Social Control theorists maintain that most people obey the laws, rules and regulations of mainstream society because they have been trained and socialized to do so, while those who are more likely to become criminals and delinquents have weal social and community bonds. Travis Hirshi wrote the classic work on social control theory, Causes of Delinquency in 1969. Numerous studies of juvenile delinquents over the last forty years have confirmed Hirschi’s views that such youths do feel detached from society and conventional morality, and have a weak attachment to family, friends and school. Poverty, segregation and racism are the main causes of social and community breakdown that have led to high rates of crime, violence and delinquency in the inner cities. Law enforcement bias is more evident in poor and minority communities with high levels of social breakdown and pathology. This theory applies most accurately to Tre Styles and his father Furious, whose influence prevents his son from becoming involved in crime and drug dealing or from dying in gang violence like so many of his friends.
Boyz n the Hood (1991) is an example of social control theory as applied to an impoverished inner-city ghetto where crime, gangs and drugs are rampant, and is particularly important in for the character Tre Styles and his father Furious. Unlike the other characters, Tre has a very strong father-figure who keeps him connected with mainstream society and thus helps him avoid the drug trade and gang violence that claim the lives of so many other young black men. Certainly the brutal and racist police force and government authorities portrayed in the movie cannot accomplish this, since their solution to the social and economic problems in the ghetto is simply to imprison or shoot as many black males as possible. Tre and his girlfriend Nia long manage to escape from this neighborhood in the end and go off to college in Atlanta, while Ricky and Doughboy die in gang-related violence. Tre could have gone in this direction as well, but the influence of his father Furious was decisive in preventing this.
Social Control theorists maintain that most people obey the laws, rules and regulations of mainstream society because they have been trained and socialized to do so, and have also developed an internal moral sense. If they break the law, they fear that the consequences will hurt their families, result in the loss of status, employment and job opportunities, and damage their standing in the community. Their behavior is controlled by “attachment and commitment to conventional institutions”, while those who lack this will not be deterred from deviance by threats of punishment because “they have little to lose” (Siegel, 2012, p. 244). Early social control theories like those of Albert Reiss and Scott Blair in the 1950s emphasized that juvenile delinquents have weak egos and failed to develop self-esteem in childhood, and that those less concerned about social standing were more likely to break the law. Most of the young men in Tre’s neighborhood do not have these social connections or attachments, but Tre does because of being socialized by Furious to avoid becoming a criminal or gangster. At the most crucial moment in the film, he prevents Tre from getting involved in the murder of other gang members in revenge for the death of his friend Ricky.
In his classic work Causes of Delinquency (1969), Travis Hirshi expanded on these ideas, arguing that considerations of morality were important for some people, but not for others. Like all social control theorists, he assumed that criminal behavior was amoral or immoral rather than culturally determined, and that criminals are cut off from society and communities. People with strong social and community ties were less likely to be criminals, who were amoral and purely self-interested. Crime and delinquency occurred “when an individuals’ bond to society is weak or broken” (Hirschi, 2002, pp. 15-16). Regardless of color, religion or social class, those who lacked such ties “may fall prey to criminological behavior” (Siegel, p. 246). Sociopaths and psychopaths have exceptionally weak links to family, friends, neighbors and society, while those who build up these attachments they would be less likely to be involved in any behavior that would endanger their social position. Numerous studies of juvenile delinquents over the last forty years have confirmed Hirschi’s insight that such youths do feel detached from society and conventional morality, and have a weak attachment to family, friends and school. Research also shows that youths with strong religious attachments are less likely to use drugs or become involved in criminal behavior, as are those with a commitment to “future success and achievement” (Siegel, p. 247). On the other hand, delinquents and criminals are not always socially isolated, since they often “maintain relationships with deviant peers and are influenced by members of their deviant peer group”, especially gangs (Siegel, p. 248). This is exactly what happens to most of the young men in the film, since they lack strong parental figures who live more or less conventional lives and have aspirations for their children to escape from the world of crime, poverty and drugs. Furious is a very strong role model for Tre and many of his peers simply do not have, and for this reason he does not get involved in the gangs, or even take revenge for Ricky’s murder.
Hirschi, T. (2002). Causes of Delinquency. Transaction Publishers.
Siegel, L. (2012). Criminology, 11th Edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.