Social control theory is a prominent sociological perspective that seeks to explain how social order is maintained in society. It explores the mechanisms and processes through which individuals are influenced to conform to societal norms and values. In this article, we will delve into the concept of social control theory and provide examples to illustrate its application in real-life situations.

Understanding Social Control Theory

Social control theory posits that individuals are motivated to conform to social norms due to the presence of internalized values, beliefs, and expectations. According to this perspective, people naturally desire acceptance and approval from others within their social groups. As a result, they regulate their behavior in accordance with societal guidelines in order to avoid disapproval or punishment.

Example 1:

An example of social control theory can be observed in educational institutions, where students are expected to follow rules and regulations set by the school administration. The fear of facing disciplinary action or negative consequences encourages students to adhere to these regulations. This form of social control helps maintain order within the school environment.

Example 2:

Another example of social control theory can be seen in law enforcement agencies. Police officers play a crucial role in maintaining social order by enforcing laws and regulations within a community. The potential consequences of breaking the law – such as fines or imprisonment – serve as deterrents for individuals who might otherwise engage in criminal activities.

Social Bonds and Social Control

Social control theorists argue that strong social bonds between individuals and society act as significant factors influencing conformity. These bonds consist of four elements: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.


The attachment element refers to an individual’s emotional connection with others within their community or social group. Strong emotional ties can discourage individuals from engaging in deviant behavior as they fear damaging their relationships or losing the support of those they are attached to.


Commitment refers to an individual’s investment in conventional activities such as education, career, or family. People who have invested time and effort into these activities are less likely to engage in deviant behavior as they want to protect their commitments and avoid jeopardizing their future prospects.


Involvement represents an individual’s engagement in legitimate activities within society. When individuals are occupied with constructive activities, such as work, sports, or hobbies, they have less time and inclination to participate in deviant behaviors or commit crimes.


Belief refers to an individual’s acceptance and adherence to societal values, norms, and moral codes. Strong beliefs that align with societal expectations act as a deterrent against engaging in deviant behavior since individuals fear the disapproval or punishment associated with violating these beliefs.

Critiques of Social Control Theory

While social control theory has its merits, it is not without criticism. Some argue that this perspective places excessive emphasis on conformity and neglects the importance of individual agency and structural factors that contribute to deviance. Additionally, critics suggest that social control theory fails to account for instances where individuals engage in criminal behavior despite having strong bonds and attachments within society.

In conclusion, social control theory provides valuable insights into the mechanisms that maintain social order in society. By understanding the factors that influence individuals to conform to societal norms, we can better comprehend the complexities of human behavior. However, it is essential to consider the limitations and critiques of this theory to develop a comprehensive understanding of deviance and its causes.