Guide to the vibrant and

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promoted its reform agenda in the late

1990s as “a new contract for welfare.” Under this

contract, social security recipients are expected

to fulfill their obligations, especially in relation

to paid work, in exchange for social benefit rights

and also opportunities, such as training, offered

by government. Such developments have led to

the suggestion that a process of “contractualization”

is increasingly governing the relationship

between government and individual citizens.

There is a strong feminist critique of the social

contract, developed most comprehensively by

Carole Pateman in The Sexual Contract (1988). Her

argument is that women were not party to the

social contract, which was also a sexual contract.

As such, it established men’s political and sexual

rights over women. The social contract thus spelt

patriarchal subjugation, not freedom, for women.

Although the social contract was represented as

applying only to the public sphere, the feminist

critique emphasizes the interrelationship of

public and private (domestic) spheres and therefore

that the sexual social contract regulates

both spheres. The notion of a “gender contract”

has also been proposed, initially by Scandinavian

theorists, to describe the pattern of implicit rules

that govern social relations between women

and men and the organization of production and

reproduction and associated social institutions.


social control

This term has been used to describe anything

from nursery social-skills training to incarceration

in prisons and closed-circuit television surveillance

systems. It is one of the key concepts in the

lexicon of political and social sciences and is

present in a range of fields including education,

the welfare state, workplaces, psychiatry, and,

more obviously, crime control. The concept is intimately

linked to issues of social order – how

individuals, groups, and societies organize their

lives together. Today, the term social control is

often used to refer to some form of organized

reaction to deviant, criminal, worrying, or otherwise

troublesome behavior. One key writer,

Donald Black, has argued in The Behaviour of Law

(1976) that social control generally refers to the

normative aspect of social life and to prohibitions,

accusations, and punishment.

The term came into frequent use in the 1960s

when academic and professional critics alike

focused on the idea that the state was less benign

in its intentions than previously understood.

Indeed, reactive and reparative criminal justice

system interventions came to be seen as repressive.

Fueled by protest movements in the United

States and in Europe and an emerging (often

Marxist-inspired) left-wing politics in Britain, coercive

aspects of social control were identified in

social work, medicine, psychiatry, law, probation

work, and schooling, for instance. The state was

thought to be intruding into the private lives of

individuals, with frequent surveillance and regulation.

As Stanley Cohen put it in Visions of

Social Control (1985), “social control has become

Kafka-land”. Michel Foucault’s subsequent recognition

of the processes of diffuse societal power

in the 1980s added analytical sophistication and

social contract social control


broadened the concept to include the discursive

construction, ideology, and production of meaning,

as well as institutional practices. Foucault

refers to a continuous disciplinary discourse, for

example, in which power emanates as much from

forms of knowledge that shape social relations

as from the state or a mode of production. Cohen’s

work on the “punitive archipelago” (1985) has

also been influential in deepening our understanding

of the nature and meaning of social

control. As discipline is dispersed from custody

into the community, and as new technologies

and professional interests are developed, we are

all drawn into the control enterprise. Gated cities,

zero-tolerance, exclusion zones, and new laws to

regulate “anti-social behavior” in the street all

feature here. It is also of significance that a good

deal of control has been removed from direct

state oversight and become privatized, with private

security firms, voluntary agencies, and

communities all playing a part in the commodification

of social control.

Social control theory reflects a sociological approach

to the nature of conformity. Early social

control theorists suggested that juvenile delinquency

occurred when individuals had a weak

ego or poor self-concept. Thus delinquents were

deemed to lack the requisite personal controls

to produce conformity. Later studies explained

conformity in terms of “ties” to the conventional

social order. F. Ivan Nye in Family Relationships and

Delinquent Behavior (1958) identified four types of

control: direct (based on the promise of rewards

and the threat of punishment), indirect (based

on affectional ties to conventional persons), internalized

(based on the development of individual

personality and conscience), and control

over opportunities (for deviant and conventional


Travis Hirschi’s notion of “social bonds” outlined

in The Causes of Delinquency (1969) is probably

the most widely known version of social control

theory. There are four components: attachment

(to significant conventional others), involvement

(in conventional activities), belief (respect for

society’s laws), and commitment (having a stake

in conformity). Subsequent researchers have

sought to refine the theory by looking at the

nature and quality of attachments. The theory is

at its weakest when it comes to thinking about the

interactive effects of the different components,

but Hirschi’s version of social control theory is

widely perceived to have been hugely influential.


