Social Control Theory Examples

Social Control Theory

What is Social Control Theory?

Travis Hirschi is the pioneer of the social controls theory, he published this theory in the year 1969. The social control theory attempts to explain the reason behind the involvement of an individual in criminal activities. This theory argues that the actions of individuals are directly influenced by society. An individual tends to act in a positive manner if he/she respects the beliefs, family values, and societal norms, but if the person is not attached to the society and does not believe in any norms or regulations, he or tends to behave in the destructive or negative manners, and is more likely to indulge in the criminal activities. A person develops social control right from his/her childhood. They learn that if they are being rewarded by the parents or the teachers for a certain behaviour then it is a positive behaviour, on the other hand, if they are being punished for any behaviour it is negative behaviour. The beliefs of the person may start modifying as he/she grows up, but the values, and norms learnt in childhood form a framework that motivates the individual to follow them even in adulthood. This theory is also known as the ‘social bond theory.’

Understanding Hirschi’s Social Control Theory

According to Travis Hirschi, social control largely influences the decisions of the person, whether to be involved or not in any criminal activity. The person who decides to commit any crime does so as he/she feels free to act in any way he/she wants and does not feel any obligations towards society. According to Hirschi, delinquency is the basic nature of Humans, and he focused on conformity, which is achieved through social bonds. Hirschi proposed four important components of social bonds. According to him, social bonds are so strong that it influences a person’s behaviour even if there is no one around to judge his/her actions. For example, your parents may have taught you to wash your utensils right after you finish eating in childhood, you may tend to follow the same actions even when you are living alone in your alone apartment as an adult. Let us discuss these components of the social bond. The four important elements of social bonds are attachment with others, commitment, involvement in society, and beliefs. The stronger these social bonds are, the lesser the chances of an individual being involved in delinquency. Let us briefly understand these four major elements.


If there exists a strong attachment between the person and his belief in following the social norms, he/she will always resist himself/herself indulging in any criminal activities. The person will think constructive rather than destructive. Due to the attachment, the person will resist disappointing his/her parents, friends, colleagues, or mentors, and act in a way that improves his/her relations with others.

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If the person is obliged to someone, he/she tends to stay away from involving in criminal activities. If the person has various responsibilities or he/she is in a position where his/her behaviour can impact a large number of people, then the person tends to avoid the deviant behaviour. On the other hand, if the person feels that he/she is not obliged to anyone, and it does not matter to him/her that his/her decisions can influence the life of others, the person is more likely to get involved in the criminal activities. According to Hirschi, commitment and conformity are directly correlated, for example, a student tends to stay away from being involved in delinquent behaviour as he/she is committed to working hard and having a successful career and if/she will involve in delinquent behaviour, it may risk his/her career, i.e., commitment forces the conformity. One can also associate commitment with the cost factor, for example, if an officer had worked so hard to reach the position he is now, he invested his precious time and efforts to achieve something, then he will tend to avoid anything that can jeopardize their behaviour, i.e., resits the deviant acts.

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If the person is deeply involved in the various activities of his/her surroundings then he or will not think of disturbing the harmony of the society and avoid indulging in criminal activities. On the other hand, the person finds it much easier to adopt destructive behaviour and harm society if he/she is not involved in any of the societal activities. The involvement with society develops emotional or psychological connections that restrict the person from being involved in criminal activities.

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If the person strongly believes in the various rules and regulations of society, then he/she is less likely to follow the destructive behaviour, while the person may deliberately get involved in the activities that harm the social norms if he/she does not believe in them. According to Hitachi, The people who are involved in deviant activities justify the criminal behaviour to themselves before committing them, which makes it easier to break the rules and regulations of the society.

Understanding Hirschi's Social Control Theory

Social Control Theory Examples

There are numerous examples of the social control theory. The perspective of the social control theory can be seen in the various aspects of life such as political, religious, social, and cultural.

