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Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency
Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency

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4.2 The sociological approach

In contrast, the social control approach starts from very different questions:

  • How does some behaviour come to be defined as deviant?
  • How do some people come to be labelled as deviant?
  • What do such processes tell us about social order and the way it is made and remade?

This leads to a search for explanatory factors:

  • Who gets to define what is normal and deviant?
  • What explains why some people are labelled and not others?
  • What social purposes are at stake in the processes of social control?
  • Why are societies prone to moments of ‘moral panic’?

This search orients social control studies to some types of evidence: historical studies of law making; statistical studies of legal processing (for example, stop and search processes, prosecution decisions); the social biases of social control agencies; analyses of media content; studies of the relationship between politics and social control. But here, too, social scientists work at different levels of analysis: at the micro-level they may study interactions between police officers and ‘suspects’; at the meso-level, they may investigate how organisations make social order – looking at police culture, for example; and at the macro-level, they investigate why some things are turned into crimes; or why some sorts of behaviour (or people) become a problem at a specific place and time. But the starting points – the questions that begin the process of inquiry – really do make a major difference. We hope this course has revealed why this matters – and how both the approaches contribute something distinctive to an understanding of social order – and disorder.