Social Control Theory

David Matza and the theory of neutralization Sykes and Matza wanted to build upon Arthur Sutherland’s Differential Association theory which states that an individual learns criminal behavior through “(a) techniques of committing crimes and (b) motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes” which go against law-abiding actions). These techniques reduce the social controls over the delinquent and are also more applicable to specific juveniles. Neutralization is defined as a technique, which allows the person to rationalize or justify a criminal act.

An analysis of ‘neutralization’ was developed by Sykes and Matza (1957) who believed that there was little difference between delinquents and non-delinquents, with delinquents engaging in non-delinquent behavior most of the time. They also asserted that most delinquents eventually opt out of the delinquent lifestyle as they grow older, suggesting that there is a basic code of morality in place but that the young are able to deviate by using techniques of neutralization, i. e. they can temporarily suspend the applicability of norms by developing attitudes “favorable to deviant behavior”.

The five common techniques were: 1. denial of responsibility (I couldn’t help myself)- Denial of responsibility is a technique used when the deviant act was caused by an outside force. This technique goes beyond looking at the criminal act as an accident. The individual feels that they are drawn into the situation, ultimately becoming helpless. These juveniles feel that their abusive families, bad neighborhoods and delinquent peers predispose them to criminal acts. A common statement used  “It was not my fault. ” 2. enial of injury (nobody got hurt)- Denial of injury occurs when the criminal act causes no harm to the victim. Criminal acts are deemed deviant in terms of whether or not someone got hurt. Using this technique the delinquent views stealing as merely borrowing and views gang fighting as a private argument between consenting and willing participants. The use of this technique is reaffirmed in the minds of these juveniles when society does not look at certain acts, such as skipping school or performing practical jokes, as criminal, but merely accepts them as harmless acts. I assumed that a criminal action meant hurting someone, we did not hurt anyone” 3. denial of victim (they had it coming) Denial of victim is used when the crime is viewed as a punishment or revenge towards a deserving person. This technique may be used by those who attack homosexuals or minority groups. “They deserve it. ”  This is also glorified in the stories about the character Robin Hood and his actions involving stealing from the rich. 4. condemnation of the condemners (what right do they have to criticize me? The technique called the condemnation of the condemners, also known as rejection of the rejectors by McCorkle and Korn (1954), places a negative image on those who are opposed to the criminal behavior. The juvenile ends up displacing his/her deviant behavior on those they are victimizing and also viewing the condemners as hypocrites, such as corrupt police and judges. 5. appeal to higher loyalties (I did it for someone else). The appeal to higher loyalties technique is used when the person feels they must break the laws of the overall community to benefit their small group/family.

This technique comes into play when a juvenile gets into trouble because of trying to help or protecting a friend or family member. Matza and Sykes based their theory on four basic facts seen in society. 1)     Many delinquents feel or express remorse and guilt because of the criminal act. 2)     Delinquents frequently show respect for those citizens who are law-abiding. 3)     There is a limit to whom they victimize, they must distance themselves form their victims. 4)     Delinquents can be effected by their surroundings and are susceptible to conformity.

Matza and Sykes further develop their views on delinquency as a result of a deviant sub-culture, which exposes the individual to crime and in turn teaches deviant behavior or subterranean values, which cause them to deviate from the norms of society. Sykes and Matza also argue that delinquent acts are not as deviant as society would like to believe and that normal values are over-simplified. They observed several values present, which they define as subterranean values. First, delinquents search for a thrill or an adrenaline rush.

This “rush” they seek is not easily accomplished through law-abiding means. The excitement may even be a result of the fact that the behavior is not accepted. Secondly, they do not view normal occupations as worth the work when they can make more money doing illegal acts. Some researchers also noted that the behavior may not have solely monetary purposes, but also to gain rank and prestige among other criminals. Lastly, the deviant becomes aggressive because of their alienation from society.

This is clearly seen in gang rivalries when violence is used to protect “turfs” and reputations. The purpose of this aggression is to show how tough they are and that they have achieved manhood. Later Matza (1964) developed his theory of “drift” which proposed that people used neutralization to drift in and out of conventional behaviour, taking a temporary break from moral restraints. Alone, Matza expressed additional thoughts on juvenile delinquency. He believed that individuals go from one extreme to another in their behavior, known as drift.

Matza believes that juveniles drift between conventional and criminal behavior. Drift is explained as a gradual process, which results in molding the individual’s behavior. Once the crime is committed the delinquent feels guilt and must balance their behavior by returning to act in a law-abiding manner. Drift can be described as soft determinism, which views criminality as partly chosen and partly determined. The will to commit a crime occurs when one of these conditions is present; preparation and desperation. These allow the individual to form the decision to commit a crime.

Preparation occurs when a criminal act is repeated once the person realizes that the criminal act can be achieved and is feasible. Desperation activates the will to initially commit a crime because of an extraordinary occasion; or fatalism, which is the feeling of lacking control over ones surroundings. Matza also believes that “there is a subculture of delinquency, but it is not a delinquent subculture”. He also suggests that there are several ways in which a delinquent senses injustice (an underlying condition of drift); through cognizance, consistency, competence, commensurability and comparison.

