Social Control Theory All Control Term Paper

  • Length: 12 pages
  • Subject: Sociology
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #51715937

Excerpt from Term Paper :

If integration with a conventional social group helps prevent suicide and "delinquency" (Hirschi 1969) and motivates people to fight, make sacrifices for a community, or commit deviant acts on behalf of a sub-cultural group, it should affect almost all forms of deviance. The absence of social integration with conventional groups should be influential in psychotic behavior (unless that specific behavior is organically determined and totally uncontrollable); without integration into nonbusiness groups, entrepreneurs, who are highly motivated to turn a profit, should be free to engage in price fixing; and strong social integration with any group should inspire some to excess zeal in fulfilling what they perceive as group expectations (over conformity), which may result in various forms of deviance. Since Hirschi's version, the best-known expression of the social control argument, does not convey this breadth, it must be regarded as shortsighted. Even the proliferation of separate theories of social integration for various deviant and conforming acts illustrates the inefficiency of theory building in the social sciences and dramatically underscores the importance of constructing theories with breadth.

Because of imprecision and shallowness, it is difficult to say exactly what kinds of deviance labeling theory presumably explains, particularly since it only attempts to account for those forms of deviance that are "secondary" in nature. It might apply to any form of deviance that can be publicly recognized through the imposition of a label by duly authorized officials. This would include any behavior officially prohibited in the criminal law of a given society (labeled by criminal justice agents), any "abnormal" behavior regarded as evidence of mental illness (labeled by medical personnel), and any form of institutional misbehavior (labeled by school officials, church authorities, and so on). It may also apply to any form of social misbehavior that can be magnified in a public "event" or "episode" to which a social audience can respond by collectively stigmatizing an individual. Presumably, it cannot explain private or secret acts undetected by authorities or unknown to the public, such as disloyalty to a friend or lack of sensitivity to a spouse or child, nor can it explain the many forms of primary deviance that escape stigma or even repetitious deviance that continues without the individual having been labeled deviant by a hostile audience (like habitual shoplifting). As it bears on secondary deviance, the labeling theory seems to have fairly broad coverage, but because it is extremely narrow otherwise, even if it were completely accurate in its account of secondary deviance, it would be inadequate as a general theory.

It is clear, however, that the desire to offend is, for some individuals, so strong that social controls pale; some deviance is committed because the groups to which offenders are bonded actually exercise social control to encourage deviance; and some unbonded individuals nevertheless conform, perhaps out of habit, lack of alternatives, or internalized moral commitments. Most people agree that deviance is to some extent dependent upon opportunities and skills, as well as other factors. For instance, individual variation in accuracy of perceptions about how particular behaviors would be viewed by conventional others, or about the deviant orientations of groups to which one might be bonded, could affect delinquency. Moreover, although this theory implies equal ability to explain all forms of crime/deviance (though it specifically addresses only "delinquency"), it is quite likely that the constraints of social bonds are differentially effective for various kinds of crime/deviance and are probably more effective at preventing acts strongly disapproved by general opinion than acts that are only slightly disapproved. However, none of these components are encompassed within social control theory, and it neglects to account for variations in social bonds themselves.

Therefore, as sensible as the main proposition appears, social control theory fulfills few of the criteria for adequacy as a general theory. Like the others, it is more incomplete than incorrect, excluding more than it includes, and only imprecisely accommodating the interactions of its main variables with other conditions. If one interprets Marxian conflict theory in terms of the deprivation and exploitation presumably inherent in capitalism (but also possible in a wide variety of social contexts and economic systems), rather than in terms of capitalism per se, it explains all forms of exploitation and insensitive or de-moralized acts by one person against another, what Travis Hirschi (1990) refers to as acts of force or fraud pursued for self-interest, acts of protest or retaliation by workers against exploiters or symbols of oppression, as well as acts reflecting adaptive techniques for economic survival (such as prostitution). Even with a direct focus on exploitation/deprivation rather than capitalism, the theory still does not explain individualized acts of deviance that victimize only the perpetrator, "social deviance" like failure to observe religious rituals, or those forms of deviance like drug abuse that are sometimes called "moralistic offenses." Hence it has a broader focus than labeling but is narrower than differential association.

