Comparing Conflict Theory and Social Control Theory

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A major purpose of this paper is to discuss conflict theory and social control theory from many phases. Sociological imagination originated in 1950 beginning with C. Wright Mills, an American sociologist. The concept of sociological imagination refers to how many factors there are in sociology that shape and mold the connections between what indirectly associates personal levels to simple aspects of life for people. In this paper I will discuss the implications of how personal issues are parallel to social problems in which people try to associate as a link to society.

However, in exploring the basis of sociological imagination there are distinctions made between the two. For instance, teenage pregnancy is an issue suggested by Mills that teen mothers must realize that teen pregnancy is not an isolated problem. Teenage pregnancy is a vastly growing issue that young girls face in every community.

Instead of being overridden with feelings of guilt and shame, the theory of sociological imagination suggests that teen pregnant girls should blame parents, peers, lack of information in school, or other societal influences that led to the current dilemma.

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In this paper I will discuss how the relationships, values, commitments, and beliefs are encouraging factors for people to avoid crime or break laws set forth by government. If people would internalize moral values and take pride in the community, the desire to commit deviant acts will be obsolete. Understanding the reduction of crime is a concept of social control theory.

A focus of discussion in this paper is comparing conflict and social control theories and the motivational issues stating that individuals choose to participate in a variety of activities that led to criminal behavior.

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A derivative view of human nature states that choice constraints exist through implicit social agreements, arrangements, or contracts among individuals. Morality derives from social order, consequences that come from choices, and defining actions as illegal and lacking in morality.


Basis of conflict theory is the viewpoint that the causes of crime are social and financial forces operating in society. The focus of conflict in communities is keeping with general evolutionary considerations without being genetically identifiable, all organisms display conflicts of interests. Arguments exist stating that criminal law is thought to operate in favor of rich and powerful people with policies in place to control the poor. The foundation basis of the criminal justice society is to impose moral standards in communities. The main focus is the separation of powerful individuals from those less fortunate who steal and protect themselves from attacks. During this process, ignoring the rights of poor people becomes prevalent. Middle-class individuals show favoritism to the upper-class rather than the poor, thinking that this type of mentality will aid in their rise to the top by supporting the upper echelon. Drug crimes and minor monetary crimes are severely punishable by law, large business, and financial crimes are lenient in punishment.

As an example, a person stealing a television will receive a longer sentence than a person who embezzles millions of dollars through illegal business transactions. Conflict theory variations since 1960 include radical feminism, left realism, and peacemaking criminology. Radical feminism is women under capitalism. Dominant male figures are normal occurrences in society, woman are subject to this dominance in the home and work environment, and in society. Radical feminist criminologists have researched the unfair treatment of female teenagers. Studies show that female teenagers are likely to be in an institution for violations such as running away from their home, and are more prone to be sexually active. In the work environment women must be on guard for sexual attacks from men and negative comments in relation to promotional incentives. Left realism is a response to the movement of crime victims.

Criminologists realize that most victims are not rich but poor. Predatory crimes are attacks on family and neighborhoods. The bottom line is left realists have the revelation that the criminal justice system acts to halt victimization without consideration of the classification of its perpetrators. Also focusing on deviant behaviors of the rich and successful must be thorough because business and financial crimes remain important. Peacemaking criminology investigates international concerns such as genocide and war. International issues for the rights of humans and universal justice are subjects of major concern. The theory of social control deals with issues promoting social order and conformity. Many factors determine if a person will or will not engage in criminal or deviant behavior. Sociologists research various reasons for conformity and nonconformity to social norms. Social control theory studies how the issuance of rules in society is to maintain a standard of order. The theory of social control suggests that social stability relies on the expectations that people relate to one another regarding decency and morality.

Regulatory standards of human behavior in society are the foundation of social control theory. Identifying methods that can prevent deviant behaviors or deter individuals from law breaking activities are the main focus of the social control theory. The theory generalizes on two important areas: formal and informal control systems. Both formal and informal systems build on norms set forth by popularity in society. The difference is formal control systems are structuring tools of the legal system and informal control systems start within families, friends, and customs. In correspondence to criminal behaviors Ivan Nye developed four areas of control in society:

1. Direct – dictates rewarding for good behavior and punishment is administered for defiant behavior.

2. Internal – drives individuals by their conscience

3. Indirect – drives individuals by the innate desire to please others closest to him or her

4. Needs satisfaction – unnecessary criminal behavior when needs are met Social control maintains when the needs of the individual is met.

When an individual’s needs are met he or she is less likely to commit crimes. Social control theory has a major role in understanding criminal behaviors. The view of criminal acts is behavioral techniques learned from peers that become his or her perceptions of normality in society. An individual’s constant exposure to deviant behaviors makes him or her more vulnerable to participate in the same behaviors he or she witnesses. In comparison of the conflict and social control theories both are a basis of extensive research. However, essentially the result is an individual’s behavior in society and the foundation of early childhood. In life there are choices to be made right and wrong.

Socially greed often overtakes the desire to do the right thing and wrong decisions seem inevitable. The choices that we make follow us from adolescence to adulthood. Socially correct should not mean belittling the poor, but the social correct should encourage the poor to excel. Conflict happens daily in our lives, marriages, employment, and school. Dealing with conflict in communities heals the wounds that a lack of morality and education causes. A struggle for power occurs in social classes in comparison to a balance of power. In the end one group is not victorious over the other.


Social controls that triumph in society are the effect of conflicts of interest with an undetermined outcome by reason for evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory suggests that without genetic identity conflicts among individuals will exist. Different conflicts in relation to social controls – controlled behaviors and who gains from the controlling behavior are noted as a factor in how the behavior of individuals relates to crime and control. Some controls may benefit rich and powerful men, middle-class men, or the entire group of men, and those individuals whose behavior adapts to constraints of control. In conflict theory invisible tension exists in rich and poor members of the community.

The law protects the white-collar worker and the layman is left to protect him or herself. Personal issues are socially problematic and issues that cause debate, frustration, and power are conflicting. The key to both theories discussed in the paper is to understand the behaviors of criminals. Society views criminal acts as behaviors learned from peers and exposure to crime settings. Criminal behaviors are recurring when the foundation of youth is not of a positive nature. Crime will continue impacting society until positive crime prevention programs are in place and the successful implementation of rules is followed.


  • Gibbs, J.P. (1989). Control: sociology’s central notion. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley. University of California Press.
  • Krohn, M. and Massey, J. (1980). Social control and delinquent behavior: an examination of the elements of the social bond. Sociological Quarterly. 21.
  • Sampson, R.J. and Laub J.H. (1993). Crime in the making: pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.
Updated: Jul 06, 2022
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Comparing Conflict Theory and Social Control Theory. (2016, Jun 06). Retrieved from

Comparing Conflict Theory and Social Control Theory essay
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