Criminology: Social Control Theory Explained


social-control-theory-3-1-800x800“No man is above the law and no man is below it: Nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.”…Theodore Roosevelt

Within criminology studies, social control theory conceptualizes that most people would commit crime if not for the control’s that society places on individuals through institutions such as schools, workplaces, churches, and families.

asaIn 1969, American criminologist Dr. Travis Hirschi developed social control theory from his ongoing research and passion for a deeper understanding of the causes of juvenile delinquency. Within Dr. Hirschi theory, he noted four elements that constitutes the societal bond.

  • Attachment to others
  • Commitment for following rules
  • Involvement by typical societal behaviors
  • Belief in a basic value system

Social control theory is unlike most criminology theories that try to explain why people are involved in criminality. At the heart of social control theory, is the justification of why people obey the laws and rules. Social control theory offers a different perspective and explanation for how behavior conforms to expected and accepted societal norms. Dr. Hirschi states that relationships, commitments, values, and beliefs encourage conformity to acceptable social behavior and that deviance and crime occur because of inadequate constraints.

Social Control Theory

Dr. Hirschi believed that human nature includes the conception of free will to act, allowing people to make rational choices that are acceptable by society taking responsibility for their own behaviors. With this theoretical concept framing social control theory, Dr. Hirschi theory is aligned more closely with the criminology theories associated with the classical school of criminology.

About the Author

Mark Bond

Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.