A Theory about Control

A Theory about Control

A Theory about Control

A Theory about Control


"Moving beyond his 1989 book, Control: Sociology's Central Notion, Jack Gibbs develops in this new book a comprehensive theory of control in all its biological, technological, and human dimensions. His treatment goes beyond conventional ideas about social control to show why self-control and proximate control are essential to understanding human interaction. He also argues that thinking of control in terms of the counteraction of deviance is insufficient. Tests of Gibbs's control theory, based on data from sixty-six countries, add credence to his claim that control could be the central nation for sociology and perhaps for other social sciences." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Edward Shils (1985:810) argued that "the original programme of sociology"—legitimacy in the academy and on the part of the educated public—"has been achieved" in large part, though the intellectual task of "discovery of the fundamental laws of social life" remains. Today, neither the legitimacy of sociology nor its fundamental intellectual task seem secure.

There is no shortage of diagnoses as to why this should be the case. Most focus on such matters as the neglect of undergraduate teaching among academic departments of sociology, the balance between "basic" and "applied" sociology, or on other internal divisions within the discipline. But something more fundamental may be involved.

Sociology is a congeries of theoretical and methodological perspectives and substantive interests. Sociologists are: contentious about such differences, and they worry about too much diversity. With rare exceptions, however, worrying has not translated into serious scholarly attention to explication of key concepts or debate as to whether sociology requires a "central notion" or what that notion might be.

Jack Gibbs is one of those rare exceptions. In Control: Sociology’s Central Notion,Gibbs (1989) argued not only that control should be the discipline’s central notion but also that failure to agree on a central notion is debilitating to sociology, retarding its theoretical power and development, and contributing to fragmentation and the lack of cumulative knowledge. Others, including the editor of the most recent (1988) Handbook of Sociology and co-editor of a National Academy of Sciences/National Science Foundation-sponsored assessment of "Achievements and Opportunities" of all the behavioral and social sciences (Gerstein, et al., 1988), seem to forecast the demise of sociology as an "identifiable field" in the future (Smelser, 1988:13).

A reviewer of the aforementioned Handbook expressed his unease that the volume pays scant attention to the work of several important scholars "because their work cannot be fitted neatly into the boxes of disciplinary subfields. Instead, these sociologists speak to our discipline as a whole" (Powell, 1989: 493; emphasis added).

The implications of this assessment are troubling, suggesting not only that sociology lacks an agreed-upon core, but that important work of relevance to . . .

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