Difference Between Formal Social Control and Informal Social Control

Chaos in society is obvious. Each individual carries his perception of the world and works accordingly, The perception builds over the years, acquired from the family values, background, and experience. Living together as a civilized society asks individuals to behave in a manner and maintain the decorum and rules set by the organization.

Often people break protocols and act according to their ideology and perception against that of a population that creates havoc. Rules and guidelines are hence, formed to maintain uniform treatment and strict action against the defaulter. They work irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or religion.

There are guidelines inscribed in the constitution of each country that ensures conduct and morality on a larger level while there are people in smaller groups that practice their ways of moral policing.

Social control is a way to enforce these standards and norms acceptable to attain cohesion and social order. It works formally and informally too, both of which manage to bring stability in the system.

Formal Social Control vs Informal Social Control

The main difference between Formal and Informal Social Control is that formal social control dictates on a larger ground and includes written laws and regulations, whereas informal social control works on a community level without those written and formulated guidelines.

Formal Social Control vs Informal Social Control


Comparison Table Between Formal Social Control and Informal Social Control

Parameter of comparisonFormal Social ControlInformal Social Control
GuidelinesWritten set of norms and rules well informed to the inhabitants.These are verbal and not formalized or documented.
Governing PartyThe head of the state, government, or in the corporate sector the employer. They are in charge to carry out the necessary action.Parents teach the do’s and don’ts from the very childhood, also the head of a clan unofficially appointed takes the decision.
EffectivenessFormal means of control is more effective as it works systematically.The effectiveness is cooperatively low.
NatureIt deals with a larger mass, and all the inhabitants fall under it regardless of community service or religion.It deals with a smaller section of a community where people are closely netted. Fails when applied to a larger section.
ApplicationFine, imprisonment, and in most severe cases death penalty or encounter.Peer pressure, shaming, public embarrassment, and boycott methods are generally used to build social standards.


What is Formal Social Control?

Formal Social controls as namesake are the official guidelines, legally formed to maintain the stability and fight the injustice.

They are written sets, applied to all the citizens of a state or a country, regardless of their religious beliefs, gender, color, or ethnicity.

The control measures are enforced by the government and organizations having the authority or a say accepted by a majority. They include the police officers, military, judiciary, employers of a firm, or an organization.

It is practiced by implementing the stated laws and regulations, the prohibition of unethical behavior. Dealing with the situation depends on the level of severity, can range from a simple fine to imprisonment and even the death penalty.

In the corporate world, the organizational guidelines are there to guide and regulate disobedience, the employees are subjected to orientation processes, deviance from the guidelines can lead to termination.


What is Informal Social Control?

Informalsocial control is a casual and local way of imposing and enforcing the norms that are considered sane and humane. These guidelines ensure a community to maintain their culture by not engaging in morally corrupt actions.

There are no written or documented records but are accepted lines drawn to maintain stability and sanity. They are passed on by parents and elders and are taught as a foundation to behave correctly and not indulge in unacceptable activities.

In smaller communities, the elders or the head of the clan are generally the people in power who dictate the verdict if things go wrong, in a comparatively advanced region total boycott, sarcasm, and disapproval is adopted.

The severity and the social control vary, locals in guilt and shame of judgments improve their behavior but it fails where the relationship in the community is weak, where people don’t care what others might think.

Conformity and like-minded thought prevail and people often have to safeguard themselves by following it even if the judgment is based on personal theory.

Main Differences Between Formal Social Control and Informal Social Control

  1. The main difference between Formal and Informal Social Control is that the former includes a written set of rules and norms, predefined and acceptable by all, the latter deals with issues and concerns casually, with no formulated or documented guidelines.
  2. The officials, head of the state, and those forming the rules govern the enforcement and is carried on by cops, military, and judiciary to provide justice, informal social control mechanism, informal approach however deals with the situations on a local level, the elders safeguard the culture and sanity in the community.
  3. Formal social controls method adopts punishments, fine, throwing behind the bars to maintain the law and the order and give a clear message to the culprits to beware, while informal way doesn’t directly or physically harm an individual but the effect is much worse where the person is no longer respected and often deals with mockery, social boycott, and shame.
  4. Formal social control takes into consideration a larger area ( a state or a nation), informal however deals with community problems.
  5. The formal way is professional and more effective because it doesn’t differentiate a class, sect, ideology, but the informal way can be biased at times.



Everyone is entitled to live their life in their terms but while living collectively in society or working with people, it becomes important to be thoughtful, supportive, and to follow the basic ethical guidelines.

An informal way of dealing with the situation and social control has its positives and negatives, Fair-play, bias attitude, distinguishing on the basis of gender and religion while giving a verdict or shaming and harassing can be the vices associated with it.

The positives of informally dealing can be the social stigma that disables unethical thoughts.

The formal system, however, manages to deal with a larger mass with no unfair means, the guidelines are written, thus nobody can disapprove.


  1. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/449125
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1533-8525.1982.tb01016.x
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