What Is Social Control?
Societies not have norms and laws that govern acceptable behavior; they also have various mechanisms to control people's behavior. Social control refers to the systematic practices that social groups develop in order to encourage. conformity to norms, rules, and laws and to discourage deviance. Social control mechanisms may be either internal or external Internal social control takes place through the socialization process: Individuals internalize societal norms and values that prescribe how people should behave and then follow those norms and values in their everyday lives. By contrast. external social control involves the use of negative sanctions that proscribe certain behaviors and set forth the punishments for rule breakers and nonconformists. In contemporary societies. the criminal justice system. which includes the police. the courts. and the prisons. is the primary mechanism of external social control.
For some social analysts. maintaining social control is critical for the stability of society. Political scientist James Q. Wilson (1996: xv) uses the image of broken windows to explain how neighborhoods may decay into disorder and crime if no one maintains social control: If a factory or office window is broken. passersby observing it will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. In time. a few will begin throwing rocks to break more windows. Soon all the windows will be broken. and now passersby will think that. not only is no one in charge of the building. no one is in charge of the street on which it faces. Only the young. the criminal. or the foolhardy have any business on an unprotected avenue. and so more and more citizens will abandon the street to those they assume prowl it. Small disorders lead to larger and
larger ones, and perhaps even to crime. But if most actions deemed deviant do little or no direct harm to society or its members, why is social control so important to groups and societies? Why are some actions punished whereas others are not? Why is the same belief or action punished in one group or society and not in another These questions pose interesting theoretical concerns and research topics for
sociologists and criminologists who examine issues pertaining to law, social control, and the criminal justice system.' Criminology is the systematic study of crime and the criminal justice system, including the police, courts, and prisons. The primary interest of sociologists and criminologists is not questions of how crime and criminals CH\ best be controlled but rather on social control as a .0- cial product. Sociologists do not judge certain kinds of behavior or people as being "good" or "bad."ls lead, they attempt to determine whet of behavior are defined as deviant, who does how and why people become deviants, and how society deals with deviants. Although sociologists have developed a number of theories to explain deviance and crime, no one perspective is a comprehensive explanation of all deviance. Each theory provides a different lens through which we can examine aspects of deviant behavior.