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K12 LibreTexts

3.2: Social Control

  • Page ID
    3467
  • Objectives

    • Analyze how norms are created and enforced.
    • Evaluate the need for positive and negative sanctions in society.
    • Describe the differences between formal and informal sanctions.

    Universal Generalizations

    • Positive and negative sanctions differ in the punishment and rewards issued in each. The level of punishment and rewards systems also varies.
    • Social control is done by way of morals, ethics, religion, and legal systems.

    Guiding Questions

    • How does internalization of norms help to stabilize society?
    • Explain the role sanctions play in the enforcement of norms?

    Internalization of Norms

    Norms are shared expectations or rules of behavior. Norms are what are normal in a given social circumstance. For example, I lived in France for a year or so as a young man. The beaches were filled with completely naked swimmers (this is common in many places throughout the world).

    Norms guide our countless interactions on a day to day basis. When individuals come to believe a certain norm is useful and correct, they generally follow it and expect others to also follow this norm. Internalization of a norm takes place when a norm becomes a natural part of a person's personality. By internalizing norms, people are conditioned to conform to the expectations of society. All the subtleties of everyday life, what we expect for ourselves and others, are found in our commonly shared norms. George Simmel claimed that outsiders (you in another culture or someone else new in our culture) appear "remote" to locals because they respond differently, having different norms (see Simmel, G. (1950). "The Stranger" in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, ed by Wolff, K. H.; NY Free Press).

    Sanctions are either rewards or punishments used to encourage people to conform to norms. Positive sanctions are actions that rewards a certain type of behavior some examples of positive sanctions are praise, high fives, good grades, ribbons, medals and graduations.

    Some norms are the basis of a Folkway, which is a traditional or customary norm governing everyday social behaviors. Folkways are the simple things in society such as how we eat our soup (with a spoon, chopsticks, or sipped from the edge of the bowl). They also include our greetings, clothing, rules of politeness, and hand gestures. Norms are also the basis for Morés, which are deeply held, informal norms that are strictly enforced.

    Morés are much more important to people than folkways. They might include a strongly held belief against sexual exploitation of women and children; respect for religious edifices; abstaining from using street drugs; and in the cultures of millions of Muslims the clear boundaries between males and females which often prohibits average men from talking to women who are not their wives or in seeing the hands, feet, and face of women who are not their wives. Not following folkways may lead to ridicule while not following morés may lead to harsh punishments.

    From our values, norms, folkways, and morés we derive our laws. Laws are codified norms or norms written and recorded from which the behavior of society’s members can be judged. Laws come in two varieties: Prescriptive Laws are laws that state what must be done and Proscriptive Laws are laws which state what is forbidden. If you want to drive, set up a small business, or not be in trouble with the IRS for failing to file taxes, then you must follow prescriptive laws. They tell you the rules of how things must be done. Proscriptive laws tell us what we cannot do such as murder, rape, steal, etc. Violating these laws brings negative sanctions. A Negative Sanction is a punishment or negative reaction toward breaking codified norms (laws). Jail time, criminal record, fines, and penalties are just of few of the sanctions available to lawbreakers. Remember that folkways rarely become laws while many morés are codified. http://freesociologybooks.com/Introduction_To_Sociology/05_Culture.php

    Every society needs to ensure that its members generally obey social norms in their daily interactions. Social control refers to ways in which a society tries to prevent and sanction behavior that violates norms. Just as a society like the United States has informal and formal norms so does it have informal and formal social control. Generally, informal social control is used to control behavior that violates informal norms, and formal social control is used to control behavior that violates formal norms. We typically decline to violate informal norms, if we even think of violating them in the first place, because we fear risking the negative reactions of other people. These reactions, and thus examples of informal social control, include, but are not limited to, anger, disappointment, ostracism, and ridicule. Formal social control in the United States typically involves the legal system (police, judges and prosecutors, corrections officials) and also, for businesses, the many local, state, and federal regulatory agencies that constitute the regulatory system.

    The social values present in individuals are products of informal social control. This type of control emerges from society, but is rarely stated explicitly to individuals. Instead, it is expressed and transmitted indirectly, through customs, norms, and morés. Whether consciously or not, individuals are socialized.

    Informal sanctions are the reactions of individuals and groups that bring about conformity to norms and laws. These can include peer pressure, bystander intervention in a crime, and collective responses such as citizen patrol groups. With informal sanctions, ridicule or ostracism can cause a straying individual to realign behavior toward group norms. Informal sanctions may include shame, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism, and disapproval. In extreme cases, sanctions may include social discrimination and exclusion. If a young boy is caught skipping school, and his peers ostracize him for his deviant behavior, they are exercising an informal sanction on him. Informal sanctions can check deviant behavior of individuals or groups through internalization.

    As with formal controls, informal controls reward or punish acceptable or unacceptable behavior, otherwise known as deviance. Informal controls are varied and differ from individual to individual, group to group, and society to society. To maintain control and regulate their subjects, groups, organizations, and societies of various kinds can promulgate rules that act as formal sanctions to reward or punish behavior. For example, in order to regulate behavior, government and organizations use law enforcement mechanisms and other formal sanctions such as fines and imprisonment. Authoritarian organizations and governments may rely on more directly aggressive sanctions. These actions might include censorship, expulsion, restrictions on political freedom, or violence. Typically, these more extreme sanctions emerge in situations where the public disapproves of either the government or organization in question.

    Source: Boundless. “Sanctions.” Boundless Sociology. Boundless, 27 Jun. 2014. Retrieved 24 May. 2015

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