal (sort of)

In 1994 The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was aimed at clamping down on anti-social behaviour. It effectively gave the police new powers to break up raves, or any informally arranged gathering of 100 or more people listening to music involving a series of repetitive beats.

The 1992 Castlemorton rave, the biggest ever informally organised rave in British history, is one of the events that led to the establishment of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Anti-Social Behaviour Act…

NB the act didn’t technically make it illegal for you and your mates to organise a rave, it just makes it easier for the police to break them up, slap an injunction order on you, and then arrest you the next time for breaking the injunction order.

This notorious act also made it easier for the police to break up road protests, move on travellers and arrest hunt saboteurs.

Source:Wiki

2007 – the smoking ban

Made it illegal to smoke indoors in public places such as public transport and bars.

2016 – The Psychoactive Substance Act

In 2016 the selling of so called ‘legal high’s such as Spice was made illegal through the  the psychoactive substance act

Acts restricting (or allowing) the use of psychoactive substances are useful examples in themselves to illustrate how ‘crime’ is socially constructed. While the UK has been toughening up its drug laws increasing numbers of states in America have been making the growing and sale of cannabis legal.

2020 – parents to be banned from smacking children in Wales (probably )

Smacking your children isn’t illegal in England, at least as long as you don’t leave any physical signs of bruising on them, but there is currently an act going through the Welsh parliament that aims to ban the physical punishment of children by parents outright. It looks set to pass at some point in near future.

Putting it all together…

So in 1972 you could have drunk a couple of pints in the pub while smoking (in the pub), organised an attended a quick Rave with your mates with all of you high on Spice (or whatever so called ‘legal highs’ existed in 1972), ridden back home on your bike without your helmet on (assuming you were within the drink driving limits) and then forced yourself on your wife without her explicit consent, and non of that would have been illegal, thus you would have committed no crime.

At out the same scenario today and you’d be breaking multiple laws and looking at a lengthy jail term.

NB this post makes no judgement about the morality of any of the above acts or laws, it’s merely to highlight the extent to which crime is socially constructed.

Further info/ find out more…

Drug timeline UK https://www.theweek.co.uk/65464/when-was-cannabis-made-illegal-in-the-uk

Does Prison Work? The Stats suggest not!

What can prison population statistics tell us about Crime Control in the UK?  Is Prison an effective strategy for controlling crime?

These are questions that should be of interest to any student studying the Crime and Deviance option within A-level sociology.

Scotland, England and Wales have high prison populations 

Prison population england.PNG

In England and Wales we lock up 40% more people than in France and almost twice as many people as they do in Germany, which are broadly comparable countries.

Yet there is no link between the prison population and levels of crime 

prison population and crime rate.PNG

  • England and wales have seen a rising prison population and a rising then a rapidly falling crime rate
  • Finland has seen a declining prison population and a rising and then a gradually declining crime rate.
  • Canada has seen a broadly level prison population and yet a relatively stable crime rate.

Most people are serving short sentences for non-violent offences 

what people are sentenced for.PNG

Nearly 70% of the prison population are in for non-violent offences – which means that 30% are in for violent offences. In those prisons where the two populations are mixed, this must be awful for some of those non-violent offenders.

People are getting sentenced for longer 

long sentences for serious offences.PNG

I’m not sure what’s underlying this rise in more serious offences …. the most obvious long-sentence crime of murder has decreased in recent years, so maybe this is for violent gang related and terrorist related crimes which involve in harm rather than death ? Something to research further!

Does Prison work?

In short, if controlling crime is what you hope to achieve, then no it doesn’t because nearly 50% of those sent to prison are recalled within 1 year of being released.

reoffending rates England 2019.PNG

However, there are more reasons why you might want to lock people up other than just rehabilitating them and preventing future offending – there is an argument that they just deserve to be punished whether they reoffend or not.

How do community service orders and suspended sentences compare to prison?

it seems that both of these are more effective at preventing reoffending, but the difference isn’t that great:

  • 63% of people who serve sentences of less than 12 months reoffend compared to
  • 56% of those who receive community orders and compared to
  • 54% of those who receive suspended sentences.

reoffending community service compared prison.PNG

HOWEVER, this may be due to the fact that those avoiding jail have different circumstances and/ or different characters to those who do go to jail – they might just be the kinds of people less likely to reoffend already!

