Social Control: Formal & Informal Sanctions

Instructor: Emily Cummins
Social control is all about how we maintain order in society and avoid chaos. In this lesson, we'll talk about how we go about doing this through social sanctions including formal and informal ones.

Social Control

How do we maintain order in our society? How do we convince people to follow rules and agree on certain ways to act and behave? Yep, we're talking about, social control - the ways that we attempt to impose order in our society, and the ways in which they are enforced. Let's talk about how this works.


Social control is usually based on enforcing social norms. Social norms are widely shared beliefs about how we should act and are key to maintaining order and avoiding chaos. Norms basically guide our actions. They can be minor, like facing forward in an elevator instead of facing backward. Then again, another norm could be refraining from stealing a fancy coat you like in the store. There are a few kinds of norms.

  1. Folkways are kind of like traditions and customs that are important to us but it's not that serious if we don't follow them. We don't walk down the street backwards because it would be odd, but it wouldn't be very serious if we did.
  2. Mores are more serious than folkways and include beliefs like don't steal or kill. You can risk being considered immoral or even being shunned by society for violating these norms.
  3. Laws are when society decides that the norms should be rules that are enforced by institutions like the police.

So what does this have to do with social control and social sanctions? Well, if we violate norms, we're probably going to be subject to some social sanctions.

Social Sanctions

Social sanctions are the methods that we use to enforce social control. Think of these like the rewards and punishments society uses to make sure people obey our norms and laws.

Sociologists believe that sanctions are external forms of social control, meaning they are exerted on us by some outside force. This is different than, say, our personal values, which is an internal form of social control that prevents us from doing something.

Social sanctions can be both positive and negative. A positive sanction could be receiving an award from your neighborhood block club because you helped to create a community recycling program there. There are many types of sanctions. Let's look at some in more detail.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account