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Overview

All societies impose social control on their citizens to


some degree. They monitor and regulate behavior
formally and informally. This is one of the most
important prerogatives of political leaders. In addition
to exerting their political will, they strongly influence or
actually manage the mechanisms of social control.
In large-scale societies, the most visible mechanisms
are laws, courts, and police. However, law and the
legal bureaucracy that administers it is only one aspect
Policeman in a modern of social control and is usually the least effective one.
nation state--a common
tool used for social control As you will see in the next section of this tutorial, small-
scale societies maintain social control without the
complex legal institutions with which we are familiar. However, this does not
mean that they are without laws.

Key to understanding a culture's system of social control is understanding


the social norms upon which it is based. These are the commonly held
conceptions of appropriate and expected behavior in a society. Norms can
and do change over time. In tradition-bound societies, such as those of many
conservative Arab nations, norms generally change very slowly. In large,
multi-ethnic societies such as the United States and Canada, norms change
rapidly. Subsequently, what was acceptable earlier in one's life is often not
today. If one portion of a society has not changed its norms but another has,
there likely will be conflict. The modern term "political correctness" is, in a
sense, a product of such a conflict. It has been used by those who do not
wish to accept the changing norms of others.

Often a society's norms change but the laws relating to them have a long
delay in catching up. This was the case with anti-miscegenation laws in the
U.S. southern states. Over the last 30-40 years, it has become progressively
more socially acceptable for people of different "races" to date and even
marry. However, the law prohibiting this was not struck off of the law books in
Alabama until 2000. This was despite the fact that it had not been enforced
by the police since the mid 20th century.

Sometimes the laws change before the norms do for large sections of a
society. This was the case with the civil rights acts of the U.S. Congress
during the 1960's. These acts called for the legal enforcement of "racial"

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integration in schools and public places. It took nearly a generation before the
majority of European Americans in the southern states were willing to accept
these new laws. Gender equity law changes during the 1980's and 1990's
were again ahead of the social norms for many in the United States,
especially men.

The most effective form of social control is not laws, police, and jails. Rather,
it is the internalization of the moral codes by the members of society. As
children grow up they normally learn what is proper and improper, right and
wrong, good and bad. If a society is able to indoctrinate all of its members to
accept its moral code, it will not need to use police or other external means of
social control. In the early 1950's, the American sociologist David Riesman
referred to this most effective form of social control as being inner directed,
or conscience controlled, in regards to social norms. The conscience of inner
directed people will not allow them to knowingly break the law. Less effective
social control is achieved when the members of a society are other directed,
or only shame oriented, in regards to norms. For such people, right and
wrong are more ambiguous, and they normally only feel bad when they get
caught and are publicly shamed for deviating from the norms. In reality, the
same individual may be inner directed for some norms and other directed for
others. For instance, most North American drivers regularly exceed the legal
speed limits and don't feel bad about it unless they are caught by a
policeman. On the other hand, the vast majority of these same drivers would
not drive away from a car accident that they caused. As a result, police do not
spend much time watching for hit and run accidents, but they do work hard at
catching speeders.

Young children being


socialized at school
to accept the norm
of working together
cooperatively

No society is able to rely solely upon internalization of its normative code,


though some are more successful at it than others. Nations that have a high
degree of cultural homogeneity, such as Japan, have a far lower crime rate
than do those, like the United States, that have many different cultural

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traditions. However, small culturally homogenous communities in the U.S.
typically are like Japan in having low crime rates. People often do not bother
locking the doors of their houses and do not fear walking the streets alone at
night. In these communities, most people have grown up together and
were socialized in essentially the same way. Subsequently, they share the
same norms. This is very different from large American cities in which people
have come from many different societies and have internalized different
norms. This is reflected in differing expectations and attitudes about the
society's rules.

All societies have laws to deal with the inevitable disputes that arise.
However, laws and their focus vary significantly from culture to culture. The
patterns of this variation are described in the next section of this tutorial.

Law
Social control entails rules of behavior that should be followed by the
members of a society. Some of the rules of conduct fall into the realm of good
manners as the culture defines them. As such they describe behavior that is
socially desirable but not necessarily compulsory. Other rules of conduct are
not optional and are enforced by laws. In complex, large-scale societies, laws
are usually written down formally so that they can be known clearly to
everyone. This is not the case with laws in small-scale societies such as
those of foragers, pastoralists, and horticulturalists. Their laws commonly are
much more informal, being rarely written down. Since they are part of the
evolving oral tradition that is familiar to members of these societies, there is
no need to explain them to anyone. However, people visiting from other
societies are not likely to know what the laws are until there is a dispute.

