What are the Means and Mechanism of Social Control


  1. Introduction
  2. Types of Mechanism 
  3. Preventive Mechanism 
  4. Mechanism to Manage Tension
  5. Mechanism to check and 

Every society has devised various mechanisms to exercise control.  Social control mechanisms are viewed by sociologists as all those social arrangements that 

  1. Prevent such strains as may develop from the individual’s place in the social structure and
  2. Prevent the strains from leading to deviance. 
Every society has certain means to exercise social control, and there are clear consequences of exercising social control for promoting stability and conformity in societies.

Types of Mechanisms

1-Preventive mechanisms: These mechanisms are designed to prevent such situations from developing, that might lead to deviance Socialization, social pressures, establishment of role priorities, force are some of the mechanisms through which conformity is promoted or the occurrence of deviance is prevented.

2-Mechanisms to manage tensions-: Institutionalized safety valves like humor, games and sports, leisure, religious rituals are regarded as outlets for the tensions generated by social restraints, and cultural inconsistencies within a society.

3-Mechanisms to check or change deviant behavior: Sanctions are used by every society to bring about conformity and check or change deviant behavior.  Sanctions have been classified into:

A-Psychological Sanctions-Negative sanctions are reproof, ridicule no acceptance, ostracism etc.  Positive sanctions include acceptance in the group, praise, invitation to inner circle events, verbal, or physical pat on the back gifts etc.

B-Physical sanctions- These are mostly negative.  The most important forms of physical sanctions are expulsion, physical punishment, and extermination.

c-Economic sanctions- These include positive rewards like promotion of a loyal sincere worker, grant of tenders to civic minded businessmen etc., or negative sanctions like threat of loss or reduction in one’s income e.g., threat of discharge by employer may prevent the employee from continuing his strike), economic boycott etc.

4-Propaganda Mechanisms

Another important mechanism that can bring about change in the desired direction, is propaganda or moulding public opinion.  Propaganda is a deliberate attempt to control the behavior and interrelationships of members to change the feelings, attitudes, and values.  For example, the efforts of the government to control population growth through family planning propaganda

Means of Social Control

As mentioned earlier,social control may denote the various specialized means employed by a society, to maintain order.  It may also be used to categories institutions insofar as they contribute specifically to order and stability.  Let us examine some of these in detail.

1- Custom

Social codes found in every society provide standardized ways of doing things. These ways, known as customs, have come to be accepted in the group or society. Some degree of pressure is always exerted on the individual to make one conform to customs.  In case, they are violated the group applies some sanctions or penalties of varying degrees of severity.  The severity would depend on the importance attached to the customary regulation.

Custom is sustained by common acceptance.  Informal social pressures are brought to bear, in the case of violation of customs.  Violation of mores, on the other hand, inspire intense reaction and the punishment may involve expulsion from the group, harsh ridicule, imprisonment or in some cases even death.  To function effectively in a culture, it is imperative that one learns the appropriate folkways (customs and conventions) and mores of that culture.  Let us now see the role of law as a means of social control.


Certain norms become laws when a society feels strongly, about them, Laws are formal standardized expressions of norms, enacted by legislative bodies to regulate certain types of behavior.  Laws not merely state what behaviors are permitted and not permitted, but they also state the punishment for violating the law. As we shift from simple societies to the modern ones, the role of law as a mechanism of social control assumes greater significance.  In modern, complex societies the more informal types of social control are weakened. Though law may itself be based on custom, it has three distinct characteristics which separate it from custom: first, it has apoliticality as it is upheld by the political authority of the state. Second, it has uniformity, as it is applicable throughout the jurisdiction of the state on all groups or parts of society.  Third, it has penal sanction, as each law is enforced on the strength of penalty imposed by the State (Courts) in case of violation. 

