Informal Social Controls
There are certain formal structures created by the authorities of a nation with the duty of officially arresting, charging and arraigning a person before a competent court of judicature on matters relating to crime. This forms the basis of criminology and the criminal justice system of a given country. However, there are some elements of checks and balances that are meant to prevent deviant behaviors in a given society. This includes certain aspects of socialization that are meant to ensure that children and people in a given country or community can conform to the morals, ethics and laws of a given society. Collectively, these non-official agents and parameters are defined as informal controls.
The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze the informal controls and system of socialization that ensures that people are kept within the prescribed morals and laws of a society. This paper will commence by critiquing the normal systems through which people are kept in check in a sociological context. This will be followed by an assessment of the main ways through which these systems work and how they ensure the best conduct amongst members of society.
Background of Informal Controls
Culture is defined as the way a group of people live and this includes a set of actions and processes that are generally accepted and applied by the people in dealing with their matters. Culture involves the acceptable actions that have been developed over a period of time – usually several centuries which defines what is right and wrong. This kind of system is defined by some writers like Geert Hofstede as the software of the mind because it sets the parameters between good and bad and what is right at a given point in time. Therefore, culture is very important and defines a stream of control over people.
Culture evolves to become social controls because they are internalized and are policed or enforced by members of the society in various levels and forms. We all know that there are certain things we will not do. Most people will not talk back to their parents. Most Americans will greet another person as a sign of respect. People will be sober in a funeral even if they do not know the deceased. People will be respectful and silent when they pass in front of a church out of respect. These are all things that are internal and they tend to be something that we all learn or are told as we grow up in a given society. Therefore, social controls emanating from culture gives us a foundation for some kind of limits and boundaries that we all need to respect and honor in order to do what is permitted.
There is a set of generally accepted set of system that are utilized and applied in order to measure the conduct of people and guide people in order to do things that are appropriate. Usually, this is based on past experiences and circumstances that are meant to help a person to become a better human being and a more productive or responsible person in society. These rules are mainly social and they include a set of procedures and systems that are evolved to cover what people ought to do at certain situations and circumstances.
As a person grows, he learns a number of things through unconscious forms of transmissions. This is based on what a person’s parents think of and how a person’s society around him defines what to be done and how it should be done. These are things that are integrated into people’s minds and souls through the fact that they just live in a given place and situation.
Informal controls culminate in norms and values that are crystallized over a given period of time and guides the way people conduct their affairs. These norms are not created by any authority specifically as the case might be with a law or criminal legal provision. It is just a series of views that are generally accepted by different people and different agencies in the society.
Informal controls are due to behavioral potentialities and they are shaped by limits and parameters that are generally accepted at the family level and by the community in general. These limitations develop behavior because the behavior is always a product of what a person internalizes as appropriate and inappropriate.
Informal controls are based on group standards. They are often a set of unwritten rules that must be honored at all times and in all situations. This is about traditions and procedures that are to be used as the basis for conduct and what must be undertaken in all situations and in all circumstances.
External controls or formal controls are viewed by authorities like Durkheim as a set of sanctions that are defined and enforced by the government. These are official rules that are defined by the government and will be applied when there is a major breach. These are direct and are stated in clear ways and forms. They are applied strictly where there is a breach and there are controls and regulations that can be invoked as and when there is an issue which merits its attention.
On the other hand, informal controls are those that are based on the social and cultural context of a given community. It is about a group’s standard and a group’s set of regulations that must be applied in situations of importance and vitality. This because they are based on what has evolved, rather than what the sovereign has defined as a law that everyone must honor. Informal controls are moral and are often based on what is more ideal and what is preferred rather than what must be followed or else sanctions will be applied.
Some informal controls come with sanctions. However, these sanctions are not very well defined. They are based on what people think or feel at a particular point in time. And they often include ostracism and other social denials that non-conforming members are subjected to.
How Informal Controls Work to Keep people out of Trouble
Informal controls form a kind of hedge around which the laws are obeyed and followed. This is because most laws and standards in the justice system are a reflection of norms and informal rules. Some jurisprudence authorities identify that most laws are based on informal rules of society and they become institutionalized when a given nation becomes a more formal entity or an established system.