How laws come about varies. In small-scale societies, they usually evolve
over time and are part of the cultural tradition. These are referred to
as common laws. In large-scale societies, many laws derive from old
common laws that are now formalized by being written down in penal codes.
Other laws in these complex societies do not evolve organically but are
created by enactment in legislatures or by rulers. These may or may not be
codifications of existing social norms. Those laws that parallel the existing
norms usually are more likely to be accepted and followed without coercion.
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It is not uncommon for some laws to be confusing because they are
inconsistent or open to interpretation in different situations. Murder laws in the
United States provide an example. Killing another individual is considered to
be a serious crime except when it is done in self-defense or in battle during a
war. When it is defined as a crime, there can be mitigating circumstances that
lessen the seriousness of the crime. U.S. state legal codes commonly make a
distinction between murder in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree. In addition there
can be 1st and 2nd degree manslaughter. The age and mental state of the
killer are often also extenuating circumstances. Some states consider
advising or aiding in suicide as being a crime. Killing certain classes of
people, such as law enforcement officers, often calls for a harsher sentence
as does murder with a gun in the act of committing another crime. The killing
of a pregnant woman is considered murder, but the simultaneous killing of her
unborn child is not necessarily murder. This is because American society
today is divided on the understanding of when human life legally begins.

Crimes and disputes are rarely simple matters in any society. Laws may be
open to interpretation, and there often is a difference of opinion about the
evidence. Even when guilt is established, there can be a difference of opinion
about the appropriate punishment or terms of settlement. Because these
issues are open to differing conclusions, most societies settle legal cases by
the agreement of the entire community or a representative sample of it. Jury
systems around the world usually are based on this idea. The assumption is
made that jurors will come to an understanding that would be acceptable to a
"reasonable man." In most societies in the past, the "reasonable man" was
thought to be just that, a man. Women and children were not thought to be
reasonable, nor were uneducated poor men. Subsequently, they were
excluded from being jurors and judges. This is still the situation in some of the
more traditional societies of the Middle East and some other regions.

Law is by no means the only method for controlling the behavior of deviant
individuals. People who violate norms can be subjected to gossip, public
ridicule, social ostracism, insults, and even threats of physical harm by other
members of their community. These kinds of informal negative
sanctions are very effective in small-scale societies. In larger societies, this
method also works effectively in small towns and sub-groups of cities, such as
a family, work group, church, or club.

In some societies, social control involves the threat of supernatural


punishment from the gods or ancestral spirits for deviation from the norm.
Since it is assumed that crimes against other people in these societies are
likely to be punished whether they are publicly known or not, this belief in
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divine retribution provides a powerful tool for getting people to behave
properly. The possibility that others could use witchcraft against deviant
individuals also is a common effective coercive mechanism for bringing
people into line, especially in small-scale non-western societies.

Some societies emphasize the use of positive sanctions to reward appropriate


behavior rather than negative ones to punish those who do not conform to the
social norms. Common positive sanctions include praise and granting
honors or awards. Simply receiving the esteem of one's peers is often
sufficient motivation for people to be model citizens. Examples of effective
positive sanctions in the United States include such things as military
promotions, ticker-tape parades, and receiving good grades in school. In
order to be effective, a positive sanction does not need to offer an immediate
reward. It can be a supernatural reward following death. The Judeo-Christian
and Moslem belief that entry into heaven must be earned by a life of good
behavior is an example. Similarly, the Hindu and Buddhist belief that a good
life results in being reborn at a higher level of existence is a promise of a
future supernatural reward.

Some norms in every society usually can be ignored without fear of


punishment. Being a loner or dressing oddly are examples of such minor
deviations from the norms in North America today. Individuals who do these
things may be labeled strange, eccentric, or independent but rarely criminal.
Which of these alternative labels is applied may depend on who the deviant
individual happens to be. One's gender, ethnicity, age, wealth, and social
class are likely to be important factors. Strange behavior by rich, well dressed
people is likely to be considered eccentric, while the same behavior by poor
people living on the street is more likely to be defined as criminal. This is
especially true if the deviant individuals are strangers and members of a
subculture that is stereotyped as being "trouble makers." Consistently odd
behavior by a homeless woman on the street is likely to cause others to
question her mental health and seek assistance for her, while the same
behavior by a homeless man may be seen as a potential danger to society
and get him arrested for creating a public disturbance.

