Social Control and History: An Introduction
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Social Control and History: An Introduction Pieter Spierenburg hat is social control? If anything, it is a classic concept, which many scholars use as a matter of course. Few, however, care about providing an explicit statement of what they understand it to be. This book, like its companion volume on the modern period, scrutinizes this classic notion.The two volumes examine formal and informal types of control over the last five hundred years of European history, thus providing an integral perspective on the efforts at control by various agencies and the responses to them. Yet, each contributor deals with more than just institutions or impersonal mechanisms. Both volumes focus on real people , some more powerful, some less, in Europe’s past and present. Although, over the last few decades, much work has been done on a variety of separate institutions that sought to change or influence people’s behavior, these institutions have never been examined in their totality. For example, the history of crime and justice and that of church discipline have coexisted as largely unconnected subdisciplines. We know much about the state machinery of control (courts, police, prisons), but less about its relationship to popular sanctions. We can see how consistories and fraternities corrected the behavior and molded the beliefs of their members, but we are less informed about how these efforts related to official law enforcement. Finally, separate studies exist of such subjects as charity , labor, and communal life, but there is no overall analysis of how these settings operated as informal structures of control by way of scrutinizing the habits of the poor, for example, or through popular sanctions in villages and neighborhoods. This collection brings all these elements together in a comparative manner. Social Control: The Concept’s Origins Although a classic concept, none of the classical European sociologists included social control in their scholarly vocabulary. It is absent from the work of Durkheim and Weber.The concept’s origins are unequivocally American; it appears W 1 Spierenburg_Vol_1_Intro_3rd.qxd 6/22/2004 2:37 PM Page 1 to have become popular in Europe only after the Second World War. Popularity was instant in the United States from May 1901 when a thirty-four-year-old professor named Ross first introduced the idea in a book. The date of its appearance makes social control a decidedly twentieth-century notion, which needs fresh scrutiny at the start of the twenty-first century. Such an exercise could begin with the person of its intellectual father. Although historians—but less so sociologists— routinely cite Ross as the author who introduced the idea of social control, very rarely do they take account of the intellectual and political context in which he did so. Edward Alsworth Ross (1866–1951) was a farmer’s son from Virden, Illinois.1 An orphan at age nine, he was raised in the home of a local justice of the peace. His foster parents cared enough for him to send him to college in Iowa. As a graduate student, Ross spent two years in Germany, studying philosophy in Berlin, but there is no record of his meeting any of that country’s young generation of social scientists. Back in America he turned to economics, which he taught at several universities and from the mid-1890s at Stanford. There he gradually redirected his attention to sociology. The switch of disciplines was one reason for a conflict with the university’s cofounder and governor, Jane Stanford, widow of Leland Stanford, who finally fired him in 1900. Ross developed the concept of social control more or less simultaneously with becoming a sociologist. From 1896 onward he published a series of articles as a preview (so the idea actually dates from just before the twentieth century). By the time he collected the articles in a book, the concept of social control had already gained notoriety. Ross applied for a chair at the University of Wisconsin, which at the time housed the largest sociology department in the United States, but the state legislature withdrew the post’s funding. He finally became a professor at Wisconsin in 1906. Social Control reads as an erudite essay on human society, with an emphasis on the problem of social order.The book discusses a wide range of societies, from ancient Greece and various non-Western nations to the United States in the author’s own days.The bibliography includes such classic figures as Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, and Ferdinand Tönnies. Intriguingly, Ross concludes that social...


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