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Social Control

  Social control refers to the practices, developed by all social groups, through which social behaviour is kept within certain limits. Most sociologists agree that social control is achieved through a combination of compliance, coercion and commitment to social values. Values and norms are internalized through the process of socialization, and in this way individual group members come to learn and take for granted certain limits of acceptable behaviour. Sanctions may be used against rule-breakers. These may be positive sanctions which reward conforming conduct, or negative sanctions which punish non-conformist behaviour.

The legal and the prison systems are obvious elements of the formal institutions of social control within society. Sociologists have also suggested that such social phenomena as mental institutions, medicine and scientific knowledge serve similar functions. A number of sociologists have pointed out that one of the most subtle forms of social control is through the control of ideas. The status quo is not challenged because the power of the ruling ideology in a given society leads societal members to accept it as given, or natural. Similarly, the dominance of certain ways of thinking about social phenomena, or of certain forms of knowledge may act to close off other possible interpretations or explanations of reality. DA

See also conflict theory; consensus theory; critical theory; discourse; dominant ideology; hegemony; internalization; power; social construction of reality; social integration; sociology of knowledge; state.Further reading S. Cohen, Visions of Social Control: Crime, Punishment and Classification; , M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison.



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