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Is either of these men
committing a crime or
are they only acting
oddly? How do you
think a policeman
would interpret these
situations?

What Is A Crime?
A crime is a deviation from the social norm that is of such magnitude as to go
beyond what would be considered bad manners or odd behavior. Societies
respond to such exceptionally deviant actions by creating laws to curb and
sometimes punish them. There is no universal agreement between the
societies of the world about what constitutes criminal behavior or how it
should be dealt with. Sufficient ethnographic data have been collected over
the last century to show that societies with different kinds of economies have
radically different sorts of laws and legal concerns. Some activities that are
defined as serious crimes in foraging societies are often not thought of as
criminal at all in large-scale agricultural ones. The reverse is also true. The
way these two dissimilar kinds of societies deal with crime is radically different
as well. In order to understand these differences, it is necessary to examine
their concepts of what constitutes crime and their approaches to dealing with
it.

Legal Concerns Among Foragers and


Horticulturalists
In societies that have pedestrian foraging or
simple horticultural subsistence bases, property protecting
laws are rare. This is due to the fact that land and other
important economic resources are usually not scarce.
Population densities are generally very low and they typically
have a usufructownership concept. Land, water, and other
important resources are either "owned" by the community as
a whole or they are freely shared. Reciprocal gift

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giving assures that everyone has about the same amount of food and wealth.
In these kinds of societies, the major focus of law usually is on the failure of
an individual or family to freely share food and water with others who need it.
In addition, they are concerned about the disruption caused by disputes over
mates. The Ju/'hoansi people of Namibia and Botswana provide a good
example of this. As a result of his long-term study of the the Ju/'hoansi,
Richard Lee observed that they perceive themselves as being a peaceful
people, but that they actually have a relatively high murder rate. The most
common cause of murder for them has been competition between two men
over the same woman.

Among the Ju/'hoansi and other small-scale societies,


disputes and crimes within the community were most often
settled informally. They did not have police, courts, judges,
or prisons. If a settlement could not be arrived at
peacefully by the members of the families involved, the rest
of the community expressed its strong disapproval by
publicly talking about the "bad behavior" and shunning the
individuals involved. In a small community, being the target
of gossip and ostracism is an extremely serious penalty. If
this fails to resolve the situation, the adults of the community come together
and openly discuss it. From their perspective, the most important thing is to
find a solution that will reduce tension and return the community to reciprocity
rather than "punish" the wrong doers. Among the Inuit people of Alaska,
Northern Canada, and Greenland, quarrels that are difficult to settle were
usually resolved by a "song duel" between the disputants in the presence of
the entire community. This would occur, for instance, if two men both wanted
to marry the same woman and neither would concede. They took turns
singing and drumming mocking songs for hours until one of them gave up or
the audience decided that one of the men was a better song composer and
singer. Guilt or innocence was not at issue. If the individual who was the
loser in this competition did not accept the decision or did not make
satisfactory amends, the community had little alternative. It could banish him,
which would essentially be a death sentence. It could murder him. As a last
resort, the families of the disputants and their allies could separate and form
two new communities.

In small-scale societies, crimes are almost always understood as being family


matters. Crimes are against individuals rather than the society. They are
matters for the families that are affected to settle. The society becomes
involved when a settlement cannot be reached. Payment for a crime rather

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than punishment usually is the primary goal. There is a weregeld , or
"blood money", concept operating in the settlement. This is the idea that a
material value can be set for every thing, every animal, and every human
being. If someone burns down your house, he must pay you the worth of the
house. Similarly, if he kills your dog or your child, negotiations will determine
their worth and, subsequently, what he owes you. Once the weregeld
payment has been made, the killer is judged by society as having satisfactorily
settled the matter. The "crime" is expunged and everyone goes on with their
own business. Failure to pay the agreed upon amount of weregeld means
that the case has not been settled and the wronged party is expected by the
community to seek revenge by killing the person who killed his family
member.

In the United States and other western nations, legal systems make a
distinction between crimes against the state and crimes against individuals.
The latter are referred to as torts. They are settled in civil cases rather than
criminal ones. Torts include any damage or injury done willfully or negligently
that harms another individual. Weregeld was eliminated long ago as an
acceptable punishment in crimes against the state but has survived as a
resolution of tort cases. In 1995, the former football player O. J. Simpson was
found innocent of murder in a Los Angeles criminal court decision but was
found guilty of the same crime two years later in a civil case brought by some
of the family members of the two murder victims. Simpson was ordered to
pay the family members over $30 million in compensatory damages. While it
was not called weregeld, that is what it is in reality. Weregeld is still
considered to be an acceptable resolution for murder cases in some
traditional Moslem nations.