social Darwinism

This extends the theory of natural selection to

the human social world. As Charles Darwin himself

argued, humans are a form of animal. They,

like all other animals, must have been subject to

the processes of evolution (see evolutionary

theory). They must have competed among themselves

and with other species for survival in the

context of limited resources. And those humans

with special characteristics (those with, for

example, special physical or intellectual resources)

must have prevailed and reproduced

future generations. Such ideas predated the publication

of the theory of natural selection by

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–

1913). Herbert Spencer is particularly well known

in this regard. The weakest members of what he

called a “race” have died out in the process of

human evolution. Meanwhile, the average fitness

of a race has improved as those surviving pass on

their characteristics to future generations.

One strong implication of this argument is

that humans have evolved as naturally competitive.

Furthermore, social care for the sick

and weak should be strictly limited. Such care,

particularly by governments, would only stop

the winnowing process and reverse the process of

steady social improvement. The fittest would

thereby not survive and the stock of people

would be weakened and die out. This is the version

of social Darwinism which is perhaps best

known. It was Spencer’s view and one which

Darwin himself occasionally reiterated. Furthermore,

it found widespread support, particularly

amongst those, including William G. Sumner, promoting

free trade in nineteenth-century America.

But Darwinism has been recruited in different

ways by other kinds of politics and in other

kinds of society. Sidney Webb (1859–1947), the

British Fabian socialist, concluded from Darwin’s

and Wallace’s theory that state intervention be

implemented. It is not individuals who are competing

for survival, Webb believed, but whole societies.

And perpetual struggle between societies

for domination would, in the long run, only be

damaging to individuals. It was therefore up to

governments to step in, providing jobs, housing,

and social security on a scale allowing society

to remain fit and healthy. Such well-being was

particularly required by a society then at the

center of the biggest empire the world had seen.

The Russian anarchist writer Prince Kropotkin

(1842–1921) interpreted Darwin in yet another

way. He argued that it is in all animals’ very

social control social Darwinism


nature to be collaborative. They are not predisposed

to compete for survival. His survey of the

animal kingdom concluded that collaboration in

the interests of survival is the rule rather than the

exception. In a similar way, the modern anarchist

Murray Bookchin argued that it is only humans

which compete for survival. The early domination

of males over females during the process of

human evolution has led to a culture of domination,

one spreading to the domination of children

and nonhuman species. These anarchist

writers would still not call for state intervention,

and they would be equally opposed to the use of

Darwin to promote laissez-faire philosophy, free

trade, or the “natural” superiority of men over

women. The lesson of Darwinism was that people

should be left to their own devices. They will make

their own peaceful and collaborative societies

without either state intervention or the widespread

extension of free trade.

These varying interpretations of Darwin suggest

that the application of Darwin’s ideas to

particular social and political projects is largely

misconceived. Darwin and Wallace identified

underlying causal mechanisms operating over

millennia but these are overlaid by social and

political relations which deeply affect whether,

how, when, and where they operate. A central

feature to humans is their immense flexibility;

indeed, this is perhaps the main reason why

they and not other species have survived for so

long. Humans have shown themselves capable

of living in many different types of physical and

social setting. Furthermore, they have demonstrated

themselves capable of being either competitive

or collaborative, of successfully living in

either free-trade or state-administered societies.

Whether they thrive equally well under all these

settings, however, is a somewhat different matter,

one for further careful empirically based research.

