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Social control theorists believe that individuals obey the law due to being appropriately socialised and having controls placed on behaviours, these controls are both internal and external. Those with a strong sense of morals, should therefore, according to control theorists; be incapable of hurting others through their actions and possess a strong commitment to conformity, ensuring that the laws and rules of society are obeyed. Individuals uncommitted to society, with a low sense of morals, would according to control theory; not be deterred by the threat of punishment due to not holding a stake in society so therefore have little to lose. Social control is derived from a conception of human nature that believes humans are born free to commit crime, Travis Hirschi claims all humans to be hedonistic in nature, it is through controls however that enable individuals to rationalise the pros and cons of delinquency and crime.
Social control theories do not explore why crime is committed; instead, they rationalise why crime is not committed; drawing upon both Psychological and social factors in the explanation of crime and delinquency. Thomas Hobbes recognised that without social contract; there could be no society and chaos would reign, it is this essence of social contract that lies at the foundation of social control. Émile Durkheim focused his attention on the significant transitions that occurred, including industrialisation, urbanisation, and the waning of religion as a significant force in social life; he proposed that social order arose from shared beliefs, values, norms, and practices of a group of people. Durkheim theorised that it was through shared culture in the community that enabled a sense of social connection that bound members together in solidarity, referring to this group as a collective conscience. He observed the importance of social institutions such as education, law enforcers, state and the media in forming a collective conscience in society; according to Durkheim; through the interactions with these institutions and the people around us, we collectively work to maintain social order.
In 1957 Jackson Toby published an article discussing why adolescents were inclined or disinclined to engage in delinquent behaviour; arguing that individuals who engaged in non-delinquent activities felt as though they had too much to lose; they had a stake in society therefore a stake in conformity. The notion of individuals being shaped by the ties of community, laid the groundwork for the idea of internalised norms that act as a method of social control. Ivan Nye followed on from Toby’s study; he conducted formal interviews of 780 juveniles, he focused on the family unit as a source of control, later specifying three types of control; direct control, or the use of punishments and rewards as an incentive to particular behaviours; indirect control, or the attachments with individuals who adhere to social norms; and internal control, or the manipulation of conscience or sense of guilt to encourage conformity. His findings showed that youths could be directly controlled by the constraints imposed by parents that limit the opportunities for delinquency, or through parental rewards and punishments. Youth may also be constrained when free from direct control by the anticipation of parental disapproval or through the development of a conscience.
Travis Hirschi was critical of Nyes use of controls, however working with Michael Gottfredson, he proposed self-control to be a key variable in control theories. They argue that children who learn self-control early in life; have much less involvement in problem behaviours later in life; believing that those who develop high levels of self-control early, are less likely to be delinquent and more likely to succeed in life, attaining better incomes as adults. According to self-control theory, humans are not inherently criminal or socialised to crime; rather that they differ in the extent to which they have developed self-control. Self-control and social control are regarded as socialisation theories as they focus on factors that teach us to adhere to norms and values of society. Hirschi made the most influential contribution to later ideas of social control; maintaining that delinquent acts resulted when an individuals bond to society is weak or broken; identifying four elements of the social bond; attachment, commitment, involvement and belief. Hirschi administered a questionnaire to 3,605 boys between the ages or twelve and seventeen to test his theory; after analysing the data against the elements of his social bond, he discovered those less likely to engage in delinquency had closer parental attachments and those more inclined towards delinquency had poor parental attachments; adding weight to the validity of his theory.
Attachment is a central component of social control theory; parental attachment, either prepares children for the social controls of school; or prepares them for delinquency. John Bowlby believed the relationship between infants and parental figure during the first five years of life was crucial to socialisation; a disruption of this primary relationship leads to higher incidences of juvenile delinquency. In his ‘44’ Thieves study; more than half of the juvenile thieves had been separated from their mothers for longer than six months during their first five years and 14 of the young thieves (32%) showed ‘affectionless psychopathy’; therefore offering evidence to support the idea that a strong parental attachment is the basis from which a child uses to form attachments with society, such as educational institutions. Hirschi explained the importance of educational institution attachments; adolescent attachments to school are a fundamental means of establishing social control.
Overall, significant number of studies involving school attachments and delinquent behaviour have been undertaken through the years; Brookmeyer et al for instance, found that the young individuals whom committed violent crimes, had poor parental attachments and was disconnected with school; furthermore those less likely to commit crimes, had stronger parental attachments, and a strong connection with school. Sprott et al appears to support this; concluding that a strong attachment to school was associated with less violent crimes, as a result, the importance of attachments to family and school should not be minimised.
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