Essay on Sanctions (Sociology)

Sanctions are applied for the purpose of maintaining social control, that is, to bring about conformity. They are used to force or persuade an individual or group to conform to social expecta­tions. Sanctions may be applied in various ways, from the use of physical force to symbolic means, such as flattery. Negatively they may be anything from a raised eyebrow to the death sentence. Positively, they range from a smile to an honorary degree.

Informal and Formal Sanctions:

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In primary groups and in small, simple society’s sanctions are informal in nature. Informal sanctions are illustrated by customs, mores, and public opinion. In mass societies with many second­ary groups, some sanctions are necessarily formal.

The formal sanctions are those worked out by the state through law and administrative devices, and those consciously developed within organisations for their own regulation.

As societies and their cultures become heterogeneous and as secondary groups arise, the whole problem of social control changes. It is our necessity that the formal sanctions are developed and applied to compensate the deficiency of informal sanctions. Still, the formal and informal aspects of control are interlinked.

In the more loosely organised areas of community life we find the dominance of informal sanctions, whereas in the more highly institutionalized groups we find major controls flow through formal sanctions.

Power as the basis of Sanctions:

The application of regulatory or controlling devices of any kind implies the use of power. The form and intensity of power may vary greatly. “‘Power’ means the possession of some influence or force which may be used to oblige another to conform to some expectation “. — Young and Mack.

The sanctions through which power is exercised may be formal or informal, and they may be either physical or psychological. As the basis of sanctions power has to be understood in relation to its four aspects. They are :-(i) The amount or quantity of power, (ii) the distribution of power among indi­viduals and groups, (iii) the purposes for which power is used, and (iv) the means by which it is applied.

Aims of Sanctions:

The primary aims of sanctions are to bring about conformity, solidarity, and continuity of a particular group, community, or larger society. These aims could be achieved by maintaining a balance of power among the contending social units. Sanctions of any type are applied to prevent individual or group disorganisation. Sanctions are also concerned with the control of deviant indi­viduals who threaten solidarity and continuity.

To control behaviour means to bring about regular and recurrent actions of responses. Such regulation makes possible the prediction of behaviour. By discouraging deviance and by encourag­ing conformity sanctions can foster solidarity and integration. They make possible the continuity of social order.

The sanctions constitute a part of culture which is passed along from generation to generation. Each generation gets a pattern of control which keeps the social order running smoothly.

Types of Sanctions:

Sanctions are applied in various ways. The types of sanctions also vary with the groups and situations. Sanctions are broadly of two types: (i) Positive, and (ii) Negative.

1. Positive Sanctions:

As Young and Mack have said those sanctions which elicit and facilitate response by rewards are positive in nature. They include various means such as praise, flattery, suggestion, persuasion, some amount of education, indoctrination, advertising, propaganda, slo­gans, giving rewards, medals, badges, titles, uniforms etc.

Praise is a reward in words. Flattery is undue, exaggerated, and somewhat false praise usually made for some ulterior purpose. Indoctrina­tion, advertising and propaganda-all condition persons to act in lines which they like or believe that they like.

Persuasion is a form of suggestion which is vital to above three and some other situations. Slogans help to define situations and direct behaviour in the desired lines. Rewards are unexpected benefits normally accorded to some exemplary behaviour. Medals are granted for meritorious ac­tion. Uniforms also represent such material symbols.

2. Negative Sanctions:

Those sanctions which inflict pain or threaten to do so are negative in character. As Young and Mack have suggested, they include various means such as-gossip, slander, satire, laughing at others, name-calling, threats, commands, censorship and even overt action. Gos­sip as a means of social control is largely critical in tone. It helps in moulding public opinion against violating norms.

Satire is the method of exposing the foibles and weaknesses of persons through verbal lashes. Laughing at others has been an age-old method of isolating the person of its target from his fellows and putting him to shame. Name-Calling means labelling persons and groups with debasing names. It is a common device in propaganda.

Here the targets of attack are branded, for example, as ‘communist’, ‘fascist, ‘reactionary’, ‘communalist’ and so on. Commands represent direct power. They are a direct verbal form of ordering. Threats are the most severe form of verbal sanctions. They become very effective when supported by physical force. Censorship is comple­mentary to propaganda.

It is restraint on the expression of opinion. The method of overt action is the final sanction when no other way remains open. In this method, pain, suffering and even death may be inflicted on the person. It includes fines, imprisonment, whipping, mutilation, torture, banish­ment, ostracism and even death. Extreme negative sanctions are applied only by the state.


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