Formal and Informal Social Control in Everyday Life

Examine formal and informal social control in controlling an individual’s behavior Mechanisms of social control can be formal or informal. Formal social control includes the criminal justice system, involving the police, courts, and prisons. Informal social control consists of mechanisms which are not based upon formal rules but are carried family, friends, and member of the society every day. The use of negative or positive sanctions (punishments or rewards) is vital in maintaining social control. Functionalists see the criminal justice system as operating to look after the interest of society.

They argue that society requires to be controlled and need punishment or it would collapse into a state of anomie. According to Durkheim in order for society to keep its existence, members must commit to shared values, a collective conscience. Also, the type of punishment provided by the formal system of control reflects what type of society it is. In less complex, mechanistic societies, punishment is based on retribution. The punishment will be public and physical in nature e. g. execution. As societies develop and become more complex (organic societies), punishment will shift away from public punishment to imprisonment.

The aim of the punishment is more to force the person to make amenders for their wrongdoing. Durkheim called this ‘restitutive law’. Marxist sociologists such as Hall et al and Chambliss believe that the criminal justice system reflects the interest and benefits of the ruling class and is based on controlling the working class, ensuring that any opposition to capitalism is punished. According to Reiman, the law controls on punishing the working class for certain acts, however, ignores the bad acts carried out by the ruling class.

Rusche and Kircheimer argue that there are certain forms of punishments that reflect the ruling class’s interest. Farrington and West argue the correlation between family and crime is that if a member of the family is committing a crime, other members of the family are likely to commit a crime too. They link the idea of failure of informal social control at the most important stage of socialization, the family. They based their study on 411 working-class males born in 1953 until their late 30’s. Their research suggests that coming from a family without enough socialization and informal social control can lead to crime.

Denis and Erdos argue that the correlation between crime and certain family characteristics is a reflection of a much wider change in society. In particular, the traditional three-generation family structure had provided stability and a place in which moral values and a sense of community belonging had been passed on. They also argue that there has been a significant change in the family, as there has been a decline in the presence of a father figure, which has weakened the external patterns of social control since the 1960s.

However, Scraton argues that Denis is confusing the moral argument and reflecting his own views with a sociological one backed up with evidence. Social control is achieved through the appropriate socialization process, whereby all members of society learn the behavior that is deemed desirable in their culture and society. In conclusion, society requires formal and informal social control in order to control criminal activities. They are both essential in order to look after the well-being of members of society and to make them feel secure. Also, the law is crucial for reflecting a consensus and maintaining social solidarity.

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