Richard G. Wilkinson (Unhealthy Societies, 1996)

and others have produced growing evidence, for

example, that human beings suffer from psychic

and physical disorders under conditions of relative

inequality. Constant exposure to stressful circumstances

can severely affect the body’s immune

system, leaving it open to infections and diseases

such as cancer. D. J. P. Barker in Mothers, Babies

and Health in Later Life (1998) points to widespread

epidemiological evidence that children from the

poorest backgrounds are left with bodily structures

and forms of metabolism which leave

them open to relatively short lives and diseases

such as diabetes. Humans and other animals

have probably inherited during their evolution

mechanisms which ensure that in straitened

circumstances the most basic of organs (such as

the brain) are not too damaged while others (such

as the pancreas) are left in a poor state. And these

problems can be passed on over time as a woman’s

own intrauterine experience affects her children,

and so on down the generations.

Evolutionary and biological processes are therefore

still combining with social relations, albeit

in complex and varied ways. Developing a new

social Darwinism would entail sociologists and

natural scientists working together to track how

inherited biological and psychic mechanisms combine

with social systems to produce some people

who are fit while others live short and relatively

unhealthy lives. As Peter Dickens (Society and

Nature, 2004) suggests, this could imply a realist

perspective, one which acknowledges real causal

mechanisms and processes but explores how these

are developed and realized in different social


social distance

Analogous to the idea of physical distance, which is

the degree of separation between two physical entities

in terms of units of length, social distance is

the degree of separation between two social entities

in terms of an appropriate social metric. The analogy

is easy to appreciate, and ideas of personal

closeness and distance are common in everyday

language. The organization of ritual, ceremony,

and everyday life in very many societies leads different

people of different social categories to be

located in a way that maps social space onto physical

space, which in turn radically affects the possibility

of communication and interaction between

them. It also has consequences for conceptions of

privacy and the public sphere, and resonances with

conceptions of sociometry. However, despite the

richness of the metaphor given these correspondences,

the nature of the social entities and what

metrics should be used in defining social distance

are not simple matters.

The concept has its roots in the work of Georg

Simmel, who articulated a complex linkage between

physical and metaphorical social spaces.

His ideas were greatly simplified and operationalized

in the Bogardus social-distance scale. This

asked respondents whether they would admit

someone from another social, ethnic or racial

group to various groupings of which the respondent

was part. The closest was admittance to one’s

family by marriage, and ranged through being

in one’s neighbourhood, profession, or country.

Some variants of the scale even had as the most

social Darwinism social distance


distant extreme the willingness to allow members

of the target group to be alive. In each category

of closeness, there is a clear implication of physical

distance and in turn of the frequency with

which one might interact with that person. The

impact of social distance on linguistic form has

been explored in studies of conversation, and is

used to account for why different modes of expression

are used by speakers to achieve what

are ostensibly the same interactional purposes in

different situations. The variable use of secondperson

singular and plural forms when addressing

a single other person, for example tu (a familiar

“thou”) and vous (a formal “you”) in French,

is typically explained in terms of horizontal and

vertical social distance, that is, familiarity and

comparative social status respectively.

The correspondence between physical and

social distance is greatly affected by technologies

that change our capacity to interact with one

another when not copresent. By permitting interaction

at a distance, they seemingly undercut

the effect of physical distance on social distance.

This began with the invention of writing, and has

been greatly extended by the development and

spread of numerous communication technologies.

It is widely observed, however, that these technologies,

which permit high-quality visual and

auditory connections between people in different

parts of the planet, still do not permit one to

have the same sense of being together as actual

physical copresence permits. Whether this will

still prove to be the case as more children grow

to adulthood in a world in which these technologies

are a commonplace remains to be seen.


social economy

This term denotes the social character of economic

life and rejects the idea that the market

and the economy generally can operate independently

of social life as a whole. In premodern

society, it is obvious that the way that wealth

was appropriated affected one’s social position,

so that one’s relationship to the means of production

had obvious ideological and cultural


Liberalism, however, has traditionally argued

otherwise. Indeed, classical liberalism postulated

the existence of individuals in a “state of nature”

in which these individuals acted as isolated atoms,

without relationships or social ties. Some took the

view that this individualism made economic life

impossible; others held the view that individuals

could trade and even agree to the use of money,

before establishing a social order. The latter version,

associated in particular with the work of

John Locke (1632–1704), assumed that the state

was the product of a social contract, and that

trading and the acquisition of wealth could occur

“naturally” and independent of society as such.

