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The Role of Social Control for Social Classes in Britain

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Social control refers to methods used to control the population into behaving in a way that conforms with the ideas of those in power in a way that is manageable for those people in power to sustain and control. There are many different agencies that are responsible for enacting this social control such as the government and the police. This was especially true in the latter half of the nineteenth century when urbanisation had led to most people to move to major cities in search of work in the industry of that area. However, whilst the actions of different agencies of the state were very prominent in the everyday life of the public, the state itself as well as members of the upper class in Britain were also conscious of the fact that if the state controlled the public too much the public may become dependent on it and therefore the burden on these agencies would be much greater and they feared this would lead to a less independent nation. Despite this, in many ways the upper and middle class were able to use a variety of methods of social control to suppress the masses in nineteenth century England such as the role of law enforcement or functional segregation.

Firstly, the use of a significantly expanding legal system had a large effect on the lives of the working class for various different reasons. The most significant change was the establishment of the first modern police force in 1829 because it meant that in many cases the police were now used to isolate political campaigns and to try and prevent them spreading or acting in a way that challenged the state in place of the army which had previously served this purpose on occasion. This was particularly important as there was a rising fear of public disorder in major cities in the UK. There was also a change in the way that a criminal was sentenced with there being a greater degree of classification of criminals based on their crimes. This classification also placed greater emphasis on the individual committing the crime rather than the crime they were committing. There was also the idea of a distinct criminal class made up of reoccurring offenders that was feared by the upper classes for its public disorder. However, the presence of the police was challenged in many working-class areas where they felt they were being monitored because of their class and prejudices associated with this. However, these changes also led to an increase in the number of working-class people reporting crime as the burden of finding evidence for a prosecution was now held by the police. Overall, whilst in many ways the legal system was used to supress the working class, it also benefitted them in other ways.

Functional segregation was also used by upper and middle-class people to suppress the masses because it ensured that upper class housing was never located next to a slum. This is because the state did not intervene to provide social housing to those in slums as they believed it was a private endeavour. However, this meant that companies managed by upper and middle-class people were in charge of providing housing for the masses and therefore chose to locate them away from where they lived as it would have been seen as less desirable. As well as this, the quality of working-class housing was also generally quite poor because housing regulations were poorly enforced and only applied to new build houses. Overall, the middle and upper classes used functional segregation to control the masses as well as taking advantage of a lack of enforcement on the quality of this housing.

Education can also be seen as a method of social control used by the wealthier classes in society because before the Forster Education Act passed in 1870, education was not compulsory meaning many working-class people were not able to attend because they were unable to afford it. This limited their prospects in life and also meant that they were not able to convey any negative thoughts they had about the higher classes through written word in the expanding print industry. It also meant that the only way they could challenge the higher classes was through mass demonstrations or orally which were usually closely monitored by the police force. However, after this act and a small period to allow these people to reach adulthood this became less of an issue. However, there was still a large gap in the standard of educational achievements between the classes.

However, there are some limitations to this statement in terms of middle-class attitudes to the masses. Firstly, many people in the middle class were sympathetic of the masses as they saw their position as quite weak due the aspirational nature of their work and they feared becoming part of the masses if their work stopped for any reason. As well as this, there were middle class campaigns to try and improve slum conditions during the nineteenth century and therefore it would not be accurate to claim that all middle class people were aiming to suppress the masses through their acts in nineteenth century Britain.

Overall, whilst there are several examples of the middle and upper classes using social control to suppress the masses in Britain, there are also examples of how these changes in some cases benefitted the masses in certain ways. As well as this, not all members of the middle and upper classes did use social control to suppress people and in many cases members of these classes aimed to help the masses in certain ways. However, it would still be accurate to claim that large numbers of people from these classes did use social control to their advantage and in an attempt to suppress the masses in nineteenth century Britain.

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The Role of Social Control for Social Classes in Britain. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
“The Role of Social Control for Social Classes in Britain.” GradesFixer, 30 Aug. 2022,
The Role of Social Control for Social Classes in Britain. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2022].
The Role of Social Control for Social Classes in Britain [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Aug 30 [cited 2022 Sept 29]. Available from:
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