What Is the Social Control Theory in Criminology?

Criminology is a field of study that focuses on the scientific understanding of crime, its causes, and possible prevention. One theory that has gained significant attention in criminology is the social control theory.

This theory suggests that individuals are naturally inclined towards deviant behavior but are restrained by the social norms and values set by society.

The Basics of Social Control Theory

According to social control theory, people have a natural tendency to break laws and engage in criminal activities. However, it is the presence of social controls that prevent individuals from acting on such tendencies.

These controls can take different forms such as family, religion, education, and even the legal system.

The underlying assumption of this theory is that all individuals have the potential to engage in criminal behavior but are prevented from doing so by the fear of punishment or shame associated with such actions. When individuals feel they have no stake in society or when their bonds with societal institutions weaken, they are more likely to engage in deviant behavior.

Types of Social Controls

Social control can be formal or informal. Formal social control refers to mechanisms put in place by institutions like schools, churches, and government agencies to regulate behavior through laws and regulations.

Informal social control refers to processes like peer pressure and socialization that influence individual behavior through unwritten rules and norms.

Families

Families play a crucial role in shaping an individual’s behavior. Parents provide guidance on what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior from an early age.

As children grow older, they learn self-control and develop internalized moral values that guide their actions.

Religion

Religion provides a set of moral values that guide individuals’ behavior. Religious institutions promote values such as honesty, respect for authority, and compassion, which help prevent individuals from engaging in criminal activities.

Education

Education instills discipline and self-control in individuals. Schools teach students to follow rules and regulations, which helps prevent them from engaging in deviant behavior.

Additionally, education can open up opportunities for individuals, making them less likely to engage in criminal activities.

Criticisms of Social Control Theory

While social control theory has gained significant attention in criminology, it is not without its criticisms. One of the main criticisms is that the theory does not adequately explain why some individuals engage in criminal behavior despite having strong social bonds.

Additionally, the theory assumes that all individuals have the same opportunities to develop strong social bonds and ignores the impact of structural factors such as poverty and discrimination on an individual’s ability to form such bonds.

Conclusion

In conclusion, social control theory suggests that individuals are naturally inclined towards deviant behavior but are prevented from acting on their impulses by social controls put in place by society. These controls take different forms such as family, religion, education, and even the legal system.

While the theory has its limitations and criticisms, it continues to be an important tool for understanding crime prevention.