The Social Control Theory

By: Megan Ortiz


The Social Control Theory, originally known as The Social Bond Theory in 1969, was developed by Travis Hirschi. The central question of the theory asks why do people follow the law? The theory suggests that people engage in criminal activity when their bond to society has weakened. “social control theory refers to a perspective which predicts that when social constraints on antisocial behavior are weakened or absent, delinquent behavior emerges.”  In other words, when an individual has experienced a lack of social connections or a lack of social network that would normally prohibit criminal activity, the likelihood that the individual will participate in criminal activity increases.

In his essay, Hirschi describes the 4 elements of the bond to society as including the following elements:

Attachment-The internalization of norms, conscience, and super ego is determined by an individual’s attachment to others. Hirschi says this is the sociological counterpart to the superego.

Commitment-People obey rules for fear the consequences of breaking them. This is the counterpart to the ego.

Involvement-a person’s personal involvement in conventional activity. Hirschi states that an individual involved heavily in conventional activity simply does not have time to engage in deviant behavior.

Belief– a common value system within a culture. Belief plays a role in deviance in2 ways. The criminal either a) disregards the beliefs he/she has been taught entirely, or b)rationalizes their deviant behavior so that they can engage in criminal activity and still believe that it is wrong. This subset of the social control theory involves the strain theory in that it demonstrates an individuals belief in common goals and morals of society, and it shows a lack of means for achieving those goals which in turn encourages deviant behavior as a means of achieving those goals.


The theory does not explain all types of crime, such as White Collar Crime.

Makes it seem like there are simple solutions.

The 4 variables are confusing. Their titles imply a more internalized bond than Hirschi actually meant.

The Next Theory:

The critiques of the Social Control theory led to the formation of the Social learning theory, a behavioral approach by Albert Bandura. Bandura takes the focus away from an internal conflict between an individual and society, and creates a theory in which the influences are mainly behavioral.


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