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Friday, January 15, 2010

Conformity and Obedience

Friday, January 15, 2010 - 0 Comments

Techniques for social control can be viewed on both group and the societal levels. People whom we regard as our peers as our equal influence us to act in particular ways; the same is true of people who hold authority over us or occupy positions that we view with some awe. Stanley Milgram made a useful distinction between these two important levels of social control.
Milgram defined conformity as going along with one’s peers – individuals of a person’s own status, who have no special right to direct that person’s behaviour. By contrast, obedience is defined as compliance with higher authorities in a hierarchical structure. Thus, a recruit entering military service will typically conform to the habits and language of other recruits and will obey the orders of superior officers.
We often think of conformity in terms of rather harmless situations, such as members of an expensive health club who work out in elaborate and costly sportswear. But researchers have found that people may conform to the attitudes and behaviour of their peers even when such conformity means expressing intolerance toward others. It has been empirically determined that social control (through the process of conformity) influence people’s attitudes and the expression of those attitudes.
Regarding social control (through the process of obedience) and its potential in alerting people’s behaviour, Milgram says,
“Behaviour that is unthinkable in an individual while acting on his own, may be executed without hesitation when carried out under orders”.
Milgram pointed out that in the modern industrial world we are accustomed to impersonal authority figures whose status is indicated by a title (professor, lieutenant, doctor, and so on) or by a uniform (a policeman’s, for example). The authority is viewed as larger as and more important than the individual; consequently, the obedient individual shifts the responsibility for his or her behaviour to the authority figure.

Social Control

Social Control
As was seen earlier, every culture, subculture, and group as distinctive norms governing what it deems appropriate behaviour. Laws, dress codes, by-laws of organizations, course requirements, and rules of sports and games all express social norms. Functionalists contend that people must respect such norms if any group or society is to survive. In their view, societies literally could not function if massive numbers of people defied standards of appropriate conduct. By contrast, conflict theorists are concerned that “successful functioning of a society will consistently benefit the powerful and work to the disadvantage of other groups. They point out, for example, that widespread resistance to social norms was necessary in order to overrun the institution of slavery in the United States.
How does a society bring about acceptance of basic norms? The term social control refers to the “techniques and strategies for regulating human behaviour in any society”. Social control occurs on all levels of society. In the family, we are socialized to obey our parents simply because they are our parents. In peer groups, we are introduced to informal norms such as dress codes that govern the behaviour of members. In bureaucratic organizations, workers must cope with a formal system of rules and regulations. Finally, the government of every society legislates and enforces social norms – including norms regarding “proper” and “improper” expressions of sexual intimacy.
Most of us respect and accept basic social norms and assume that others will do the same. Even without thinking, we obey the instructions of police officers, follow day-to-day rules at our jobs, and move to the rear of elevators when people enter. Such behaviour reflects an effective process of socialization to the dominant standards of a culture. At the same time, we are well-aware that individuals, groups, and institutions expect us to act “properly”. If we fail to do so, we may face punishment through informal sanctions such as fear and ridicule, or formal sanctions such as jail sentences or fines.

Power, Theory of Crime; its Merits and Demerits

It seems obvious that power inequality affects the quality of people’s lives. The rich and powerful live better than the poor and powerless. Similarly, power inequality affects the quality of deviant activities likely to be engaged in by people. Thus the powerful are more likely to perpetrate profitable crimes such as corporate crime, while the powerless are more likely to commit unprofitable crimes, such as homicide and assault. In other words, power------or lack of it------largely determines the type of crime people are likely to commit.
Power can also be an important cause of deviance. More precisely, the likelihood of powerful people perpetrating profitable crimes is greater than the likelihood of powerless persons committing unprofitable crimes. It is, for example, ore likely for bank executives to peacefully rob customers than for jobless persons to violently rob banks. Analysis of the deviance is more common among the powerful (Thio, 1995).
First, the powerful have a stronger deviant motivation. Much of this motivation stems from relative deprivation ---- feeling unable to achieve a relatively high aspiration compared with the powerless, whose aspirations are typically low; the powerful are more likely to raise their aspirations so high that they cannot be realized. The more people experience relative deprivation, the more likely they are to commit deviant acts.
Second, the powerful enjoy greater deviant opportunity. Obviously, a rich banker enjoys more legitimate opportunities than a poor worker to make money. But suppose they both want to acquire illegitimately a large sum of money. The banker is bound to have access to more and better opportunities that make it easy to defraud customers. The banker also has a good chance of getting away with it because the kind of skills needed to pull off the crime comes from the kind required for holding the bank position in the first place. In contrast, the poor worker would find his or her illegitimate opportunity limited to crudely robbing, the banker, an illegitimate opportunity further limited by a high risk of arrest.
Third the powerful are subjected to weaker social control. Generally, the powerful have more influence in the making and enforcement of laws. The laws against higher-status criminals are therefore relatively lenient and seldom enforced, but the laws lower status criminals harsher and more often enforced. Not a single corporate criminal, for example, has even been sentenced to death for marketing some untested drug that “cleanly” kills many people. Given the lesser control imposed on them, the powerful are likely to feel freer to use some deviant means to amass their fortunes and power.

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