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Control Theory

Control Theory

Author: Paul Hannan

Examine control theory and its influence on sociology. 

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Welcome to this episode of Sociology Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on control theory. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure get the most out of this story.

Today, we're looking at control theory. Now control theory was really developed by Travis Hirschi, and he was a sociologist. And control theory is this the idea that people exhibit social control when they're able to anticipate the way other people are going to react.

So maybe if you're not familiar with the term social control, that's just the idea of conforming or following the rules. Control theory is saying that people really follow the rules because of the way other people around them react. And so this control theory has four different types of controls-- so four different things that can really help you predict how likely someone is to follow the rules.

The four factors that were laid out in control theory of social control are attachment, opportunity, involvement, and belief. So I'm just going to go through all for them and give you an example of each of them. One thing to keep in mind though is that just because someone has one of these four things or all four those things doesn't mean that they're not going to disagree with an act and act deviant or not conform, but these are factors that help us understand why someone is more likely to conform.

So the first one is attachment. And attachment is just the connection to family and others. So people that have a lot of connections to family and peers and others are much more likely to follow the rules. So the loner out there who doesn't have a lot of connections, doesn't have a lot of friends, they're much more likely to choose something nonconformist than the person that has a big family that they're really connected with, a lot of friends, and a lot of people that they like at their school, or their work, or whatever.

Now the second factor is opportunity. Opportunity's just the chance for success without deviance. So people that have a chance to be successful, they're less likely to act out. They're less likely to break the rules.

Third one is involvement-- so participation in activities. People are much more likely to exhibit social control when they're involved in organized activities. So that can be playing on sports teams.

It can be book clubs. It can be movie club. It can be a group of friends who get together to play cards, organize activities, really help people exhibit social control.

One of the arguments of on the other side of that is people that don't really have a lot that's organized, that's going on, if they're just kind of like hanging out without anything to do, they're much more likely to try to find something to do that is deviant, because they're looking for something to do. The last factor is belief. So let's trust in morality and authority.

So people that really trust authority and trust being moral, well, they're more likely to follow the rules. And that kind of makes sense. If you trust that the rules are good and you trust that we shall act good, then you're much more likely to exhibit social control versus someone who's always questioning authority, well, then they're kind of questioning the basis of those rules in the first place. So they're much more likely to act deviant.

So today's takeaway message, Travis Hirschi, is a sociologist who developed the idea of control theory. And control theory you just say that people really choose to exhibit self-control based on the actions or the anticipated actions of people around them. And there are four different types of social control.

There is attachment, opportunity, involvement, and belief. Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on a screen again soon.

Terms to Know
Control Theory

A sociological theory of deviance that argues that our social ties, connections, opportunities, and involvement in society, control and restrain our propensities towards deviance.

People to Know
Travis Hirschi

An influential criminologist who made important contributions to the development of control theory.