What is formal social control

Social control
The term "social control", which was developed by American sociology at the turn of the century and has since been subject to several changes in content, describes, according to today's understanding, those social mechanisms that serve on the one hand to prevent deviant behavior (* deviation) and on the other Form a response to deviant behavior. Social control thus represents the attempt to achieve socially desirable behavior (* conformity).

To achieve this goal, extensive efforts are made to convey a value system including patterns of action to the individual by means of custom, morals, ethics, religion, etc., which he internalizes so much that his conscience becomes an instance of inner social control. But also through external incentives or practical constraints, such as rewards, concealment of alternative courses of action or actual blocking of such alternative courses of action, the behavior can be steered into conformal paths (* socialization).
Reactive measures to respond to deviant behavior are less frequent, but more conflict-laden than the active ones. They consist of negative sanctions that demonstrate that deviant behavior will not be accepted without consequences; this is intended to prevent future deviating behavior of the sanctioned individual (special prevention) as well as of the third party observing the sanction (* general prevention).
The reactions of the victim or the group (family, neighborhood, circle of friends, school, company, church, etc.) are mostly informal and often arbitrary; they range from the announcement of disapproval and ostracism to more drastic methods of psychological or economic coercion.
For certain deviations, the negative sanctions are normatively (* norms) specified and formalized in detail and are imposed by special institutions set up for this purpose (such as the police, youth welfare office, courts, penal institutions, possibly the military).

The most powerful authority of formal social control is the law - not only because its sanction content is precisely nominated and codified, but also because it has a coercive force (control organs, sanctioning bodies) at its disposal to exercise these sanctions and the law in the modern state has the * Monopoly of force for these sanctioning bodies. Confidence in the uniformity and continuity of the law as well as in the enforceability of the legal authorities guarantees a certain predictability and predictability of human action. Due to the formal procedures in the application of the law, guarantees of the rule of law (e.g. human rights, proportionality of the means) can be preserved, so that an escalation, which traditionally threatens especially in private conflict settlement, can be avoided. This serves on the one hand to protect the lawbreaker from arbitrariness and selectivity, but on the other hand exposes him to the dangers that emanate from total institutionalization. Due to the dominance of the law, other forms of social control (e.g. self-help) are increasingly restricted and pushed back. Only in recent years has a more pronounced countermovement set in, which emphasizes the possible positive sides of private conflict settlement (* victims, * compensation for damages, * offender-victim compensation).
Of criminological interest is the question of whether, for the purpose of crime prevention, the early socialization of the individual can be successfully influenced by an appropriate social policy and whether the informal social control of social subgroups can prevent crime.
At the same time, it is the task of criminology to analyze the efficiency and structure of social control under criminal law, including its latent, unintended side effects, and to research alternatives to the current forms of criminal law sanctions. The verification of the realization of the punitive purpose of special prevention is impaired by the difficulty of measuring the efficiency of the criminal justice system, the penal system and probation assistance (* success assessment). In addition, the result of an efficiency check depends on numerous, often difficult to distinguish factors - not least on the counterproductive consequences of state penalties, such as B. the emergence of subcultures in the prison system, the * stigmatization and the change of identity of the perpetrator as well as the careerization of crime (secondary deviance, * criminal career).

The general preventive effect of the penal norm does not only depend on its abstract threat, whereby there are also differences specific to the offense (for example, deterrence through the * death penalty and life imprisonment is questioned), but also on whether the threatened sentences are actually imposed. Due to information gaps and the various selection mechanisms, however, only some of the offenders are subject to formal punitive measures. This could shake the trust of the population in the sanctions validity of the criminal laws, if a large part of the unsanctioned criminal acts did not belong to the dark field (* dark field research) and thus elude the perception of the norm addressees. In this respect, the number of unreported cases must play a positive role in the context of general prevention (Popitz speaks of the "preventive effect of ignorance"). All the more so since the population's willingness to conform would also decrease if they could take note of how frequent cases of standard breaches are in reality. Because of the normality and functionality of the violation of norms, criminological research on sanctions also has to subject the criminalization processes and their political competencies to a critical analysis.
Since effective social control presupposes a large potential for sanctions, but the future behavior of the norm violator in accordance with the norm can often be better achieved through a weakened sanction or even a waiver of sanctions than through a harsh sanction, criminal law is exposed to the dilemma that in individual cases a waiver of sanctions can be done would be appropriate, but this waiver would jeopardize the sanctions validity of the criminal law norm. When looking for possible alternatives to conventional criminal sanctions (* alternative sanctions), the solution of this tension between special and general prevention must also be taken into account.

- Clark, A.L .; Gibbs, J.P .: Social Control: A Reformulation. In: Deviant behavior I, ed. von Lüderssen, K .; Sack, F. Frankfurt a.M., 1975, 153-185.
- Hess, H .: Problems of social control. In: Festschrift for Leferenz, H., ed. von Kerner, H.-J .; Goeppinger, H .; Streng, F. Heidelberg 1984, 3-24.
- Popitz, H .: The normative construction of society. Tübingen 1980.
- Popitz, H .: About the preventive effect of ignorance. Tubingen 1968.
- Spittler, G .: Norm and Sanction. Olten, Freiburg / Br. 1967. v. Trotha, T .: Law and Crime. Tübingen 1982.

Taken from the printed version of the Criminology Lexicon with the kind permission of Kriminalistik-Verlag Heidelberg, status of processing: 1991

Hans-Jürgen Kerner