Control Theory of Sociology

control theory

Control Theory is a theory of social order in sociology, which classifies control as centralized or decentralized or neither. Decentralized control is considered market control. Centralized control is considered bureaucratic control. Some types of control such as clan control are considered to be a mixture of both decentralized and centralized control.

Decentralized control or market control is typically maintained through factors such as price, competition, or market share. Centralized control such as bureaucratic control is typically maintained through administrative or hierarchical techniques such as creating standards or policies. Mixed control or clan control is typically maintained by keeping a set of values and beliefs or norms and traditions.

Control Theory, as developed by American criminologist Walter Reckless in 1973, states that behavior is caused not by outside stimuli, but by what a person wants most at any given time. According to the control theory, weak containing social systems result in deviant behavior. Deviant behavior occurs when external controls on behavior are weak. According to control theory; people act rationally, but if someone was given the chance to act deviant they would. So, basically, if you have strong social bonds to positive influences, deviant behavior is less likely than someone who has no family or friends.

Control theory stresses how weak bonds between the individuals and society free people to deviate or go against the norms, or the people who have weak ties would engage in crimes so they could benefit, or gain something that is to their own interest. This is where strong bonds make deviance more costly. Deviant acts appear attractive to individuals but social bonds stop most people from committing the acts. Deviance is a result from extensive exposure to certain social situations where individuals develop behaviors that attract them to avoid conforming to social norms. Social bonds are used in control theory to help individuals from going after these attractive deviations.

According to criminologist Travis Hirschi, humans are selfish beings, we all make decisions based on which choice will give us the greatest benefit to our needs or wants. A good example of control theory would be that people go to work. Most people do not want to go to work, but they do, because they get paid, to obtain food, water, shelter, and clothing. The people that do not have a job or income will commit deviant acts in order to get what they need to survive. Hirschi identifies four elements of social bonds: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.

While control theory gives an adequate explanation of non-serious forms of youthful delinquency, it fails to be effective in explaining adult criminal behavior and serious instances of youth crime. Moreover, control theory is met with some resistance for its compliance to a conservative view of the broader social order. From a control theory perspective, children who are properly bonded to their parents would be involved in less crime than children who have weaker parental bonds, and assumes that the family is a naturally law-abiding institution. Basically, the biggest weakness of the theory (and in some respects, its biggest strength) is that it places too much importance on the bonds relative to an individual and society, without looking at bigger concepts like autonomy and impulsiveness.

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