Social Control Theory Essay

Akin to the labeling theory, the social control theory also holds society responsible for the emergence of deviance. But instead of arguing that deviance is a result of labels imposed by society, the social control theory asserts that people resort to wrongdoing because of the absence or social bonds or socialization processes that are supposed to promote law-abiding conduct. Simply put, some people commit deviant behaviors because they were not educated regarding societal norms. Juvenile delinquents, for instance, may be dismissed as the product of dysfunctional families (Jensen, 2003).

Human beings by nature are active and flexible organisms who engage in a wide variety of activities. The range of the activities that they join in, however, is gradually limited by the processes of socialization and social learning. Therefore, when people are guilty of deviance, it supposedly goes to show that they did not undergo these developments. Society, in turn, is to blame – it did not carry out its duty of orienting its members regarding proper and improper behavior (Jensen, 2003).

The social control theory also believes that there are numerous motives behind deviant behavior.

Shoplifters, for instance, steal for different reasons, such as poverty, protesting against corporate greed and the sheer thrill and excitement of being able to get away with theft. But the social control theory does not focus much on the reasons for deviance. Whatever the reasons, deviance is a sign of the failure of the ability of social institutions to enforce societal norms (Jensen, 2003). Criminologist Jackson Toby (1957) used the social control theory in his study of juvenile delinquency. He argued that young people who resort to crime are those who have “few stakes or investments in conformity” (Jensen, 2003).

Toby used this phrase to refer to youths who came from broken families, dropped out of school and or abused drugs or alcohol. Because of their social and economic backgrounds, they do not have chances for advancement. Hence, they do not see any reason to conform and just resort to deviance instead. Conclusion The labeling theory and the social control theory are two explanations behind the concept of deviance. Both blame society for deviant people and behavior. However, both theories neglected the fact that individuals cannot keep on blaming society for their misfortunes.

At the end of the day, it is still the individual who will decide and act upon what he or she wants to do with his or her life.


Hamlin, J. Labeling Theory (Social Reaction Theory). Unpublished manuscript. Jensen, G. F. (2003). Social Control Theories. In R. A. Wright (Ed. ), Encyclopedia of Criminology (n. pag. ). New York: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. Kontos, L. , & Brotherton, D. (2008). Encyclopedia of Gangs. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group. Slattery, M. (2003). Key Ideas in Sociology. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.

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