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The Social Control Theory

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Social control theory has become one of the more widely accepted explanations in the field of criminology in its attempt to account for rates in crime and deviant behavior. Unlike theories that seek to explain why people engage in deviant behavior, social control theories approach deviancy from a different direction, questioning why people refrain from violating established norms, rules, and moralities. The theory seeks to explain how the normative systems of rules and obligations in a given society serve to maintain a strong sense of social cohesion, order and conformity to widely accepted and established norms.The theoretical stability of social control theory rests upon the existence of four variables which are not only thought to have a correlative relationship amongst each other but are viewed as pivotal perquisites in deterring deviant behavior

These variables are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.

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Many criminological theories always explain why do people commit crime, or to find out what are the most influential factors motivate people commit crime and violate the social norms. Instead, social control theories have been already assumed humans are potentially committing crime. Moreover, the social control or social bond theory is emphasizing why a person do not be a criminal. In social control theorists’ assumptions, individuals have the capacity to violate the laws rather than obey the laws. Law-abiding behaviors are not the nature of human beings. People choose to commit crime because the forces or constrains of society is not strongest enough. It portrays people are standing in the dilemma between deviance and conformity. It shows the tension of everyone either commit deviant act or accepts the norms. Therefore, social control theorists propose a few elements to pull people back from the side of deviance, especially relationship, commitments, values, norms, and beliefs. Family and peer group become a crucial agencies that affect people’s conduct. In 1957, Jackson Toby, a second social control theorist, offered a new concept called “stake in conformity” which as the fundamental mechanism to affect delinquent’s comportment. He also agreed that people are intrinsically and temptingly rupturing the laws, especially all youths. Some of them are having a high risk of the violation of laws due to this temptation. He believes students perform well in school not only they are being punished by school, but also endanger their future chances of success. Under the special academic-oriented circumstance, if the society allows students having a better career path when they got an excellent school result; therefore, some students who do poorly in school might have a great chance of committing crime because they seems lose lesser things than others. Apart from the academic result of an individual is an influential factor, peer support for deviant act could lead those youths with low stakes in conformity as well. However, even youths have low stake in conformity, they are not become delinquents when lacking of peer support.In 1961, another social control theorist called Reckless, who proposed a containment theory. The main concept is that all individuals are influenced by different forces such as social pressure, social pulls, biological/ psychological pushes. Those forces are driving people to commit deviant act. However, these forces are againsted by both external and inner containments. For instance, social pressure can be defined as living conditions, family conflict, minority group, status, and lack of opportunities. Then the term ‘social pulls’ is refered to the accepted norm of all individuals from their companions, criminal subculture, mass media and so on

Biological or psychological pushes can be easily linked to how those biological and psychological factors affect people fail to conform the norms of society, such as restlessness, inner tension, aggressiveness and so on. On the contrary, external containment is talking about the surroundings of a person. For instance, how parents or support groups promote right moral values, discipline, enforce the sense of identity and so on. Moreover, inner containment are those invisible stuffs which internalized our self-control; that related to how the goals/ abilities of a person against to commit crime.

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According to Hirschi, almost all of the existing theories began with a faulty fundamental premise. The reigning view then was that criminal behavior resulted from the creation of criminal motivation (Akers, R. L., & Sellers, C. S., 2008). The ‘strain’ theories that emerged out of Merton assumed that it was the pressure placed on social norms, due to a disconnect between youths’ goals and aspirations and their ability to reach such goals through legitimate means, that created the motivation to offend, an assumption similarly echoed by later versions of the strain theory articulated by Cloward and Ohlin. But to Hirschi, the opposite premise was true. His postulation was that all humans were possessed of the hedonistic urge to act in a selfish and aggressive manner that resulted to criminal behavior. You will remember John Locke’s Leviathan that laid down these instinctive selfish acts as the foundational basic of the social contract. Hirschi contended that these behaviors are part of the innate human nature, but more importantly, most people have learnt to control these ‘natural’ urges. In a nutshell, Hirschi started formulating his theory with the opinion that asking why offenders ‘do it’ was not the right question; instead we should be asking why the non-offenders do not do it. This is where the dominance of his version lies, asking the ‘right’ question. Hirschi’s argument was that there were some basic ‘social bonds’ that if manipulated one way or another, could constitute a particular outcome in the youths’ tendencies. Accordingly, these ‘social bonds’ come in four forms that are related to the bonds that people make to pro-social people, pro-social values, and pro-social institutions. The first in his list was attachment. This refers to a level of emotional bond to other people and an attachment to parents. This, according to Hirschi encompassed the interpersonal emotional barrier to delinquency, so that parents and the schools became critically important in the youths’ development of greater levels of social control. The second bond is commitment. In support of this, Hirschi cited the importance of relationships that are of value to people. These are the kinds of relationships that one would put in jeopardy when they engaged in deviant acts. He noted that people are less likely to put their acts in order if they knew they had something to lose. It could entail not wanting to be an object of ridicule in the face of parents, friends, or teachers

In a similar breath, Hirschi would argue that people would refrain from activities that would threaten their employment or marriage. The third is involvement which refers to behavioral investment in lines of action that conventionally preclude one from delinquent acts. This would be said to be related to the opportunity cost associated with how people spend time; so that those who spend time doing mostly pro-social activities will not be found engaging in anti-social activities. The final type of social bond according to Hirschi is belief. This refers to the personal embracement of normative conceptions that are deterrent to delinquent choices (Friedman , J., & Rosenbaum , D., 2008). The degree to which one adheres to the values associated with conforming behavior is, therefore, focused. If one values a particular ideology that pertains to the law then it is unlikely they will engage in it. For example, youths who do not value the notion that it is a bad idea to skip school for no apparent reason will most likely do just that.

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To sum up, the crimes could involve economically driven crimes (theft, robbery, etc.) or white-collar crimes which each would be the direct result of a need to satisfy desires due to an inability to do so through the social means. I believe the integrated theory provides an accurate and comprehensive analysis defining delinquency with an explanation as to why some individuals commit crime where others do not

The integrate theory can be utilized to implement policies geared towards helping to lessen crime and help in providing a better explanation and understanding of criminal behavior.

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Akers, R. L., & Sellers, C. S. (2008). Criminological Theories: Introduction, evaluation and application. New York: Oxford University Press.

Friedman , J., & Rosenbaum , D. (2008). Social control theory: The salience of components by age, gender, and type of crime. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 2(1), 363-381.

Hirschi , T. (1969). Causes of Delinquency. The Regents of the University of California Press, 250-257. Retrieved from

Keller, P. (2009). Key Ideas: Hirschis Social Bond/ Social Control. Key Ideas in Criminology and Criminal Justice, 4(2). Retrieved from

Ozbay, O., & Ozcan, Y. (2006). A Test of Hirschi's Social Bonding Theory. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology

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