social control

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social control

practices developed by social groups of all kinds which enforce or encourage CONFORMITY and deal with behaviour which violates accepted norms.

Sociologists distinguish two basic processes of social control:

  1. INTERNALIZATION of norms and values. The process of SOCIALIZATION is much concerned with learning acceptable ways of acting as ‘taken-for-granted’, unquestioned imperatives or as social ‘routines’ (see also ETHNOMETHODOLOGY);
  2. the use of sanctions with regard to rule-breakers and non conforming acts. Sanctions may be positive, rewarding conforming conduct, or negative, punishing nonconformity to norms by means ranging from ‘informal’ sanctions like ‘telling-off, ridiculing or ostracism, to ‘formal’ sanctions like a yellow card, a prison sentence, or execution. See also DEVIANCE. POLICE (AND POLICING).
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Social Control


the mechanism that helps society and its subdivisions (groups and organizations) to secure the observance of restrictions whose violation hampers the functioning of the social system. Examples of such restrictions are legal and moral standards, customs, and administrative regulations. The practice of social control is essentially the application of various sanctions against violators of social restrictions. Social control also provides incentives for compliance with restrictions. However, social control in its narrow sense differs from incentive mechanisms. Social control is an integral element in any system that directs the social process and is also a feedback mechanism that secures the fulfillment of the commands of managerial institutions.

Social control existed in the earliest societies. As productive forces and the division of labor developed, the role of social control increased and its structure became more complex. Social institutions such as judicial agencies arose that dealt almost exclusively with social control. However, in practice social control could be exercised by any social institution or group.

The nature of a system of social control is determined by the prevailing system of social relations and in turn strongly influences the functioning and development of the social system as a whole. Ineffective social control leads to instability in the social system and fosters the growth of antisocial and deviant behavior. On the other hand, a system of total social control, which under military fascist dictatorships is based on mass terror, instills universal conformism and leads to stagnation in all areas of public life.

A prerequisite for the dynamic development of a society is constant change in the system of social control, that is, its ability to adapt to new conditions and goals arising in the course of social development.

Social control may be informal or formal. Informal control includes the mutual control exercised by participants in any process, for example, buyers and sellers or the members of a production brigade; it also includes such types of public reaction to individual behavior as condemnation or ostracism. Informal methods of social control include individual self-control. The effectiveness of informal methods depends largely on the degree to which society has made education and socialization effective in accordance with the prevailing system of values. Formal social control is exercised by state agencies, organizations, and institutions.

Social control always has a clearly expressed class character. In exploitative societies, social control seeks to maintain the existing social order.

In socialist society, social control reinforces social relations and promotes social development. The building of communism presupposes the development of various forms of social control, and above all, of those founded on the increasing social activity of the workers. This tendency is expressed in the development of such public forms of control as comrades’ courts and volunteer public order squads (narodnye druzhiny). Other manifestations of this tendency are the population’s extensive involvement in the work of the agencies of public control and the increased role of public opinion and the mass media in combating violators of socialist legality and morality.

State forms of social control are also of great importance. The functions of social control in the USSR are exercised by judicial agencies, the Procurator’s Office, the Central Statistical Board, the State Bank, the State Planning Committee, and the control agencies of such institutions as the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Trade. Quality control in industry, exercised by technical control departments, is also of great importance.


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Engels, F. Proiskhozhdenie semi, chastnoi sobstvennosti i gosudarstva. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21.
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Szczepanski, J. Elementarnye poniatiia sotsiologii. Moscow, 1967. (Translated from Polish.)
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Landis, P. Social Control. Philadelphia-New York-Chicago, 1956.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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