Method of Social Control

 Methods of social control can be broken into two types:

  1. Informal, and 
  2. Formal. 
The informal type of control is casual, unwritten.  It lacks regulation, scheduling, and organization.  The informal types consist of casual praise, ridicule, gossip, and ostracism.  The formal type is codified, scheduled organized, or regulated in some way, as in promotion, demotion, satire, monetary payment, mass media, etc. (see Horton and Hunt 1981).  We now discuss each method in detail.

1-Informal Social Control

This is also known as primary social control, as it is more effective in what sociologists call primary groups . The primary groups are relatively more homogeneous, small, compact, and intimate groups.  Members are tied to each other, and to the group by feelings of personal loyalty. A family, playgroups, neighborhood, rural community, and a simple primitive society are some examples of such compact social groupings. In such societies, every individual is constantly surrounded by very potent and subtle mechanisms of social control. Within a family, the individual is under the control of his or her parents and other family members.  Family, in turn, is under the control of neighborhood or kinship groups, and these, in turn, are under the watchful control of the whole society.  Thus, no individual or group can be free from social control.

circles surrounding individuals and groups. The important characteristics of this type of control are that it is informal, spontaneous, and unplanned.  Usually, the group shows its disapproval to the deviating member by ridicule gossip, opprobrium, criticism, ostracism, and sometimes application of physical force and coercion.  Since the group is compact, ties are strong, members are personally known, and the individual has little choice of an alternative group’s membership.  He cannot afford to ignore the disapproval of his groups and so he must conform to his group’s expectations. Such methods of control are effective not only in primitive societies in which primary groups and relations abound but are also effective in modern complex societies such as ours, particularly within secondary groups (such as voluntary associations, clubs, and trade unions, etc.) where such informal controls are effective to achieve the goals of the organization.

2. Informal Social Control

This is also known as secondary social control as it is usually found in larger, secondary social groups.  Modern complex societies such as ours, are good examples of such social groupings.  In such societies, we find many groups, which are characterized by impersonal relations and are oriented to certain specific objectives. A political party, trade union, factory, office, students’ association, maybe some examples.  In these secondary groupings, relations among members are more formal and less intimate.  Their relationships mean that informal controls such as ridicule, criticism, or ‘gossip’ do not operate here.  It is a well-known fact in sociology, that informal groups do develop within such formal organizations.  In a university or a college, certain cliques’ informal controls are more effective.  

The point is that such informal groups which develop within formal organizations, may either inhibit or facilitate formal secondary controls and affect the performance of the organization. In secondary groupings, informal controls take their place.  Both positive sanctions in the form of reward, honor, and negative sanctions by way of punishments, expulsion, etc. are used in this form of control.  In the larger society, such controls are exemplified by law, police, courts, prisons, and other agencies of law enforcement.  Apart from these more visible forms, formal control mechanisms also include well-organized propaganda through mass media, to ‘engineer’ social control in society.

Read Means and Mechanism of Social Control.


In large secondary groupings, informal controls are weakened due to growing anonymity, mobility, and conflicting norms and values.  Intimacy declines and members do not have personal or feelings towards each other.  They frequently move from one place to another, or from one group to another.  Thus, they can easily escape from the controls of some group. Moreover, in a complex society, there is always a conflict of norms and values of different groups.  One group may approve conduct that may be disapproved by some other group.  Under such circumstances, recourse is ultimately taken to the formal agencies of social control.


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