Legal Concerns In Advanced Horticultural,


Pastoral, and Rich Fishing Societies
Families and sometimes individuals own land and have considerable amounts
of personal property in many advanced horticultural, pastoral, and rich, settled
fishing societies. These societies have in common an emphasis on very
productive specialized subsistence bases. Because they have, in a sense,
put all of their eggs in one basket, they are concerned about other people
taking their farmland, water sources, herd animals, fishing grounds, surplus
food, or other resources that are economically critical to their way of life. It is
not surprising that they have the beginnings of property protecting laws. With
the exception of pastoralists, the population densities in these societies are

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higher than among pedestrian foragers and simple horticulturalists. Due to
population pressure, the important economic resources are realistically
viewed as being finite and, subsequently, in need of protecting. In the case of
pastoralists, the key resource is not land but the animals that they herd. They
would be easy targets for theft if they were not constantly protected.

The traditional pastoralist way of life is by its nature migratory. When


pastoralists have disputes with their neighbors, they can move to a new area
to avoid it. This option is usually not available to sedentary fishermen who
make their living along rivers and bays and farmers in areas where it is no
longer possible to practice shifting agriculture. When personal conflicts occur
with their neighbors, they must stay and deal with them. Since these societies
usually do not have police and judges to step in to arbitrate or prosecute
criminals, the usual method for dealing with disputes and crimes within the
community is to use gossip, public ridicule, and social ostracism. If this fails to
bring relief, witchcraft is often the next solution. Because it is possible to cast
spells or employ other forms of magic in secret, it can be used to get revenge
without being found out. The fact that anyone potentially can use it at any
time to harm a neighbor makes the threat of witchcraft a useful tool for
keeping people from committing crimes or taking advantage of each other.
The belief that witchcraft actually works and the fear that it might be used
against you is often enough to prevent deviation from the social norms.
Another common method for dealing with crime within these societies is to
shift the blame to people in other communities or even other societies. By
accusing outsiders rather than a neighbor, the local community is not forced to
deal with a potentially divisive conflict. This can be a safe way out of a tense
situation. Community unity is maintained.

Legal Concerns In Large-scale Societies


In large-scale advanced agricultural and industrial nations, social control is
more difficult because their populations are larger, more dense, and usually
more diverse culturally, socially, and economically. The entire population
rarely shares the same norms and those that are shared are not equally well
internalized by everyone. Subsequently, informal controls on behavior such
as gossip and ostracism are not as effective except within families and small,
close-knit sub-groups. Laws have to become formalized and special
institutions are created to enforce them. Typically, these are police, courts,
lawyers, and jails. Property protecting laws are very important in these large-
scale societies.

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Warfare
Armed conflict is common among humans. It occurs both between and within
societies. Many behavioral scientists are convinced that people are by nature
aggressive animals. From this perspective, fighting is natural for us. The
majority of other primate species are relatively peaceful. Among the primates,
it may only be humans and chimpanzees (our nearest living relatives) who
carry out genocide. Violent physical fighting is primarily a male activity among
humans and chimpanzees. Adult male chimpanzees also spend much of their
waking time involved in politics. They intimidate, scheme, and form short-term
alliances with other males to be able to move up the dominance hierarchy.
The rewards are the same as for human politicians--gaining more access to
what their society values, whether it be food, sex, land, or simply control over
others.

A comparison of the variations of fighting in different kinds of human societies


around the world shows that it does not always take the form of what we
commonly think of as warfare. It is useful in understanding armed conflict to
divide it into three categories--feuding, raiding, and warfare. However, it is
important to keep in mind that they are not always clearly distinct in every
society.

Feuding
Feuding is prolonged hostility and occasional physical fighting between
individuals and their supporters rather than whole societies. It is a universal
form of human aggression that mostly occurs between members of the same
society, though it can occur between people from separate societies as well.
It is caused by a desire for revenge for a perceived prior wrong. Usually, both
sides in feuds believe that they have been wronged and seek to settle the
score. Inherent in feuds is a failure in communication between the feuding
parties and the belief that there needs to be "an eye for an eye." Without
adequate retribution, there is minimally a loss of face for the families involved.
Sometimes the need for retribution involves more than just the living. Among
the Dani people of Papua New Guinea, the spirit of a person killed in a feud
will not rest until he or she is revenged by living relatives killing someone in
the enemy group.

