Social Controls

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Critically evaluate the claim that it is social controls that prevent us all from committing crime.

This essay will thoroughly examine and evaluate the claim that it is social controls that prevent us from committing crimes by looking at different social control theories. Firstly we must determine what a social control theory consists of, according to Hopkins (2009) ‘social control theory is fundamentally derived from a conception of human nature that proposes that there are no natural limits on elementary human needs and desires. People will always want and seek further economic reward and it is thus not necessary to look for special motives for engaging in criminal activity. Human beings are born free to break the law and will only refrain from doing so under particular circumstances. It is these fundamental assumptions that form the basis of social control theories’ (Hopkins 2009, p.246). Therefore controls set in society are the reason humans do not commit crime, if these controls were to be removed humans would naturally due to their nature commit crime. This also shows that social control theories try and solve the question of ‘why do people not commit crime?’ rather than ‘what causes people to commit crime?’ The reason behind solving the first question rather than the second is because social control theorists believe committing crime is the default position of every human therefore the second question has already been solved. Many of the early control theories attach more importance to psychological factors rather than social factors when analysing deviance and conformity. One of the earliest control theories to focus on sociological reasons for crime was that of Durkheim’s theory of anomie. Durkheim argued ‘inadequate forms of social control are more likely during periods of rapid modernisation and social change because new forms of regulation cannot evolve quickly enough to replace the declining form of social solidarity (N.D cited in Hopkins 2009, p.247)’. As a result of this people will commit crime as there are no controls to stop them as society changes at a different rate to people. Only when people get used to the new society will the controls be back in place and stop people committing crime. Durkheim’s later work uses the concept of social disorganisation but there is a fundamental difference between how he and other theorists use the concept. Anomie theorists argue that social disorganisation creates pressure, which in turn produces crime and deviance this is a predestined actor model argument. On the other hand social control theorists argue social disorganisation causes a weakening of social control, making crime and deviance more possible this is a rational actor model argument (Hopkins 2009, p.247). This shows social control theorists put the blame on society for not stopping people from committing crime by being disorganised. In 1969 Travis Hirschi proposed a control theory of delinquency which is based on an individual’s bond to society. In simplest terms Hirschi states ‘delinquent acts result when an individual’s bond to society is weak or broken (Hirschi 1969, p.16)’. The bond has four social components which are attachment, commitment, involvement and belief and Hirschi believes it is these social aspects that stop us from committing crime. Each of these components although independent they are also highly interrelated to one another and each is given equal weight by Hirschi. All of these combined stop most people from committing crime (Hopkins 2009, p.250). Firstly we will look at attachment. As put forward by many theorists before him, people need to internalise the norms of society, hirschi (1969) tries to explain what this means and try and show attachment to be a better way of going about this. The norms of society are shared by others in society so if one was to violate a norm they would be going against society and not care about them. If the person doesn’t care about going against...
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