Conclusions 

Overall these prison statistics suggest that while we like to lock people up in England and Wales, there is little evidence that doing so prevents crime.

Maybe we should be looking for cheaper and more effective solutions – such as early intervention (initially expensive but cheaper than several years in and out of jail), or public shaming for example?

Sources 

This post is based on data taken from ‘Prison the facts, Summer 2019‘, published by the Prison Reform Trust.

The extradition of Julian Assange – is itself as ‘state crime’

The founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange has been in the news recently because the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid just signed an order to extradite him to the United States, where he stands accused of 18 crimes under the Espionage Act.

Assange being assaulted by state criminals

 

The United States claims that WikiLeaks has published State Secrets, secrets that have harmed the United State’s Government to the extent that they’ve compromised National Security.

The problem is that this isn’t really the case – lots of the information published by WikiLeaks has been harmful to the U.S. and many other governments because it reveals the truth about how they operate behind closed doors and the information they cover up to protect themselves.

One such example is the video released via WikiLeaks in 2007 of a US aircrew laughing over the dozen innocent people they’d just slaughtered in Iraq which exposed the US government’s lie that all of these people had been insurgents.

There is also a further problem in that Julian Assange’s Whistle blowing is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

All of this seems to be blatent case of two governments (the US and the UK) collaborating to stifle Freedom of Speech – it is an attempt by them to use blunt force (the threat of imprisonment) to clamp down on any Journalist who dares to expose State lies.

Furthermore, given that Assange hasn’t actually done anything illegal, extraditing him is a state crime on the part of the UK government (false imprisonment – Assange is currently in jail), and the US putting him on trial is also a state crime.

NB if Assange is extradited and found guilty, this could open up the door the the US being able to prosecute any of the newspapers or journalists which published WikiLeaks material.

It’s a worrying time for freedom of speech and just goes to show the power of the state in modern times: even if

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to Crime and Deviance: it’s a great example of how ‘crime’ is socially constructed’ – what Julian Assange did isn’t even a crime (because of the U.S. Constitution) and yet because it harms governments, the US and the UK are ‘making’ it one.

If you compare it to the case of the war criminal Tony Blair who lead us into an illegal war against Iraq by deliberately misleading the House of Commons, he isn’t being extradited and prosecuted.

Together these show how the ‘law’ is manipulate to protect the wealthy.

Sources/ Find out More 

This article by the Real News Network, which features John Pilger, is well worth a read – the article goes into details of how Assange can’t even access the documents he needs to defend himself, in breach of his human rights.

Using contemporary examples to evaluate the sociology of crime and deviance

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of crime and deviance. You’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018! 

The Extinction Rebellion Protests

Thousands of activists from Extinction Rebellion gathered in London last week to stage the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history.

Extinction Rebellion is an apolitical network whose main aim is to persuade governments to take urgent action on the climate and ecological emergency. Their main tactic is peaceful, non-violent direct action.

They have three main demands:

  1. Tell the truth – Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Act Now – Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Beyond Politics – Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Tactics over the last week in London have included a range of disparate disruptive actions such as blockading bridges, people gluing themselves to selected targets and die ins, all of this in addition to their being larger ‘people’s assemblies’ at various famous landmarks in the capital, with the usual debates, street theatrics, music, and cook-ins.

 

The cost to the economy is estimated to be millions of pounds, and the number of people arrested stands at over 1000, but with not one single police officer was injured during the last week’s peaceful protests.

Relevance to A-level sociology

The best fit is in with ‘globalisation and green criminology’.

Easy to understand is the fact that this is a global movement, so it’s a great example of ‘political globalisation’. NB – you may have missed this in the news, because as far as I can tell the movement started in the UK and London is by far the largest event.

In terms of green criminology – some actions of some of the protestors are illegal – criminal damage and public order offences for example, but they would claim that the ‘real criminals’ are governments around the world for failing to act on climate change.

