SOC101Y1 Lecture Notes - Tony Platt, Urban Decay, Class Conflict
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<Chapter 9 – Control Theories>
- The ideas of social control theories are based on the idea that deviance is everywhere
possible if it is allowed. Instead of inquiring into the causes of deviance, it assumes that it
will occur, and simply asks how deviance can be controlled.
- Bentham: rational calculation, more pleasure and less pain
o Householders who lock their doors at night are expressing one aspect of such
theories, the belief the opportunity in itself is a cause of crime
- Haggerty: rather than attending to questions of social causation or individual pathology,
situational criminology (control theory) concentrates on reducing crime through loss
prevention, target hardening and enhanced visibility
- The neglect of control theory may also have been due to the unpopularity in liberal
sociological circles of work that appears to support discipline, punishment, and regulation.
o Gluecks whose attempts to predict delinquency in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s
became associated with a stress on the pathological, the individualistic, and the
o The Gluecks’ work was neglected in the 1960s, but studying such variables is
central to the revived forms of control theory.
o Shaw and McKay’s concept of social disorganization was considered as the main
sociological version of control theory.
o Jackson Toby proposed a more sociological version of control theory by asserting
that delinquents were distinguished from non-delinquents by their minimal stake
- The combination of variations in the inner commitment to conform and the external
opportunities to deviate was already furnishing an alternative to the by now over-
elaborate motivation offered by the strain theorists.
o Homans and Blau provided a model for the analysis of the individual in society
much like the control theorists. In social-exchange theories, a sociological version
of homo economicus held that human behavior is explained by individual
gratifications provided by exchange and that moral values emerge from ongoing
o Social behavior is based on tangible forms of exchange which provide the bases
for rational choice. In this respect, the theory is close to that of the symbolic
interactionists but differs in its relative indifference to meanings and
o Homans’s view of people is more attuned to the behaviorism of Skinner than to
the interactionism of Mead.
- A lack of conformity and presence of opportunities creates deviance.
Discussion: Deviance and Culture – Crime and the Full Moon
- The authors could find no relationship between total violence and aggression or level of
violence and aggression and any phase of the moon despite the belief in among health
workers of the lunar effect.
Sociological Control Theories of Deviance
The Contribution of Travis Hirschi
- Hirschi states that the common property of control theories is their assumption that
delinquent acts result when an individual’s bond to society is weak or broken. He
specifies four elements of that social bond: attachment, commitment, involvement, and
o Attachment to others is an antecedent variable. If one cares about the opinions and
wishes of others, it is because of one’s strong sense of attachment. Deviation is
only possible if a person does not care about the wishes, expectations, and
opinions of others.
o Commitment signifies that: the person invests time, energy, himself, in a certain
line of activity, say, getting an education, building up a business, acquiring a
reputation for virtue. These accumulations are society’s insurance that they will
abide by the rules. When or whenever he considers deviant behavior, he must
consider the costs of this deviant behavior, the risk runs of losing the investment
he has made in conventional behavior.
o Involvement is the behavioral counterpart of commitment. Involvement in
conventional activities is also more likely to associate people with others they are
attached to and to increase their commitment to and investment in the community.
o Finally, deviants and norm-abiding citizens may share a common value system,
but there is variation in the extent to which people’s belief they should obey the
rules of society. The less a person believes he should obey the rules, the more
likely he is to violate them.
- These four variables interact to produce an ideal-typical portrait of a non-delinquent who
is strongly attached to conventional others, strongly committed to conventional activities,
heavily involved in them, and imbued with a strong belief in the need to obey the rules.
The delinquent is relatively free from such controls and hence more at risk of deviation.
- The conformist is bonded to others; the deviant is not.
- Control theory is interested in why people don’t commit deviance.
- Kornhauser says that it is not necessary for control theory to explain the motivation of
delinquency in order to explain its occurrence.
- The strength of Hirschi’s work, however, is empirical rather than theoretical. He finds
that control variables correlate with delinquency quite closely and consistently.
- Parental supervision is inversely related to delinquency. Intimacy of communication and
affectional identification with parents showed similarly strong links with delinquency: the
less strong the child’s reported bond with his family, the greater his involvement in
delinquency. The school and teachers showed the same trend.
- Hirschi’s data were based on a large-scale self-report survey of over four thousand
children aged 12 to 17 sampled from a predominantly urban0industrail area designed to
be representative of society.
The Contribution of Steven Box
- Steven Box tried to redress some of the deficiencies of control theory.
- The need for the alignment with labeling theory stems from Box’s attempt to explain how
and why social class and ethnicity have such weak links with delinquency in self-report
studies but such strong in official statistics. The answer he offers is that the first capture
primary and the second secondary deviations. With official intervention, official deviants
are predominantly lower-status.
- Labeling processes interact with control variables to make matters worse for those
defined as deviant, because the bonds they had with conventional society are eroded, and
their exposure to the risks of fresh deviations is heightened.
- Motivation to commit deviance is also more important for Box than for earlier control
theorists. Whether or not an individual with the option to deviate decides to, depends to
some extent on what he makes of the issue of:
Secrecy – chances of concealment
Skills – the knowledge required for deviance
Supply – the necessary equipment
Social – the support of associates
Symbolic support – support from the wider culture
o Example – a pot-smoking campus party scores high on all points
- Box vs. Cohen: status frustration is more important than resentment. The former leads to
reaction formation and the latter leads to behavior that seeks to assert independent
- Box vs. Matza: to control theorists, no such commitment to the rules exists in the first
place; hence ‘I was pushed’ is an excuse after the fact which the offenders hopes will
result in leniency. There is no way of settling this issue here but Matza’s techniques have