Every group seeks to encourage conformity to its norms. Any process that helps to achieve this end is a form of social controls. Without social control, social patterns would fall apart. Probably the most effective process of social control is something that we usually call our conscience. Most of us do not steal, for example, because we have been taught-and believe-that stealing is wrong. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” we might say when we are tempted to do something wrong. When we conform to rules because our sense of self-respect demands it, the process of social control is internal.
Because internal social control doesn’t always work, groups also apply external pressures to persuade or compel members to conform to their rules. Thus, teachers may assign detention hall, parents may deny car and dating privileges, students may gossip about each other, and employers may withhold raises. The most visible form of external social control is exercised by people and organizations specifically empowered to enforce conformity to society’s laws. Policemen, judges, and prison guards are the most obvious agents of external social control. When social control takes the form of punishment, sociologists call it negative sanction.
The following article from the New York Post shows how a group may use social control to enforce its standards:
Birmingham, England-When 58-year-old Arthur Steele retires from the Birmingham main post office in two years, he will have gone three years without a single workmate having spoken to him. It is an almost monastic ordeal by silence for postal driver Steel, who made the mistake of working for four-and-a-half hours on the day the national postmen’s strike started in January 1971. Since then, for a whole year, he has been ignored officially at work and there is unlikely to be any letup. Mike Edwards, secretary of the Birmingham postmen, make this clear. He said, “We are not prepared to forgive and forget.”
Group norms aren’t always enforced by imposing negative sanctions. Conformity to norms is often gained by offering rewards. A soldier who shows courage in battle may be awarded a medal or promotion. A student who shows outstanding abilities may be elected class president. All such rewards are meant to encourage behavior that groups believe is desirable. We call these rewards positive sanctions.