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Differences between Formal and Informal Social Control

Social control can be considered as an important aspect of an individual’s
socialization process. There are some universal norms or rules which should be
followed by members of all societies. Any deviation from these norms may
result in a minimum level of punishment for ensuring the social order. It refers
to the processes of regulation of an individual or group behavior in a society,
which encourages conformity and obedience. It may include social or political
mechanisms. Its two forms are formal and informal controls.
Formal Social Control:
Formal social control is implemented by authorized agents including police
officers, employers, military officers, and others. It is carried out as a last
option at some places when the desired behavior is not possible through
informal social control. The situations and severity where formal control is
practiced varies with countries.
This is practiced through law as statutes, rules, and regulations against deviant
social behavior. For example, certain laws like prohibition of murder can be
directed at all members of a society. Fishing and hunting regulations are made
for certain groups. Corporate laws are laid for governing the behavior of social
institutions. Formal control is conducted by government and organizations
through law enforcement mechanisms. It can also be conducted through some
formal sanctions including fines and imprisonment. Processes of formal control
in democratic societies are determined and designed through legislation by
elected representatives.
Courts or judges, military officers, police officers, school systems or teachers,
and government agencies or bureaucrats, enforce formal control.
Informal Social Control:
It is exercised by a society without stating any rules or laws. It is expressed
through norms and customs. Social control is performed by informal agents on
their own in an unofficial capacity. Traditional societies mostly embed informal
social control culture to establish social order.
Shame, sarcasm, criticism, ridicule and disapproval are some of the informal
sanctions. Social discrimination and exclusion are included in informal control
at extreme deviant cases. Self-identity, self-worth and self-esteem are affected
in informal control through loss of group approval or membership. The severity
and nature of informal control mechanisms differ from varied individuals,
groups, and societies.
Informal is effective in small group settings including friends, family,
neighborhood, work group and others. However, in some large and complex
societies, informal social control and disapproval is ignored easily. At such
situations, it is necessary to follow the formal one.
Some of the differences of formal and informal social control are:
 Formal social control includes written, formalized and codified statements in
laws, rules, and regulations. Whereas informal control does not contain any
written rules.
 Formal control agencies are authorized ones created by government and
informal control agencies are created by social networks and organizations
but not by government.
 Formal control is much effective and stronger than informal social control.
Any situations which cannot be handled by informal control are subjected to
formal one.
 Formal control is effective for even large groups of population but informal
control is effective only for a small group of people.
Social control, formal or informal, thus helps in regulation of society. The study
of social control includes disciplines of sociology, anthropology, psychology,
law and political science.

.1 Introduction
The study explored the type, appropriateness and effectiveness of the informal and
formal support services used by these victims. Informal support services were defined
as family, friends and the churches. Formal support services referred to those whose
function it is to meet the specific needs of the community, as listed below.
These services included the following:
 Victim Support
 Rape Crisis
 Samaritans
 Ambulance Service
 Medical Centre/Hospital Emergency Department
 Citizens Advice Bureau
 Women's Refuge
 Pacific organisation.
Other formal support services were identified by the participants, for example,
counselling services.
5.2 Informal Support Services
The participants were asked what types of informal support they used as a
consequence of their victimisation. Table 5.1 shows the distribution of the various types
of informal support used by the participants.
Table 5.1: Distribution of the Types of Informal Support
Types of Informal
Number of participants
who used this form of
% of total
research sample
Family Members* 27 30%
Family and Friends 13 15%
Friends 13 15%
Flatmate/Neighbours 3 3%
Pastor/Church 3 3%
Offender’s Family 1 1%
Landlord 1 1%
No Response 4 4%
No Informal Support 25 28%
Total 90 100%
* Family members included parents, partner, son, daughter, brother, sister, cousin, or