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Questions for Social Control. Social Control What do control theorists see as a major difference between those who commit crimes and those who do not? What do they see as the main cause of conformity? How well does control theory explain upper class deviance? How does it complement anomie? .

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Questions for Social Control

Social Control

  • What do control theorists see as a major difference between those who commit crimes and those who do not? What do they see as the main cause of conformity?

  • How well does control theory explain upper class deviance?

  • How does it complement anomie?

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Social Control Theory

  • Without a controlling force (or set of forces) people behave selfishly.

  • In some sense, it’s a flip side of the other theories (not why people deviate, but why they don’t). Is delinquency caused or prevented?

  • These theories emerged to explain lower class boys and young men.

  • Note the beginning of divergence from a singular theory for deviance.

  • Social control is ‘correctionalist’ (to be discussed)

  • Containment Theory

    • Inner containment (internalized commitment)

    • External containment (social order)

    • Begins with family, continued by community and society.

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Social Control Theory

  • Hirschi: (Tip: Look for what he says it is not what it’s not)

  • It’s ‘correctionalist’ in nature.

  • Explains how social control is internalized.

    • Attachment. Begins with family, instills trust and empathy.

    • Commitment. Varies with attachment, there is a routine and a structure to support conformity, that is, there’s social cost to deviating.

    • Involvement. “Time and energy are inherently limited.”

    • Belief. A moral structure of right and wrong. Is conforming part of the belief system?

    • Process. Internal controls; external controls; availability of opportunities; beliefs, actions.

  • Alternatively

    • Direct control: Restrictions, punishments – parents, police

    • Internalized: conscience – “I’m a good person”

    • Indirect control: shaming, exclusions - “Pleases Mom”

    • Other indirect means (need satisficing): aspirations - “This good behavior gets me…”

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Social Control Theory

  • Gottfredson and Hirschi

    • Societal control structure is balanced toward conformity, because society needs social trust.

    • So even if external control lacks, internal control can still function.

    • Deviance lumping – if you do one, you do lots.

  • Empey

    • A major contribution of control is the idea that external forces are part of the equation

    • Social delinquency threatens social order (conservative)

    • Children need to learn social bond

    • It has policy implications

    • See limits of theory pg 347.

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Individuals in Society - Stigma

  • Stigma (relevant points. See Goffman, Stigma)

    • Stigma is the discrediting of someone, that is, the defining someone’s non-conforming behavior or condition as ‘negative’ and making this quality negate any ‘positive’.

      • It highlights the negative over the positive.

      • Stigma is a social definition with social consequences

      • Leads to a stigmatizing person to adapt to the role, with

        • Consequences for not conforming to stigmatized role

        • May require social movement to change definition

      • Takes a lot of work for the stigmatized person to be recognized fully as a human being

      • Once stigmatized, may seek out other discredited people

      • Assigning stigma is a way to remove a group from the mainstream.

      • For both achieved and ascribed characteristics.

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Labeling Theory

  • A structurally caused process, not individually-driven

  • Put people in categories, stigmatized them.

  • Can create self-fulfilling prophecy, but ‘the less said the better’.

  • Labels force one down a deviant career path

  • Labels are social roles.

  • Deviance-defining events are ‘dramas’, or rather, power plays. Hence labeling is an extension of social control theory.

    • Why do people say ‘women doctors’ and ‘male nurses’?

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Labeling Theory

  • Some labels are ‘big’. They stick and don’t wash off. Some are ‘small’ and can be redeemed.

  • Ascribed deviance (like self-concepts) – label foisted on by dominant society

  • vs Achieved deviance – label acquired through actions.

  • Who labels? (these are social control agents)

  • How big are these institutions’ labels. In all places/times?

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Labeling Theory

  • Howard Becker (same Becker from Differential Assoc)

    • In order to build deviance career, depends on “whether they enforce the rule he has violated’

    • Individual might apply label herself based on specific and GO info

    • Individual subconsciously wants to get caught.

  • Master traits – certain status with connoted descriptors known as ‘auxiliary traits’.

  • Subordinate: overridden by master when inconsistent.

  • See pg 394 “It’s not about the deviant act per se”

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Labeling Theory

Scheff: The mentally ill and labeling

  • Mental illness starts with residual deviance – uncategorized by not ‘normal’ behaviors.

  • Properties of residual deviance

    • Crisis from diverse sources

    • Not usually treated

    • Usually transitory

  • Consequences of recognition is societal reaction

    • Typecasted and expected to behave a certain way

    • Further behaviors interpreted in this light.

  • Others will look back to support current label

    • Labeled deviants get rewarded for ‘conforming’ to their deviance and punished for trying to reject it.

  • When a crisis ‘outs’ a deviant he will seek a ‘stable deviance role’ explanation.

  • All these lead up to …Single most important cause of ‘careers’ of residual deviance.

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Labeling Theory

Critique by Mankoff

  • Is it necessary and/or sufficient?

  • Labeling not randomly applied

  • Not all labeled go on to careers

  • Not all careerists were labeled.

  • Mankoff feels it works better for ascribed rather than achieved deviance. (when you looked at property crime and violent crime criminals).

  • Labeling theorists focused on underdog.

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Questions for Labeling


  • Labeling theory is sometimes criticized for having a monolithic view of social control institutions. Comment on this criticism, using examples from the course reading and from your own experience.

  • Labeling theorists lent a sympathetic ear to deviant groups. To what extent did they selectively choose deviant groups who were not very dangerous or not universally condemnable. Is it acceptable to be so selective in choosing a study population?

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Recap of Theory

  • Study question: Can you *really* explain/understand the first paragraph on pg 449?

  • Sometimes society benefits from defining deviance and sometimes the net benefits are outnumbered by net detriments.

    • Functionalism

      • Who benefits from deviance defining (not just who benefits from having the deviance)?

      • How does the definition of deviance reinforce boundaries?

    • Social disorganization:

      • Why is it that many people are ignorant of dominant society’s norms/values?

      • How did these subcultures get disorganized?

    • Differential Association

      • What’s the importance of learning a behavior counter to prevailing social norms? And what are their neutralizations?

    • Social control

      • Importance of family and community and other social structures

      • Importance of external social control

    • Labeling

      • A method of external social control to stigmatize and de-legitimize challenges to the macro-social power hierarchies.

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Labeling Limitations

  • Deviants are just like us…only they aren’t always.

  • They ignored violent, less empathetic deviants at a time when crime rates were beginning to increase.

  • They ignored white collar and elite deviants

  • And once there’s a falsehood/weakness, the whole thing can be tossed with an effective marketing campaign.

  • And yet it’s odd that only after the labeling theory period did these criticisms get so much attention, since C. Wright Mills raised them earlier (see Chapter 2.9).