IN A bustling intersection of roads, a traffic light is suspended on air like a giant lamp of three different colors not only to guide the drivers and travellers but also to maintain traffic order.
In any society, human behaviors also need ‘traffic lights’ to tell humankind what actions or gestures are acceptable and unacceptable.
This form of traffic light is what is known in the social sciences as ‘social control.’
As a matter of fact, in 1951, Talcott Parson, an intellectual giant in the realm of sociology, stated that social control referred to the process by which, through the imposition of sanctions, deviant behavior is counteracted and social stability is maintained.
Otherwise, the social world will be in great chaos and disorder; the people behind the chaos and disorder are labeled as ‘deviants.’
As James Henslin puts it in his book “Down to Earth Sociology,” “because the behavior of humans is not controlled by instincts, people develop norms [which are rules and expectations] to provide regularity, or patterns of social life.”
Just like a red light which means stop or a green light means go, there are two types of sanctions imposed for the violation of norms: informal and formal.
Dr. Epitacio Palispis writes in “Introduction to Sociology and Anthropology” that “informal sanctions are unofficial, often casual pressures to conform.”
Furthermore, “positive informal sanctions involve rewards for conformity or compliance,” he states.
Examples of these may include social approval from a valued group like family and circle of friends.
On the contrary, “negative informal sanctions involve penalties for failure to conform,” he informs.
Examples may include being gossiped, rejected or removed from a particular valued group.
On the other hand, Palispis maintains that formal sanctions are “official, institutionalized incentives to conform and [sets] penalties for deviance.”
For Palispis, formal sanctions are a must in large, complex societies.
An example of formal sanction is the criminal justice system that imposes sanctions to those who violate the law.
In working organizations, for example, the employee has to conform to a certain set of expectations by the organization.
Failure to conform means being imposed with sanctions as stated in the employment contract and employees’ manual.
Most sociologists agree that social control is achieved through a combination of compliance, coercion and commitment to social values.
Paradoxically, the “Penguin Dictionary of Sociology” maintains that “paradoxically, the attempt to increase forms of coercive social control by, for example, increasing police surveillance of particular crimes or social groups tends to amplify deviance rather than diminish it.”
An overly stringent teacher, for instance, may amplify the deviance of her students instead of containing it as may be implied by the Dictionary of Sociology.
Meanwhile, medical sociologists believe that diseases, whether chronic or acute, communicable or non-communicable, have social control function to portray.
Persons with HIV/AIDS face the piercing reality of being discriminated and ostracized.
If one uses sociological perspective in understanding their bitter reality, one is compelled to see that this is a negative informal sanction of social control at work.
Sick people are seen as deviants compared to a normal healthy person.
Failure to take medications as prescribed by the physician is another form of deviance in the field of health.
But let it be emphasized that deviance, in the context of sociology is not a term of negative judgment but rather meant to describe the activities which violate the expectations of others.
In sum, social control is society’s traffic lights: it guides and compels us to do what is expected of us and it prescribes us the sanctions we would receive for failure to conform all in the name of social order.
It should neither be viewed as bad nor should be limited to its positive uses. But rather, be viewed in its terrific wholeness.
Imagine how live would have been in the absence of social control.
(with Rolando D. Acorbia, Jr. Ph.D, D.P.M.)