In the book Invitation to Sociology, Peter L. Berger discusses six types of social control and how they can be used to have authority over society. Social control is defined by Berger as the “various means used by a society to bring its recalcitrant members back into line” (68). Berger also states that “no society can exist without social control” (68) and even a small group of people will have to develop mechanisms of control if the group is not to dissolve in a short period of time (68). The types of social control stated by Berger are violence, economic pressure, verbal and mental pressure, occupational control, pressure from family and friends, and morality, customs, and manners (69-77). Both Obedience and Lord of the Flies show the use of social control as a way to have authority over the society or situation and that it is difficult to defy authority when these mechanisms are used. The types of social controls above that will be discussed are violence, mental and verbal pressures, and economic pressures as well as some discussion on bad faith and social location.
To discuss why it is hard to defy authority, the social location must first be defined. Berger describes the social location of oneself as assigned coordinates from friends, family, and authority (such as school) (67). These assigned coordinates tell the individual what they can expect from life and what they may or may not do (Berger, 67). In the film Lord of the Flies, the boys are thrown onto a deserted island, so they must make their own society, and with that comes a new social location for each member followed by new rules and expectations. The use of social controls, which as stated before must be present in any society, helps Jack to become the new leader and have authority over the group, once the new social locations are assumed. Lord of the Flies also shows violence and economic pressure as the forms of social control used as well as acts of bad faith, which is not one of the listed types but has controlling acts over individuals.
Economic pressure is a type of social control used in Lord of the Flies that is hard to defy. In the film, they do not have an economy based on money, but they have one based on food instead. The boys need to eat so they must hunt. Jack uses this as a way to have authority by organizing a group of hunters and only feeding the ones who help him. This works because everyone needs to eat and they do not know how long they will be stranded, so most members comply making this type of authority hard to defy.
Violence is also a form of social control used in the film Lord of the Flies. Jack uses violence as a way to gain authority over the group to become the leader of this new society. This works and is hard to defy because it scares the boys into following his lead because they do not want to get hurt. Bad faith is in Jack’s favor because the other boys believe there is no other option than to listen to him. They think that if they do not obey they will be beaten or starved. They do not believe they are able to separate and live by themselves to survive and they do not want to be a victim of Jack’s violence so they listen to him.
While bad faith is not one of Berger’s types of social control, acts of this occur in both Lord of the Flies and Obedience. Bad faith is described by Berger as the decision to believe “something is necessary that in fact is voluntary” (143). It is believing there are no other options and no choice to be made when in reality there actually are, it just might have consequences the individual may not want, leading them to believe there are actually no other options, and that they are not free (Berger, 143). The boys believe their only option is to listen to the new leader Jack because he uses mechanisms of social control, like violence and economic pressure, so they lose sight of what is really important which is working together and getting off the island alive. In the same way, the documentary Obedience shows the volunteer believing they have no other choice than to continue with the experiment because they are told it is essential. This leads to the next form of control.
Mental and verbal pressures are another form of social control that can be used to maintain a position of authority. The documentary Obedience is a good example of this because the volunteer believes they must continue with the experiment, and keep shocking the victim because the researcher keeps using mental and verbal pressures. The researcher is not threatening them with violence or economic pressure in this situation but instead simply stating that they must continue with the experiment because it is essential, and does not readily comply with the volunteer’s pleas to stop. Possible reasons why it is hard to defy authority in this situation is that there is arguably an illusion of a threat to the person, such as the fact that the researcher will not listen and will argue back by saying they have no choice other than to continue. The volunteer would want to avoid any negative consequences of disobeying someone in a position of authority. When the experiment was conducted over the phone obedience dropped. While the researcher could keep saying they must continue there is arguably a separation between them so it is easier to defy that authority. Also, the volunteers were told they are not responsible for what happened so that cleared their conscience and made it easier for them to continue, which is the opposite of putting pressure on the volunteer but is still a verbal and mental way to maintain control.
In conclusion, the types of social controls used can make it difficult for people to defy authority. In Invitation to Sociology Berger discusses six forms of social control that can be used to obtain a position of authority. In Lord of the Flies, violence and economic pressures are used. In Obedience, mental and verbal pressures are used. It is hard to defy authority when these social controls are used because of social location, bad faith, needs, and fear.
- Berger, P. (1963). Invitation to sociology. New York, NY: Anchor Books.