What Is Social Control Theory and Examples?

Social control theory is a sociological perspective that seeks to understand how society regulates and controls individuals’ behavior. It posits that social institutions, such as family, schools, and the criminal justice system, play a crucial role in shaping people’s actions and preventing them from engaging in deviant behavior.

Understanding Social Control Theory

Social control theory was first introduced by sociologist Travis Hirschi in his influential book “Causes of Delinquency” published in 1969. According to Hirschi, individuals are naturally inclined to engage in deviant behavior unless they are adequately bonded to conventional society through social relationships and commitments.

The theory suggests that people are less likely to engage in criminal activities if they have strong social bonds with their families, friends, schools, and other social institutions. These bonds act as a form of social control, preventing individuals from violating societal norms and laws.

Four Elements of Social Bond

Examples of Social Control Theory

To better understand how social control theory operates in real life, let’s explore a few examples:

Example 1: Family

A strong family bond can serve as a powerful mechanism for social control. Parents who maintain open communication, set clear expectations, and provide emotional support to their children are more likely to prevent delinquent behavior. By fostering a sense of attachment and belief in moral values, families can significantly reduce the likelihood of their children engaging in criminal activities.

Example 2: Education System

Schools play a vital role in socializing individuals and instilling societal norms and values. Students who feel connected to their schools through extracurricular activities or positive relationships with teachers are less likely to engage in deviant behavior. The commitment and involvement in educational pursuits act as protective factors against delinquency.

Example 3: Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system itself is an example of social control theory in action. Through the enforcement of laws, punishment for offenders, and rehabilitation programs, society aims to deter individuals from engaging in criminal behavior. The fear of legal consequences and the desire to maintain one’s freedom often act as strong deterrents against violating societal norms.

In conclusion, social control theory highlights the importance of social bonds and institutions in preventing deviant behavior. By understanding how attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief function as forms of social control, we can design strategies that promote positive behaviors and discourage criminal activities.