Therefore, by extension, external controls which define a person as a criminal or non-criminal are basically the same as the informal controls of informal social interactions. This means that when a person obeys the informal rules, that individual is either likely to be isolated from the formal social landscape or might have a more disciplined outlook towards approaching the formal rules of society. This is because when a person subjects himself to rules that are the same, but appears to be different from the formal, there will be major trends towards responsibility. With this attitude towards responsibility, people are more likely to be conformist to the regulations of society and then make changes and adjustments to achieve the best of results.
The United States’ criminal justice system over the past 40 years has moved from dealing with major crimes to dealing with the root of crimes – deviant behaviors amongst potentially dangerous people. This is because observations show that crime is committed from people of certain backgrounds and these persons grow to build a criminal career, thus, to deal with the big crimes, there is the need to try to stop the small-time criminals before they get dangerous. This has led to a system whereby little matters and basic issues that are somewhat linked to petty offences and breach of informal controls are treated seriously by the police. For instance, spitting on the streets, which are informal controls are given prompt attention by the police who often ask questions which leads to the charging of potential offenders. Therefore, following the informal controls prevents a person from getting into the criminal justice system in the first place. Such an entry is likely to make a person a career criminal due to the domino effects of offending and reoffending.
Informal controls that are very different from the legal system also helps people to become more responsible. This is because human societies are such that they often evolve to promote respectful relationships which are devoid of crimes. In a study of immigrants who built informal sectors in western nations, the findings indicate that they build a system of informal controls that enables them to carry out business activities and stay away from trouble. This is opposed to systems that did not have such informal controls including areas with a large number of migrants from different backgrounds who did not have a common denominator of social controls. This led to the formation of gangs and various criminal enterprises.
Agents of Socialization and how they Work in the Informal Control System
As identified above, informal controls are not consciously made. They are passed on from one generation to another and includes regulations of what is ideal and what is right. There are numerous agencies that transmit these ideas and concepts in a manner that hits the conscience of people. This includes the family which is the first point of socialization. People normally adopt their parents’ religion and with this, they inherit their parents’ moral codes and social standards.
Outside the family, there are peers and other people in the schooling environment who define what is right and what is wrong and hence, creates a framework of informal social controls. There are rules of friends like avoiding “snitching” and helping each other to have fun and be happy. Thus, peers are a major agency of socialization which transmits informal controls.
The mass media has been an important transmitter of informal controls over the past 40 years. This is because the first point of information in most transactions is through the media, rather than through other social interactions. This gets people to understand what the social controls at any point in time should be.
Furthermore, professional entities and associations, as well as the work environment creates an informal control system because there is a sub-culture that is created in all workplaces. This set of standards influences the way people think in terms of defining what is important and what is vital. This include major processes and procedures that must be applied and carried out in order to achieve results and promote some degree of conformity and connection.
Religion sets standards of right and wrong and this defines some informal controls and limits that every member of a religion must support. Thus, if a person is born into a brand of Christianity, that person will have to be Christ-like on the basis of what the sect teaches. This is because each of these movements have their idea of what a good person must do and how the good person must behave. This forms the basis for informal controls that members of each of the religious groups must organize their lives.
Therefore, the agencies of socialization transmit the ideas of informal control to different members of the society. They instill various actions in people and these actions are meant to be undertaken and applied in the daily lives of people. This is different from the formal rules which are enforced by the state. Therefore, the socialization process unconsciously transmits the ideals and values of the society to various people in the community. This leads to a set of informal controls and monitoring mechanisms that defines the way people should behave. As people grow, they tend to accept certain actions and processes as normal and then build on it. This enables the way people think and analyze their actions and stay within certain parameters of what is right and what is wrong. They are all transmitted to people through the socialization process and most of the work is done by agents and agencies of socialization.
Informal controls play a major part in the choices and actions of people. This includes the fact that people tend to organize their lives according to the culture, norms and mores of the society and groups they belong to. These informal controls are opposed to formal external controls that include laws and statutes that guide the way people must act or else face sanctions that are defined by the sovereign authority of the state and carried out by agencies of the society.
Informal controls are often similar to external formal control because most legal systems are a reflection of the morals and social codes of a society. These regulations and standards evolve into national formal laws. Therefore, mastering these social informal controls causes a person to have a bigger chance of observing the laws of the land.
Informal controls are not specific. They are transmitted by agents and agencies of socialization. These agencies teach the culture in an informal manner and unconscious system. They include the family, peers, schools, media and other arms of society.
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