There’s lots of other links to, but I’ll let you find them!

How do we explain the surge in knife crime?

Fatal Stabbings in England and Wales are now taking place at the quickest rate since records began in 1946 (Source: The Guardian). This is clearly relevant to the Crime and Deviance module!

Two recent cases suggest that violent crime is getting out of control – Jodie Chesney was stabbed in the back while chatting with her friends in a park in Romford and in an unrelated case, Yousef Makki was stabbed to death in a leafy suburb of Cheshire. Neither victims appeared to have any links to violent individuals or crime.

According to Brooke Kinsella in the Daily Telegraph, Knife crime spiked at the beginning of the decade and then fell for several years, due to a range of policies from increased mandatory sentencing for knife crime and improved youth services

However, it started to increase again from about three years ago, with a sudden spike last year, so the above two cases do seem to be part of a recent trend.

Possible reasons behind the recent increase in knife crime 

  • There have been £250 million in budge cuts in this areas since 2010, resulting in the loss of 20 000 police and cuts to youth mental health services.
  • The growing number of children being excluded from school has also been highlIghted in the news recently, something I’ve blogged about here, and something I’ll probably come back to later as well!
  • Writing in The Times, former MET police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe suggests the rise is linked to a increased supply of cocaine from Colombia – resulting in a price fall and more competition between drugs gangs for business. So the roots here are global.
  • Related to the above, county lines also have something to do with it according this Guardian article.

To my mind, it’s likely a combination of factors that are driving this… genuine ‘external causes caused by the influx of drugs and then failed Tory policies – a double header of marketisation leading to increased exclusions (as schools look to boost their league table position) and funding cuts leaving the poor with little option other than to turn to crime.

Maybe all we’re seeing in these innocent victims of knife crime is years of neoliberalism finally catching up with the middle classes?

 

What to do about Shamima Begum?

Shamima Begum was just 15 years old when she left her home in Bethnal Green, London, to join Islamic State in Syria. Now, four years later, she has witnessed two of her children die of illness and malnutrition, and fears for the life of her third child, born in a refugee camp in Eastern Syria, from where she’s requested to return to the UK, having shown no remorse for her dealings with ISIS.

The ‘punishment’, if we can call it that, is to strip of her of UK citizenship, which the Home Secretary can only do in this case because he believes Begum has the right to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship, even though she has never visited Bangladesh.

Interestingly, the UK government isn’t simply allowed to strip an individual of their citizenship and render them stateless, they are only allowed to do so in begum’s case because her Bangladeshi heritage allows her to apply for citizenship there. However, the Bangladeshi authorities say she won’t be allowed in. 

This article in The Conversation provides an accessible insight into the legality of revoking citizenship.

Even if the UK government is legally allowed to strip Begum of citizenship, this still feels like the UK government is somehow denying responsibility for Begum – surely it would be more appropriate to bring her back to the UK, put her on trial, and actually punish her as the UK citizen she really is, rather than trying to revoke it.

The argument that she’s ‘our responsibility’ is rooted in the fact that she was radicalised in the UK and managed to leave without any effective ‘safeguarding intervention’.

What the UK government’s response shows is just how difficult it is for nation states to deal with such international criminals…. Maybe it’s because we’ve got no long-term solutions? Maybe the government doesn’t want to bring her back because the population would be so against it, as 78% of the population believe she should have had her citizenship revoked.

Shamima Begum

This could very well (probably is) an example of popular punitiveness, despite the fact that she’s not really being punished as such!

However, just passing the buck onto another country because of a legal technicality doesn’t seem right, and what kind of message does this send out about how to deal with international criminals more generally?

Whatever your opinion on the Shamima Begum case, it certainly illustrates a the problems of dealing out justice where international crimes which cross boarders are concerned, and maybe suggests that nation states are too small to deal with such criminals?

Maybe we need to take a lesson from Escape to LA? Rather than nation states dealing with them in country of origin, we just put by stateless regions on earth, and build a wall round them, and see how they get on…?

We could also film it with drones and turn it into a form of entertainment….. the scary thing is this doesn’t actually sound that far-fetched, I can actually see most people getting on board with the idea!