Poverty: Formal and Informal Social Controls

Published: 2021-07-22 07:55:05
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Category: Sociology

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In the writings of early sociologists, one finds their observations with regards to acceptable boundaries within a society. Sociologists such as Durkheim sees boundaries to behavior as praiseworthy and argues that it is the social control that forms the foundation of a society to police its boundaries. Social control also leads societies to deal with the criminal and deviant behavior of a minority portion of the society. Such forms of social control can be of two types: formal and informal. Those specific agencies that are given responsibility to maintain law and order in the society exert formal social control, whereas any kind of belief or social interaction that drives members of the society to conform to its social conscience is an informal part of social control.To observe how the lives of poor people are regulated through different forms of social control, I visited Central Park in New York City and recorded my observations of the poor people I saw. One of my first observations was that public spaces now in New York city are becoming off limits due to gentrification. As I wandered around the park, I could not find too many people around, despite the fact that there are over 1.7 million people in New York who fall below the federal threshold for poverty. The city’s landscape is started to feel increasingly elite that makes poor people feel uncomfortable. The result of gentrification is that there are clashing ideologies in public space of how people see and view a public place. The people who I observed to have been poor came from both African-American, White and Latino backgrounds. One can easily tell, that the gap between rich and the poor in this city is increasing.Poor people are more frequently assigned deviant labels because of the tendency of powerful groups who hold different stereotypes about others. More social control is applied to the lesser powerful groups in society and that is what my observations confirmed. The poor people seemed more careful and restrictive in their behavior compared to the middle-class or the elite. It is not illogical to think that the poor know that they are more likely to be convicted, arrested and imprisoned for an accusation of crime than upper class or middle-class people.It is common for societies to have different forms of formal and informal mechanisms of social control. How are the two forms balanced often depends on the type of society one lives in? In the American society, where I observed people, the concept of liberty or minimal government is part of a political tradition, where individualism is stressed over social controls. However, various forms of informal controls push people towards conforming to societal rules regardless. Since a joint collective conscience is impossible to achieve basically, that is where formal social control methods are used.My observations also point me to notice that the poor people in the vicinity did exhibit some tendencies towards deviance. This, however, could be out of a number of different factors, one of which is the common idea thrown at American society regarding the American dream. The poor man walking about in Central Park knows that the society he lives in values economic success more than any other thing. Economic success is also marked by social norms that define approved means of working to achieve that economic success. The increasing gap that I observed leads towards frustration and strain, that in turn leads to deviance. The poor man that I saw following a few women, whistling towards them exhibited, in my opinion, the same form of frustration that rejects traditional means of success out of it.Park security, in this case, is assigned to ensure a formal control over any signs of deviance or crime. Their intervention was for the most part advisory and I did not see them resort to any aggression against the poor. Their presence, however, is an indication that the society’s social controls are enforced and that any deviant behavior will be punished. Functionalists see a collapse of society into a state of anomie if it has no punishments or controls. Therefore the formal controls enforced in the park gave a clear message that any deviant behavior will be punished by the Justice system, according to what the majority of the society, in this case, the visitors at the park, would find unacceptable.The poor people that I observe in the park also demonstrate a form of Informal social control. Most sociologists see an informal social control to be a result of a society’s shared collective conscience, in which a society’s majority views certain acts or activities to be negative. This form of control leads the criminal to think before they commit any form of crime, and makes them wish that they had never committed it. Although it is out of a misplaced stereotypical view to think that the poor people at the central park are more susceptible to deviant or criminal behavior, yet a tendency of the people to view them as such though ethically wrong, is still there.Bonds such as family, commitment, attachment, belief, and involvement become factors that bind people together in a society and prevents them from being ostracized. This theory of sociology was confirmed by my observations during the 45 minutes that I stayed in the park, that despite the fact that poor people could not achieve the American dream, when they exhibit tendencies of social commitment, family, and involvement, such as those poor people who walked about with their girlfriends or relatives, they seemed to me as a neutral observer to be less susceptible to crime. I would feel more secure being around such people than those who preferred isolation.Indeed in today’s fast-paced society, people have less time to worry about others. The gap between the rich and poor and social injustices in our society are commonly observable. A society’s formal and informal controls check the behavior of individuals that are more disposed towards deviant behavior. My stroll in Central park allowed me to correlate theoretical perspectives in sociology regarding formal and informal social controls, to the actual behavior of the people I observed. I observed that it is the formal control that holds greater power over the actions of the people rather than informal social control. Both forms are crucial however to prevent individuals and groups from engaging in harmful behavior. The degree of formal controls varies according to a society’s dynamics and in the case of New York’s society, as I observed in Central Park, it is seemingly kept minimal.

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