Social control theory is another aspect of criminological thought which, in contrast to social strain theory, investigates the justification for why people obey rules as opposed to what external factors influence an individual to commit crime. Gaining prominence throughout the 1960s as sociologists investigated different conceptions of crime, control theory provided an explanation as to how and why behaviour, for the most part, conforms to generally expected norms and standards within society. Travis Hirschi established a unique theory building upon existing concepts of social control which holds that an individual’s predilection for crime is diminished through their reaffirming societal ties such as those of family, work, or school.
If these factors are for any reason not present, an individual is more likely to become a criminal or turn to criminal activity. Hirschi’s four main characteristics of social control in preventing criminal involvement are: attachment and empathetic sentiment towards others both within and external to family; a belief in the moral validity of rules and in wider social values; a commitment to activities in which an individual has invested time and energy, including but not limited to educational, personal, and career goals; and involvement in conventional affirming activities that serve to cement bonds between individuals and others while also placing constraints on their time and motivation to become involved in criminal activities.
The underlying view of human nature with respect to social control theory is that of a thinking being with free will and agency, giving offenders the capacity of choice and responsibility for their behaviour. In this sense, it is much more closely aligned with the classical school of criminology as opposed to its determinist or positivist perspectives. Operating based on principles of a shared belief in social norms and established value systems, social control theory views crime and deviance as predictable behaviours which can be explained by the process by which individuals become socialized to obey rules and interact with other individuals. Social control theory is, in essence, an exercise in explaining conformity among a society’s population, and illustrating that an absence of close relationships with conventional figures and influences can divest others of their social constraints and moral obligations, encouraging or otherwise prompting them to engage in criminal behaviour.
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