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Learning Objectives 133

Informal Social Control 135

Formal Social Control 136

Criminal Sanctions 137

Discord over the Death Penalty 140

Civil Commitment 143

Crimes without Victims 145

Drug Use 146

Prostitution 149

Gambling 151

White-Collar Crime 153

Extent and Cost of White-Collar Crime 155

Legal Control of Corporate Crime 155

Social Control of Dissent 156

Administrative Law and Social Control 159

Licensing 159

Inspection 160

Threat of Publicity 161

Summary 162

Key Terms 162

Suggested Readings 163

References 163


  • • Explain the difference between informal social control and formal social control
  • • Summarize the arguments for and against the death penalty
  • • List the problems associated with the legal war against certain drugs
  • • Explain why the legal control of white-collar crime is ineffective
  • • Describe why the threat of publicity is a form of administrative social control

Since the beginning of the discipline of sociology in the nineteenth century, a great deal has been written on various facets of social control, and the topic continues to occupy a central position in the sociological and law and society literatures. (Chriss, 2013; Moore and Recker, 2016). Social control refers to the methods used by members of a society to maintain order and to promote predictability of behavior. There are many different forms of social control, and law is only one of them. The emphasis in this chapter is on social control through laws that are activated when other forms of control mechanisms are ineffective or unavailable. This chapter examines the processes of informal and formal social control, the use of criminal sanctions, the effectiveness of the death penalty, and civil commitment to regulate behavior. Part of this chapter is concerned with crimes without victims (drug addiction, prostitution, and gambling), white-collar crime, and the control of dissent. The chapter concludes with a consideration of administrative law as an instrument of control in the context of licensing, inspection, and the threat of publicity.

There are two basic processes of social control—the internalization of group norms and control through external pressures (Clinard and Meier, 2016). In the first instance, social control is the consequence of socialization, the process of learning the rules of behavior for a given social group. Individuals develop self-control by being taught early what is appropriate, expected, or desirable in specific situations. People acquire a motivation to conform to the norms, regardless of external pressures. People conform to norms because they have been socialized since childhood to believe that they should conform, regardless of and independent of any anticipated reactions of other persons.

Mechanisms of social control through external pressures include both negative and positive sanctions. Negative sanctions are penalties imposed on those who violate norms. Positive sanctions, such as a promotion, a bonus, and encouragement, are intended to reward conformity. These positive and negative sanctions are forms of social control.

Some types of social control are formal or official, and others are informal or unofficial in character. Typical reactions to deviance and rule breaking may generate both informal and formal sanctions. Although there is a considerable amount of overlap between informal and formal mechanisms of social control, we will discuss them separately for analytical purposes.

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