Formal and Informal Forms of Social Control

Formal and Informal Forms of Social Control

Formal social control is the use of the law and ultimately force to control our behaviour. The agencies of social control are those legally sanctioned bodies or organisations which set down the law and make sure that it is followed.

Agencies include the Houses of Parliament, where laws are debated and made. The courts are used to decide whether an individual accused of a crime is guilty or not. The police offer the physical presence required to arrest and imprison someone for criminal activity and prisons constrain the freedom of an individual who has broken the rules of society. They also deter others from doing the same.

Informal social control is the response we get from those around us who, knowingly or unknowingly, persuade us to conform to the unwritten rules of society. A man who pushes to the front of a queue may receive a chorus of tuts or be on the receiving end of some unpleasant remarks. On the other hand a man who offers his seat to a pensioner on the bus may be openly thanked or smiled at.

Agencies of social control include families, friends, schools or peer-groups. Positive sanctions may include rewards for good behaviour. A hard working student may receive a certificate for example. A lazy student may be given a detention for not doing his homework.

The emphasis is on conformity i.e. doing what society expects you to do.