Social Control in Society: What is Acceptable?

July 17, 2009

taserOne of the characteristics of society is a stable pattern of behavior over a long period of time in one geographic place. Some sociologists suggest that people behave the same under similar conditions because they follow a shared set of social rules for behavior. These rules can grouped into categories such as values, norms, folkways, mores, and laws. Continuing down this line of thought, you might suggest that you can teach people the rules, but not everyone will obey them! Society, however, reinforces its rules through social sanctions.

For example, if you break the law, society might empower a policeman to arrest you and take you to a jail. The argument here is that obeying the law is important to protect people in this society. But what happens if enforcing the law becomes more destructive than breaking the law? That brings us to the issue of this post. ABC news reported a 72-year-old woman was tasered by a police officer during a traffic stop in Texas. The police department defended the use of the taser noting that the woman, according to the video released, was verbally abusive and physically resisting the police officer. At one point it looked like she was attempting to walk into a busy highway or return to her vehicle. Would you like to respond to this posting?

If so, select one of the topics below:

1. Do you think the officer acted correctly? Why or why not? What would have happened if the woman had a pacemaker for her heart and the electric shock killed her? What would have happened if the office allowed the woman to walk into the road and was hit by a passing car?

2. Can you think of values and norms that need to be followed by people, but shouldn’t be enforced by force? Can you think of values that should be maintained even if they injure or kill people?

3. Look at the responses to the topics above (or offer one yourself). How can these ideas be applied to determine what society should and shouldn’t do to control people’s behavior? How can your insights be applied to other issues such as the closing of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba, capital punishment, three-strikes-laws, decriminalization of marijuana, student expulsion from school, or another issue in society today?

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