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Social Control: Definition & Forms

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  • 0:03 What Is Social Control?
  • 0:35 Informal Control
  • 1:36 Formal Control
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson defines social control and then describes the two main types of social control: informal and formal. This lesson will also look at several examples of each type of social control in society.

What Is Social Control?

Social control is the active or passive process of a group regulating itself according to its beliefs, principles, and values. A major purpose of social control is to stop or prevent negative deviance, which is a break from established laws and values that may be damaging to others. Just keep in mind that what is considered normal, moral, valuable, ethical, or deviant varies from social group to social group.

That being said, there are two types of social control: informal and formal. Let's take a closer look at both of these.

Informal Control

When asked who are the most important people in your life, you may say your parents, siblings, or friends. And when asked who are the people that have influenced you most in your life, again you may say your parents, friends, or maybe even colleagues.

Family, friends, and colleagues are three types of people that exert informal social control, a type of social control that stems from the approval or disapproval of people we associate with and consider important.

When we are growing up, it is our family that teaches us the foundations of what is 'normal' thought or behavior and what our values should be. These behaviors and values may be particular to the family or they can be particular to society in general.

Our family helps us develop and understand morals as well as the self or a conscience. This is the part of ourselves that exhibits self-awareness, is able to feel guilt, exercise self-control, and a lot more. Our friends and colleagues can do similar things. They can teach us important lessons, or they may exert peer pressure that will cause us to behave in different ways.

Formal Control

While friends, family, and colleagues often exert subtle or informal forms of social control that we may even choose to disregard, the same is harder to say for some types of formal social control. This refers to organizations or systems that use strict and delineated rules, values, morals, and the like that we are commonly told or compelled to obey.

Whereas informal social control involves people we see on a regular basis and sometimes on a whim, formal social control involves people we sometimes never see at all (like elected officials) or, if we do, it's in a very structured way.

Examples of formal social control include the government. The government uses laws and courts to exercise social control. The government tries to protect those following the rules and capture and punish those who do not.

Governmental social control goes beyond the legal system. Another example of this is healthcare. The government tries to persuade many of us to go get our teeth cleaned on a regular basis or go for an annual check-up. Why?

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