What Is Social Control? Definition, Types, and Need

What is Social Control?

All societies practice social control through the regulation and enforcement of rules and norms. Society, in order to exist and progress, has to exercise a certain control over its members since any marked deviation from the established ways (norms) is considered a threat to its Welfare.

The main goal of social control is to maintain social order. It is achieved by enforcing rules where sanctions are used as means. So, social control;

  • is nothing but control of society over individuals.
  • means to bring people of society within the limits and compel them to adopt conformity to social norms.
  • refers to the ways in which people’s thoughts, feelings, appearance, and behavior are regulated in social systems.
  • is mainly done through socialization in which people come to identify with a social system and its values and norms, thereby acquiring a stake in maintaining those values and norms.


  • According to Innes (2003), “Social control can be defined broadly as an organized action intended to change people’s behavior.”
  • Ogburn and Nimkoff said, “social control refers to the patterns of pressure which society exerts to maintain order and establish rules”.

Need for Social Control

It is necessary for an orderly social life. Society has to regulate and pattern individual behavior to maintain normative social order. Without social control, the organization of society gets disturbed. In order to bring about conformity, solidarity, and continuity of a particular group or society, social control is the only way.

Various social thinkers have expressed their views in different ways about the need or importance for social control which are discussed:

Re-Establishing the Old Social System

One vital need of social control is to keep the existing order intact and give continuity to the social norms, values, and cultural practices passed down by the ancestors which do not mean hindering social progress.

Regulation of Individual Social Behavior

It is necessary in order to regulate the individual’s behavior in accordance with the social objectives and social values. Unless the individuals live up to the prescribed norms of conduct and unless their attitudes and actions are directed to the welfare of the whole, it would be quite difficult to maintain social organization effectively.

Hence, regulation of individual behavior is necessary in order for society to exist and progress.

Obedience to Social Decisions

Society takes certain decisions. These decisions are taken in order to maintain and uphold the values of society. Through it, an attempt is made to get the social decision obeyed.

Establishing Social Uniformity and Unity

Unity is not possible without social control. It regulates the behavior of individuals in accordance with established norms which brings uniformity of behavior and brings unity among the individuals.

Bring Solidarity

It is to create a feeling of solidarity in the minds of people. In the competitive world, the weaker group may be exploited by the stronger group or the equally powerful group may clash among themselves.

This affects harmony and order. Some groups may develop anti-social attitudes and pose danger to the organization of society. Therefore, it aims to bring control and social solidarity.

Bring Conformity to Society

It is intended to bring about individuals to conform to social groups’ behavior so that social order is maintained.

Provide Social Sanction

Any marked deviation from the accepted social norms is considered a threat to society’s welfare. Hence, sanctions are used to control the behavior of individuals.

Check Cultural Maladjustment

Society is continuously undergoing changes. The individual has to adjust his behavior according to changes taking place in society. But all individuals cannot adjust themselves to new situations. Some may become deviants. Thus, social control is necessary to check the maladjustment of individuals.

Types of Social Control

Generally, social controls are of two types direct and indirect social control as:


That type of social control which directly regulates and controls the behavior of the individual is called ‘Direct Social Control’. This type of control is found in families, neighborhoods, playgroups, and other types of primary groups.

In these institutions, parents, neighbors, teachers, classmates, etc., keep control over the behavior of the individual via societal norms and values.


In this type of social control, distant factors keep control over the behavior of the individual. Such type of control is exercised by secondary groups through customs, traditions control public opinion are important forms of indirect social control.

Social Sanctions

Social sanctions are means of enforcing rules, regulations, and, laws to achieve social control. Sanctions can be a reward or punishment o Penalties.

Sanctions can be positive as well as negative. Both types of sanctions play a role in social controls.

  • Positive sanctions are rewards given for conforming to norms. For e.g. A promotion is a positive sanction for working hard.
  • Negative sanctions are punishments for violating norms. For e.g. being arrested is a negative sanction for shoplifting. For e.g. When a worker violates a workplace guideline/norm, the manager steps in to enforce the rules.

But sanctions are also classified by sociologists as formal or informal,

Informal sanctions: Informal sanctions emerge in face-to-face social interactions. Informal sanctions may include shame, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism, and disapproval. For e.g. shouting loudly in the library may receive negative informal reactions such as disapproving looks or verbal reprimands whereas helping an old man carry grocery bags across the street may receive positive informal reactions, such as a smile or pat on the back.

Formal sanctions: Formal sanctions are ways to officially recognize and enforce norm violations. For e.g. if a student cheats on an exam, he/she might be expelled, someone who speaks inappropriately to the boss could be fired, and someone who commits a crime may be arrested or imprisoned. On the positive side, a soldier who saves a life may receive an official commendation, or a CEO might receive a bonus for increasing the profits of his or her corporation.

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