There are distinct agencies such as police, courts, prisons etc. to enforce the law.  However, when a law does not reflect folkways and mores, its enforcement is likely to be ignored or given low priority.  For example, even though the minimum age at marriage for girls and boys in India is fixed by law, many communities ignore these prescriptions. When there is a conflict between custom and law, it becomes difficult to impose the law.  We will now turn to the role of religion


Sociologists are interested in studying how religion is organized, and what impact it has on the members of a society in terms of controlling their behavior.  They are also interested in the kinds of belief system developed by people, in different situations and circumstances, and how religious beliefs change over time as external situations and circumstances change.  All religions are seen to have the following elements:

  1.  things considered sacred 
  2.  A set of believers
  3. A set of rituals and ceremonies 
  4.  A system of beliefs such as a creed, doctrine, or a holy book
  5. A certain form of organization.

Religion contributes to stability and order in society in that it reinforces social norms. providing sanctions for violation of norms and reinforcing basic values.  Today, with the explosion of scientific knowledge, some customs, religious and moral interpretations of behavior are no longer considered binding or accepted.  The sacred books of most of religions include rules for ordering social relationships.  It is especially explicit about matters pertaining to the family, marriage, divorce, and inheritance.  Though laws are challenging some of the practices upheld by religious teachings, beliefs and experiences associated with religion are still seen to be essential for both personal identity, and social cohesion. 

4. Education

The institution of education helps to control human behavior through socialization of the young and adult members of society.  The different levels of formal education transmit the culture of society, to individuals within the society.  In discharging their socialization function, schools and colleges transmit many of the society’s values. The individuals learn to conform to rules, be honest, be diligent and to co-operate with others etc.  Another value of education is that it prepares students for their adult occupational roles. Education is further valued for the understanding it imparts, about the social and physical environment.  However, the fact that education tries to impart such values, is no indication that everyone who goes to school, and college learns and accepts these values.  Were the educational system and educators and other socializers always successful, there would be no deviance and no social conflict. This brings us to the topic of family.


include socialization, imparting of affection and emotional support, regulation of sex and reproduction.  Family is not only an important agency of socialization but of social control as well. It is in the family that an individual normally has his most intimate, and important social relation. Some of human beings’ most basic needs, both physical and psychological are fulfilled within the family.  Though the more formal and more coercive measures of social control are generally absent in the family, other informal means such as ridicule, criticism, disapproval, loss of prestige, withdrawal of rewards etc. are very potent means of control.  In fact, an individual always seeks emotional support of his or her near and dear ones in the family in times of stress and tension. The mere threat of withdrawal of this support, is sufficient to bring the recalcitrant member back into line.  Every family has its own set of moral values and customs. These are enforced upon its members, particularly the younger ones through disciplinary measures and a system if rewards and punishments. 

6. Leadership

It can play a very important role in social control.  It develops out of the process of interaction itself.  Leaders have guided the destinies of groups, communities, and nations.  If the leader enjoys group support, his or her suggestions and directions lead the members towards some common values and goals and may help to promote order and stability in society.  In this process mass media can play a very important role. 

7. Mass Media

In traditional smaller societies face to face contact was the only means of communication.In modern technological societies the media of mass communication, such as newspapers, radio, and television, are a means of not only communication but also of social control.  Much of the public opinion and propaganda, for example, (and other social and cultural groups) make use of these means to mould public opinion, and to change or control attitudes and behavior of the vast mass of population.  New values and lifestyles, fashions, wants, ideas etc. are thrust upon the public with a view to redirect and control their behavior in a particular way.  We will now consider the role of force in social control.

8. Force

Though some sociologists have neglected or under emphasized the element of force or physical coercion in social relationships, the role of force in social control cannot be underestimated.  In some types of societies, such as the totalitarian states and colonial regimes, physical force and violence are used as significant instruments of control.  In fact, it can be asserted that physical violence is the oldest and ultimate means of social control.  Even modern, liberal democratic societies maintain police and armed forces.  This signifies the fact that the resort to force and violence is the ultimate answer to many issues when other means have failed.  On the other hand, communal and caste violence, are examples of how force is used by interested groups to control and coerce each other though it is not legally sanctioned.


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