Difference Between Formal and Informal Social Control

The term "social control" refers to the different mechanisms by which people's actions are governed in modern societies. There is no universally accepted definition of the idea of social capital since sociologists employ it in various ways. An impoverished conception of social control would see it as a coordinated response to undesirable or deviant conduct. Behaviors that are not considered to be deviant but are nonetheless subject to societal supervision might be included in a more expansive definition. Nonetheless, the many different kinds of social control may be broadly divided into two categories: formal and informal.

Rules and laws are examples of formal social control, whereas customs, norms, and values are examples of informal social control because they are not codified in any official document. There is a definite difference between the two, but in most cases, either approach will do. In the following paragraphs, this essay will go deeper into these two types of social constraints and draw distinctions between them.

What is Formal Social Control?

Many people use the term "formal social control" to refer to any type of social control that is established by statute. Some writers define a control as "formal" if it is spelled out in an official document, such as the rules and regulations of a company. Formal social controls include any type of regulation that is imposed or implemented by the state. This includes things like police surveillance, investigations, and arrests; court sanctions; and the actions of regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration.

Formal social restrictions are often imposed, punitive, and repressive, however this is not always the case. Those who are subject to authoritative social structures have no option but to act in accordance with the rules imposed upon them. Traditional forms of control have frequently centred on criminal justice and punishment, whether as a means of deterrent or rehabilitation. Moreover, governments often pass laws that ban or limit the behaviour of its citizens in response to the widespread need for greater control in today's world.

In modern, urbanised civilizations, formal social restrictions are often desired. Individuals in these cultures often petition their leaders to meddle in interpersonal dynamics and pass ever more stringent regulations. Members of these communities also tend not to know one another very well, leading them to rely on formal social controls as a means of resolving disagreements.

What is Informal Social Control?

The term "informal social controls" refers to any actions taken to manage human conduct and interaction that are not mandated by legislation. Socialization is the primary and most efficient means through which society regulates the actions of its members. Praise and praises are forms of informal control that make group members feel good about themselves and thereby promote the conduct that is wanted. Yet, punishments like mockery or rumor can also be used as informal controls to discourage undesirable actions. Most often, these unofficial norms and standards are upheld in institutional settings like homes, classrooms, and workplaces.

Nonetheless, in many cases, informal social controls can be more influential, formative, and integrative than their official counterparts. Especially in highly autonomous and well-educated communities, social standards have little to no coercive force, hence it is usually necessary to resort to persuasion to convince individuals to comply. The goal of education is not to turn kids into walking encyclopedias but to help them grow as individuals and become productive members of society by learning to follow the rules and fit in.

Even when they have access to official means, people in tiny groups where members know each other well typically utilize informal means to dominate their community. When parties to a dispute are well-acquainted with one another, they are more likely to attempt to work things out amicably on their own rather than seek external resolution through the courts. Members are also more inclined to create a citizen patrol for the purpose of crime prevention rather than to contact the police.

Differences: Formal and Informal Social Control

The following table highlights the major differences between Formal and Informal Social Control −


Formal Social Control

Informal Social Control


Formal social controls are legal measures that control how people behave.

Informal social controls are those that regulate human conduct without the use of laws.


Every government agency, including the police, courts, and regulatory bodies, may apply formal social restrictions.

Informal social restrictions are implemented by family units, schools and employers.

Structure of the virus

Examples of formal social controls are policing, court punishments and regulatory measures.

Socialization, praises, and teasing, as well as gossip, are all examples of informal social controls.

Genome size

Formal social regulations are frequently imposed, punishing, and restrictive.

Informal social controls tend to be persuasive, formative and integrative.

Family and Genus

Big, metropolitan communities where people do not know one other very well tend to embrace rigid social regulations.

Informal social restrictions are often more popular in small, rural areas where people know each other well.


Formal and informal social control are two different forms of social control that serve different functions in society. Formal social control is the structured and overt form of social control that is enforced by the government through institutions such as the police, courts, and prisons

Informal social control is the more subtle and less structured form of social control that is based on the norms, values, and customs that are shared by the members of society.

Both forms of social control are necessary for a functioning society, but they can also be in conflict with each other.

Updated on: 18-Apr-2023

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