Like labeling theory, however, this one does not need to be so limited. If deprivation or being a victim of exploitation can free individuals to take advantage of others, it can also affect their psychological well-being. Constant distrust, fear, and insecurity can have devastating consequences for an individual's psychic health; indeed, when those attitudes dominate, paranoia is often diagnosed. Therefore, it is not much of a stretch to imagine that these same forces can alienate people to the point where they want to escape by suicide, drug abuse, or catatonia. Alienation can also lead to "irrational" acts of property destruction, symbolic acts of defiance like flag burning, and refusal to participate in conventional patterns of behavior as expressed in unusual modes of dress, "hippieism," and "swinging." Skepticism about the prospects of unusual creativity, however, should not be taken as denial of the cleverness of some scholars or the outstanding contributions that inventive efforts have produced. In fact, the main advocate of theoretical invention, Travis Hirschi, is, in my opinion, a genius, as is Jack Katz, the premier practitioner of that art. The theory of self-control that Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) have formulated is extraordinary and admirable. On close inspection, however, it turns out to be another instance of old wine in a new bottle, and it does not fully meet our theoretical needs. It illustrates what I believe to be an inherent, counterproductive tendency toward defensiveness by those who purport to invent theory. Katz's work also shows amazing insight and incredible depth, but in the end it constitutes a collection of inchoate interpretations that do not add up to a general theory.

Hirschi's theory of social control makes no attempt to spell out the circumstances within which social bonds will have more or less effect in restraining deviance. Individuals vary in how accurately they perceive the likely responses of others to particular behaviors, so strong social bonds may sometimes fail to restrain deviance. Moreover, the constraints of social bonds are probably more effective for some kinds of crime/deviance, perhaps more so for acts strongly disapproved by general opinion than acts that are only slightly disapproved. In addition, adults may be restrained more by social bonds than young people because maturation in modern societies requires a transition period of ambivalent status that makes affiliations with conventional groups become less important. No doubt other contingencies could be identified, but the theory itself makes no effort to do so. As a result, those who apply this theory must assume universality, which leads to disappointing results.

In 1990, with his colleague Michael Gottfredson, Hirschi moved away from the four-component version of social bonding theory to focus on self-control. In their book A General Theory of Crime, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) identify juvenile delinquency as just one of a wide range of crimes, including embezzlement and fraud, that can be explained not so much by the absence of bonds as by a lack of self-control on the part of the offender. Criminals lack self-control, according to Gottfredson and Hirschi, because they have been poorly trained. This explains "the differential tendency of people to avoid criminal acts whatever the circumstances" (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990: 87).

The underlying assumption about human nature here is the same as in control theory: All people are motivated to break rules and make a rational choice decision whether or not to do so. The difference is in people's ability to suppress or restrain such urges and drives and in their needs for excitement, risk taking, and immediate gratification. Most people do not engage in criminal acts because they have been effectively socialized by parents to exercise self-control over their behavior. For some, however, the socialization process is defective, providing little protection against committing crime. Their socialization is defective not because of something biological or psychological within the individual but because the parents have failed to use adequate child-rearing practices.

Parenting includes three functional components, which we call (1) surveillance, (2) labeling, and (3) punishment. Surveillance refers to parents or guardians monitoring children's behavior. Monitoring can be reduced because of lack of…

Cite This Term Paper:

"Social Control Theory All Control" (2005, November 12) Retrieved January 18, 2017, from

"Social Control Theory All Control" 12 November 2005. Web.18 January. 2017. <>

"Social Control Theory All Control", 12 November 2005, Accessed.18 January. 2017,