Control Theory of Deviance Research Paper Starter

Control Theory of Deviance

(Research Starters)

An overview of control theory of deviance is provided, beginning with a general review of social control followed by brief explanations of specific theories of social control. The development of social control theory is displayed through the review of Sykes and Matza's techniques of neutralization, Matza's drift theory, Reckless' containment theory, Gottfredson and Hirschi's low self-control theory and ending with the more popular social bond theory developed earlier by Hirschi. Social implications of social control theory are provided. Social control theory generally assumes that the connection people have to each other and to society prevents people from engaging in deviant behavior. Without the presence of social control, society would not exist as we know it. Social control theories aid in our understanding of why most people do not behave in deviant ways most of the time.

Keywords Attachment; Belief; Commitment; Deviance; Drift Theory; Involvement; Self-control Theory; Social Bond; Social Control; Social Control Theory; Techniques of Neutralization

Control Theory of Deviance


Control theory of deviance is important to sociology because it aids in our understanding of deviant human behavior. Control theories generally assume that all members of society are motivated to satisfy their needs and wants by whatever means possible. Thus, most interesting to control theorists is why so many people conform to norms and values of society. Put another way, control theories aim to determine why most members of society follow rules, do what is expected of them, and generally are well behaved. While other theories of deviance may also contribute to our understanding of why deviance occurs, control theories have proven to be reliable predictors of conformity: when people do not commit deviant behavior. Control theories suggest that there is opportunity for people to be deviant but more often than not people choose not to be deviant. Control theories are amotivational. They assume all people desire the excitement and thrill of deviant acts. In this sense control theories suggest that socialization prevents one from committing deviant acts.

Contemporary social control theories developed from the work of early social control theorists such as Reiss (1951), Toby (1957), and Nye (1958). Reiss suggested that belief systems were more important in controlling human behavior than formal norms (laws). Contemporary social control theories build upon Reiss' suggestion. Through the process of socialization, the individual develops a bond with society. Social control theories best account for the patterns we see in juvenile delinquency. Various opportunities to commit deviant acts are created by mere temptations, peers, and other factors. According to control theories, the ready availability of these opportunities is not adequate to explain why people participate in deviant behaviors. The opportunity to commit deviant acts does not provide causation. Control theories suggest that inadequate controlling forces determine whether people behave in deviant behaviors.

Social control theories have developed into either a macro- social perspective or a micro-social perspective. As with other social theories, the macro-social perspective is used to explain patterns occurring in formal social systems such as the criminal justice system, law development and enforcement, nongovernmental organizations, and governmental and economic entities. The micro-social control perspective relies on the informal social system to explain why people refrain from committing deviant acts.

Further Insights

Related Theories

Several social control theories have been developed since Reiss's work in 1951. Control theory (also known as social bond theory), developed by Travis Hirschi (1969), and low self-control theory, developed by Gottfredson and Hirschi, are the two more popular control theories of deviance: Hirschi's control theory has been used in sociology to describe individuals' conforming behavior tendencies. Gottfredson and Hirschi's low self-control theory is a general theory of crime in which the low self-control is generally due to ineffective parenting. It is important to note that there are many forms of control theory. Before reviewing each of these more popular theories, we will first explain a few less-often used approaches to control theory of deviance: Sykes and Matza's neutralization theory, Matza's drift theory and Reckless' containment theory.

Neutralization Theory: Sykes

Gresham Sykes and David Matza (1957) developed the theory of neutralization based upon the arguments and justifications provided by persons known to commit deviant acts. These theorists suggested that delinquents were more similar than dissimilar to nondelinquents, because delinquents comply with social expectations most of the time, as do nondelinquents. They suggested that people who participate in deviant behavior more often than not conform to societal expectations. One can justify participation in deviant behavior by waiving or suspending the rules of society using a technique of neutralization. Techniques of neutralization can take various forms. People can justify their deviant acts by claiming they could not help themselves. They merely deny responsibility. Another technique is to convey an attitude that the deviant act did not result in any harm or injury and thus the behavior is irrelevant. Similarly, people can deny that there was any real victim. Essentially, the argument here is that the target of the deviant behavior got what they deserved. A less similar technique is to basically tell the people judging them or claiming that their behavior was deviant they have no right to criticize. Sykes and Matza refer to this as "condemn the condemners." Another technique explained by Sykes and Matza is where people appeal to higher loyalties. People might claim their moral obligation was to do the act with people important to them or for people who are important to them.

They clarify that when people are in their adolescent and young adult years they are most likely to use the techniques of neutralization. Sykes and Matza highlight that adolescents and young adults do not undergo new socialization in middle adulthood that reduces the use of neutralization techniques; rather, they proffer that even in adolescent and young adult years a foundation of morality exists. As people move into their middle and late adult years they become less likely to use techniques of neutralization.

Drift Theory: Matza

Matza moved on to develop drift theory in 1964. The theory is based upon the pattern people have of shifting between conforming behavior and nonconforming behavior. The theory rests upon the premise that conforming and nonconforming people believe in the moral guidelines in society. Matza concluded that people use the techniques of neutralization to waive the moral guidelines. He founded drift theory based upon the patterns of delinquents to express guilt over deviant acts, to express high regard for conforming people, to have a set of guidelines as to whom they can victimize, and to typically conform to society's moral guidelines.

Containment Theory: Reckless

Walter Reckless developed containment theory in the 1960s. Containment theory explains people's conformity with societal expectations using a complex interplay between inner and outer pulls and pushes to deviate that are counterbalanced by containment. Containment can also derive from inner and outer sources. An internal containment may be related to having a positive self-image and an outer containment could be the awareness that discipline by another person may follow the deviant act. Inner containment generally involves a positive self-concept, goals in line with societal expectations, frustration tolerance, and long-term belief in societal norms. Inner containment may result from socialization within the family and outer containment may result from strong relationships with people who profess generally conventional values and behaviors. The pulls and pushes to deviate also can derive from inner and outer sources. Inner push factors can be related to bad family experiences, hostility, boredom, etc. Outer pull factors could be from peer pressure to deviate or other sources of outside suggestion. Reckless suggested that in order for the continued existence of society, society must have conforming members (Reckless, 1967).

Low Self-Control Theory: Gottfredson

Low self-control theory of deviance was proposed by Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990). As a general theory of crime, it aims to explain most crime in society. They argue that the lower one's level of self-control, the more likely one is to...

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