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In many societies, feuding results in an endless
cycle of reciprocal killings. There are feuds
between families in the Balkans, Corsica, and Sicily
that have been going on for hundreds of years.
"Vendetta" is now a common English word for a
lasting blood feud of this sort. The word "vendetta"
comes from 19th century Italian and ultimately the
Latin word "vindicta" meaning "vengeance".
Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet" is the Regions of Europe where
tragic story of young lovers from prominent families Vendettas have been common
in Verona Italy who had a bitter blood feud between them. The most famous
blood feud in North America was between the Hatfield and McCoy families
along the Kentucky and West Virginia border. It began sometime in the
1870's or somewhat earlier. The original trigger apparently was a dispute
over a pig. During the next several decades, dozens of people from both
families were murdered. By the 1920's, police intervention had reduced the
violence, but the Hatfield and McCoy families did not officially end their feud
until 2003 when their descendants signed a formal peace agreement.

Raiding
Raiding consists of surprise predatory attacks
directed against other communities or
societies. Revenge may or may not be a
motive. The primary objective of raiding usually
is to plunder and then to escape unharmed with
the stolen goods. In some societies, the goal is
also to kill men in the target community as well
as kidnap women and children. Raiding is a
more organized form of aggression than
feuding. Violent encounters are often the result
of opportunistic meetings in the case of
feuding. In contrast, raids are planned in
advance. Another difference is that raids occur
in a finite time period. They are rarely
sustained activities like feuds.

Raiding is common among pastoral societies, especially in East Africa. It is a


quick and efficient way for young men to start a herd or add additional animals
to a herd. It also has the benefit of keeping young men trained for protecting
their family's' cattle. The horse riding bison hunting tribes of the North
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American Great Plains also regularly raided each other for essentially the
same reasons. They stole horses, women, and children. In both the African
cattle herding societies and the North American bison hunting ones, boys
were encouraged to be brave and aggressive. They also gave high status to
those men who succeeded in raids. Men in some small-scale farming
societies, such as the Yanomamö and other lowland forest people of South
America, raided each other's settlements when population pressure forced
competition for scarce resources. It is not surprising that these peoples also
prized aggressive, violent behavior among men.

Warfare
The term warfare is used here to refer to a larger scale and more sustained
form of fighting than feuding and raiding. It involves organized combat usually
between clearly recognizable armies. A significant portion of a society's
population takes part in combat or support activities, often for years. Soldiers
are trained and equipped for combat.

Warfare as defined here is not universal. It mostly occurs between large-


scale farming or industrial societies. They are the only kinds of societies that
can afford to have large numbers of men not be involved in food production
for prolonged periods of time. Warfare has been virtually absent among
small-scale societies, especially pedestrian foragers. This may be due to two
factors. They rarely have large enough surpluses to support soldiers who
must train and fight rather than produce food. Most adult males are needed
year round for subsistence activities. In addition, the population sizes
of band and tribal level societies are generally too small to create armies.
This does not mean that they are always peaceful and never fight with their
neighbors. However, when they do fight, it is rare for there to be many
fatalities. They usually cannot afford the loss of more than a few men. It
would be too great an economic blow for the society. Subsequently, when
casualties mount up, they often break off combat and go home. In contrast,
large-scale agricultural societies with thousands or even millions of people
essentially have surplus men who they can afford to lose without it seriously
affecting their economies. The larger the population is, the more this holds
true. Given these realities, it should not be a surprise that the first evidence of
large-scale warfare was not until about 5,500-4,500 years ago when
chiefdoms were growing in power and evolving into the first ancient states. As
these states grew larger and more powerful through military conquests, they
evolved into the well known early civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India,
China, Mesoamerica, and Western South America.
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The reasons why societies have gone to war are varied and often complex.
Revenge has usually been a key factor. In many cases, there has been a
desire to gain or control more land and other resources. At other times, the
goal was simply the conquest or even outright destruction of another people.
Many wars have been motivated by religious or political ideals. It is likely that
all societies have gone to war believing that they were morally justified and
that the gods were on their side. There is one final common trait found among
early states that were beginning to wage wars of conquest against
neighboring states. That was considerable population pressure and a growing
scarcity of land, water, or other essential resources.

Modern large-scale mechanized warfare in Iraq

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