Matza believes that the juvenile’s connection to law-abiding behavior diminishes when they feel that an injustice has occurred. Cognizance is defined as to whether or not the juvenile is aware that he/she committed a wrongful act. Even when they are caught in the act or confess their crime they still may not actually “own-up” to the criminal act in their mind. Consistency represents whether or not the juvenile feels that they are receiving the same treatment as everyone else who has been involved in the same criminal behavior. Competence is an issue revolving around those who are in judgment of the juvenile. Commensurability refers to the relation between infraction and sanction” (Matza, 1964:159). In other words, does the juvenile believe that their act should even result in a punishment and if so the punishment should fit the crime. Comparison results when juveniles evaluate the legal system and notice that there are laws, which only pertain to them and not adults. Some juveniles do not want to accept that they are any different from adults. Matza based his “drift” theory upon four observations which were: * Delinquents express guilt over their criminal acts Delinquents often respect law-abiding individuals * A line is drawn between those they can victimize and those they can not * Delinquents are not immune to the demands of conforming Although it was not presented as a social control theory, David Matza’s book, Delinquency and Drift (1964), incorporated several of the features of that type of theory. Delinquent youth were “neither compelled nor committed to” their delinquent actions deeds, but were “partially unreceptive to other more conventional traditions” (1964:28).

In short, delinquent youth could be depicted as “drifters,” relatively free to take part in delinquency. This argument was a challenge to other theories in the 1960s which emphasized status frustration and the adoption of oppositional values by delinquent youth. According to Matza, the delinquent “flirts” with criminal and conventional behavior while drifting among different social worlds. Matza did not identify any specific constraints or controls that keep youth from drifting, but drifters were depicted as youth who have few stakes in conformity and are free to drift into delinquency.

Similar to Hirschi’s presentation of social control theory, Matza challenged theories emphasizing distinct subcutlural or contracultural value systems in the explanation of delinquency. Although Drift Theory has not been widely supported by empirical tests, it remains a key idea in criminology despite not answering why some conform and others don’t. Jack P. Gibbs Gibbs (1989) has redefined social control and applied it to develop a control theory of homicide. Any attempt to get an individual to do or refrain from doing something can be considered an attempt at control.

To qualify as ‘social’ control, such attempts must involve three parties. One or more individuals intends to manipulate the behavior of another by or through a third party. Gibbs’ third party can be an actual person or a reference to “society”, “expectations” or “norms”. For example, if one party attempts to influence another by threatening to refer the matter to a third party assumed to have authority, this is referential social control. If one party attempts to control another by punishing a third (e. g. general deterrence), it is a form of vicarious social control.

The presence of the third party distinguishes social control from mere external behavioral control, simple interpersonal responses, or issuing orders for someone to do something. This definition clearly distinguishes social control from mere “reactions to deviance” and from deviant behavior itself. Gibbs argues that “Homicide can be described either as control or as resulting from control failure” (1989: 35), and proposes that the homicide rate is a function not just of the sheer volume of disputes, but also of the frequency of recourse to a third party for peaceful dispute settlement (p37).

When one person fails to control the actions of another through the third party, murder represents another violent attempt at direct control. People resort to self-help when forms of social control are unavailable or fail. Gibbs is critical of Hirschi’s Social Control Theory because it merely assumes that social relationships, personal investments and beliefs that discourage delinquency are social controls. In contrast, Jack Gibbs (1981) has devoted a considerable amount of scholarly attention to defining social control in a manner that distinguishes it from other concepts.

Moreover, he has applied it to develop a control theory of homicide. According to Gibbs, any attempt to get someone else to do something or refrain from doing something can be considered an attempt at “control. ” To qualify as “social” control, such10 attempts must involve three parties. Social control is an attempt by one or more individuals to manipulate the behavior of another individual or individuals by or through a third party (by means other than a chain of command). Gibbs’ “third party”can be an actual person or a reference to “society,” “expectations” or “norms. For example, if one party attempts to influence another by invoking reference to a third party assumed to have authority (such as “I’ll tell Mom! ”), it is a type of “referential” social control. If one party attempts to control another by punishing a third (e. g. general deterrence), it is a form of vicarious social control. Numerous categories and subcategories of social control are delineated by Gibbs, but the major point is that the third party distinguishes social control from mere external behavioral control, simple interpersonal responses, or issuing orders for someone to do something.

This definition clearly distinguishes social control from”prophylactic” conceptions of social control, equating it with “reactions to deviance” and from deviant behavior itself. A variety of phenomenon typically thought of as some type of social control are not clearly “reactions to deviance” (such as propaganda, advertising, education, strikes, protests and governmental regulations). Moreover, deviant behavior, itself, can be a type of social control (in terms of his final definition of it).

If deviant behavior can be a form of social control and social control can involve more than reactions to deviance, then the two concepts cannot be equated; nor can one be subsumed by the other. Gibbs draws on these distinctions to propose a control theory of homicide. Gibbs argues that “Homicide can be described either as control or as resulting from control failure,”and proposes that the homicide rate is a function “not just of the sheer volume of disputes but also of the frequency of recourse to a third party for peaceful dispute settlement (37). A dispute typically arises when attempts at some form of direct or proximate control by of one person over another fails and homicide itself represents another attempt at direct control. This argument is similar to Donald Black’s discussion of crime as “self-help” which he defines as “the expression of a grievance by unilateral aggression such as personal violence or property destruction. ” People resort to self-help (e. g. attempts at direct control through violence) when forms of social control are unavailable or fail.

Like other social control theories, the emphasis in Gibbs’ theory of homicide is on recourse to third party social control mechanisms. Gibbs is critical of Hirschi’s social control theory because it does not define social control, but merely presumes that social relationships, personal investments and beliefs that discourage delinquency are social controls. Hirschi’s theory is often referred to as a “social bond theory” forthat very reason.

Social bonds may make youths subject to more effective control attempts (directand social), but Gibbs’ argues that “the conditions themselves are not control (1981: 147). ” At this point in the history of criminological theory, there has been very little attention paid to clear conceptual distinctions among a variety of concepts introduced in the explanation of crime and delinquency, including social control, social bonds, socialization and social learning. Gibbs’ has been working on the concept of social control, but careful delineation among related concepts is rare.

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