1. Juvenile Crime

The increase in the number of crimes by the juvenile can also be explained through the social control theory. Juveniles undergo many physical and hormonal changes, and their attachment, commitment, involvement with society, and belief system are not as prominent as in adults. Thus, they are more likely to get involved in deviancy. The understanding of the social control theory can help the government to build policies that promote strong social control amongst the juveniles, hence lesser juvenile crime rates.

Juvenile Crime

2. Farington and West Study

A study conducted by Farington and West on the Delinquent development also favours the social control theory. Nearly 400 working-class men were observed in this theory, and the results showed that most of the criminals were belongs to poor or violent families, or single parents, or the ones whose parents were also criminals. These exactly show how the behaviour of the person can be deeply influenced by his/her surrounding environment. This study shows that socialization or good social control is necessary to prevent criminal activities. An experienced criminologist, Martin Glyn, also proposed that many people tend to indulge in deviant activities because of the lack of their parent’s guidance, he refers to this as parent deficit. According to him, both love and discipline are the important factors that are usually absent in children that grew up without their parents.

3. NASUWT Research

Research conducted by NASUWT, the teachers’ union on the student behaviour at two schools located in London and Birmingham also favours the social control theory. This theory shows that a lack of parents’ attention can cause the students to join various gangs or deviant groups in the schools. The students without any father figure or family attachment, indulge in the gang culture, which is in accordance with the social control theory.

Major Factors Influencing Social Control

Following are the major factors that determine social control.


Family is the first institution from which every child begins learning. He/she learns about habits, behaviour, and etiquette from the family, i.e., siblings, parents, or other close family members. The family makes the child aware of the various social norms, customs, or traditions. This means that family plays a major role in developing the personality of an individual. If the person respects his/her family and is obliged to follow the various cultural and family rules or norms, he/she develops a strong social control and is less likely to perform criminal activities.

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The environment in which the person is living also impacts social control. The neighbourhood of the person impacts the decisions of the person whether to involve in the deviant behaviour or not. However, not every neighbourhood is responsible for influencing social control. Let us understand through the concept of social control difference between the villages and the urban cities. In villages, people are generally very attached to each other. People belonging to the same caste or group share a strong bond. If the person thinks of involving in any deviant activity then it could not only impact his/her family but the whole village might get affected by his/her behaviour. While in the case of urban cities, most people are not even aware of who is living next to their apartment, i.e., the relationships among the neighbours are weaker in the cities than in the villages. This shows that the village neighbourhood is more likely to influence social control than the urban neighbourhood.

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Media/Public Opinion

Various modes such as television, radio, and pamphlets influence public opinion, and eventually the framework of social control. The type of opinions we listen to on the daily basis largely influences our personality and our decisions to indulge in social behaviour or not. Public opinion such as massive criticism of the person who committed a crime makes the other hesitant from indulging in criminal activities. In urban areas, social media, or news channels shapes the public opinions, while in villages the printed media or the pieces of information from the others shape the public opinions.

Social Control in Villages

Criticism of Social Control Theory

  • The social control theory emphasises that the changes in the surroundings of the person change his/her behaviour, but this theory neglects the behaviour of the person is not always influenced by the social forces. Internal factors such as personality traits or self-esteem of the person also influence the behaviour of the person.
  • This theory does not explain why even belonging to the same group, some individuals choose to get indulge in deviant activities, while some prefer to stay away from them. This theory does not provide an explanation for white-collar crimes. Even though the large business or the government have strong social bonds and large networks, they still choose deviant behaviour. Hence, even when some people possess the main elements of Hirschi’s control theory (attachment, involvement, commitment, and beliefs), they still show deviant behaviour.
  • Some theorists blame that Hirschi’s theory is just based on the assumption that people share strong social bonds with society. While the behaviour of the person is less affected by the external factors in modern societies as there exists a weak bond between the people in modern society due to their busy schedules.
  • According to Marxism, the real reason behind the criminal activities by the marginalised people is not the lack of social control, instead, they commit crimes because they are not provided with good work opportunities and rights.

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