Even when liberals abandoned the notion of

the state of nature (at the end of the eighteenth

century), they still continued to believe that the

market was autonomous and independent of the

state, and in practice, if not always in theory,

they saw individuals as “abstracted” from society.

Indeed, one could argue that the exchange process

creates the illusion that individuals enter

into transactions as autonomous individuals: by

law, individuals are deemed “equal” even though

they may have dramatically different amounts

of social power at their disposal. The very notion

of contract assumes an equality that may be

purely formal, and belied by real differentials in

wealth and power.

In reality, economic life has always been social

in character. It is impossible to produce without

cooperation, but a stark division of labor between

those who work and those who command

the services of others may create the illusion that

the creation of wealth occurs outside society. Production

of wealth is not only a social process; it

also dramatically influences the wider character

of society, so that, strictly speaking, the concept

of a “social economy” is pleonastic, that is, the

word social is redundant since an economy cannot

be other than social in character.

Many liberals in the late nineteenth century

became conscious of the social character of wealth

creation, and they expressed concern about the

social divisions that had accompanied the production

process. Indeed, sociology as an academic

discipline arises on the assumption that

human activity in all its forms is inherently social

in character, so that it makes no sense to see the

economy as somehow separate from society.

New liberals, social democrats, and many conservatives

stressed the need to integrate individuals

into society, and this meant reforming the

market so that a stake in society could be more

widely shared. Individualism became less and less

abstract and it is increasingly seen that, when

people enter into market relations, they do so as

real people with differential amounts of wealth

and social power. JOHN HOFFMAN

social exclusion

This is a concept that has become increasingly

dominant in European poverty discourses (and to

social economy social exclusion


a lesser extent in international development) in

recent years. However, the concept has little purchase

in the United States. The concept’s theoretical

roots lie in the sociological thought of Max

Weber (as a process of social closure); of E´mile

Durkheim and Robert K. Merton (as undermining

social integration); and of Thomas H. Marshall (as

the denial of citizenship rights).

The concept’s modern usage is, however, more

political than sociological in origin. It was

deployed in France in the 1970s and early 1980s

to denote what had happened to marginalized

groups who had fallen through the net of the

social insurance system, and was then applied

more broadly to conditions of precariousness.

The term was adopted by the European Commission

in the late 1980s and is now firmly embedded

in European Union policy. It was appropriated

by the United Kingdom’s New Labour government

when it came to power in 1997, with the

establishment of the Social Exclusion Unit. This

adopted a problem-oriented approach to social

exclusion focused on particular vulnerable groups

and neighborhoods.

Social exclusion is a concept with multiple

meanings. Ruth Levitas (The Inclusive Society, 1998)

identifies three competing discourses: redistributive

egalitarian (RED); moralistic underclass

(MUD); and social integrationist (SID). The last is

most prominent in European policy, with its

emphasis on paid work as the route to social


Social exclusion is not a synonym for poverty,

even though it is often treated as such. There is

considerable debate as to the exact empirical and

conceptual relationship between the two and

around their political usage. Empirical research

has identified a number of dimensions of social

exclusion in the spheres of the labor market,

social integration/isolation, politics, and service

provision. These dimensions overlap to varying

degrees with material poverty, with social isolation

showing only a weak association. Research

in the United Kingdom has not yet identified a

significant group excluded on all the dimensions

of social exclusion. This has led some analysts to

conclude that it is better to talk about specific

dimensions of exclusion rather than an undifferentiated

category of socially excluded people.

Skepticism has been expressed in some quarters

as to what the concept of social exclusion adds

to our understanding of poverty. There are fears

that it can be used politically to downplay the

significance of material poverty itself. Some exponents

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