Essay on Social Control and Conformity – ‘Social control’ refers to various ways and means by which a group or society attempts to achieve social order. Social Order could be achieved by making the people to accept and follow the group norms.
Behaving in accordance with norms or rules can be referred to as conformity. Thus, one of the main purposes of social control is conformity. Social control also involves the processes and means whereby deviations from social norms are limited by the group.
Conformity to institutionalised norms is, of course, ‘normal’. The individual having internalised the norms, feels something like a need to conform. The ‘conscience’ that he has developed will not allow him in ordinary circumstances to break the norms or to go against them.
Further, irrespective of his own attitude, the group or the other people will disapprove of him if he violates the established pattern. Both internalised “need” and external sanctions are effective in bringing about conformity. Conformity is achieved by two different ways: (i) Immediate conformity which is the result of social pressure or control; and (ii) Long-term result of conformity which is the product of socialisation. Only the former kind is at discussion here.
When we conform to the will or opinions of the majority, even though, we know the majority is wrong, social control is manifested in its purest form. Various experiments were held to find out the extent to which the individuals normally yield to group pressures.
Ogburn and Nimkoff have stated that independence of or yielding to group pressure depends on —(i) “the clarity of the stimulus, with the majority effect increasing as the clarity of the stimulus decreases; (ii) social structure with the majority effect proportional to the size of the majority, and (iii) the character of the individual, whether he is self-confident or dislikes to appear different.
Social factors constrain the individual to follow the group pattern. The appropriation of property from a group associate, for example, is usually condemned everywhere. This is in tune with the commandment, “thou shall not steal”. But the appropriation of property from strangers or from the enemy may be permitted and even lauded.
In this case, it is not defined as stealing. The reason is that we greatly value group life because the group provides us many advantages and satisfaction. Hence the group is, therefore, a kind of defence against the more assertive and pugnacious and irregular members.
Like the taboo against stealing, innumerable group norms serve as integrating factors if there is conformity. Non-conformity threatens the integration of the group, hence the group acts to bring non-conformists into line.
The idea that the group shapes the conduct of its members carries with it the implication of group pressure. The group not only moulds behaviour, but also, restrains and disciplines.
Durkheim has made it clear that the group exercises constraint or coercive power upon the individuals. It thus acts as a conservative force that limits variations. There is considerable evidence that social pressure operates to reduce variations from the average.
It is observed that if the members of the group hold decided views on the question and these views were known, then the effect is to encourage conformity to the group opinion. Sociologist Moore in one of his studies asked 95 subjects “to make judgements in the fields of morals by indicating which of the two ethical choices they regard as less offensive; for example, disloyalty to friends or cheating on examinations, when all the replies were in, the subjects were informed of the majority opinion, then retested.
There was a swing away from the original answers. The effect of announcing the majority opinion was to bring about a greater degree of conformity to it….”. It is thus concluded that the influence of the group makes for conventional or conservative behaviour on the part of the individual.
The social control towards conformity is always in terms of the prevailing norms. Some such norms such as taboos against stealing, killing, within the group become highly stable. They are essential to organised group life.
The goal of social control is no doubt overt conformity. Many people who are not individually agreeable to certain norms accept and conform to them outwardly. Those who are not convinced of them lack the power to resist them successfully.
Thus, in conformity we find two factors which may or may not be consistent: compliance and conviction. Most compliance is associated with conviction, since members of a group are generally persuaded of the Tightness of their way of doing things. But there is a good deal of overt conformity without conviction, especially on the part of new comers to a group.
The saying “Be a Roman when you are in Rome” is reflection of this fact. “Conformity without conviction occurs when the individual cannot withdraw from the group, or values much his membership in the group, and does not wish to offend, or is afraid of the consequences of nonconformity”.
Group norms are actually group standards which the members are encouraged to imitate or follow. But some deviation is bound to be there in every group even in the so called Utopias.
If the deviation is of very mild nature the controlling agency of the group may ignore it. For example, in spite of the well established moral rule, “Thou shall not steal, it is generally known that in all societies stealing takes place.
In modern societies cheating in the matter of paying income tax is practised by even the most educated and learned people. If such cases are traced out and the guilty is found to pay only a marginal amount as income tax, he may be cautioned to pay that with some amount of fine. But if the amounts unreported are large, and there is proof of intention to defraud, the penalty is likely to be more severe, including a jail sentence.
Thus, “As the deviation from the norm becomes greater, the more serious becomes the offence in the eyes of the group and the more severe becomes the penalty”. But the seriousness of the offence is always culturally defined. Hence members of a society may have in their mind an idea of the hierarchy of offences defined in terms of their seriousness.