Political Authority, Social Control and Public Policy: Volume 31

Cover of Political Authority, Social Control and Public Policy

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(19 chapters)


Pages i-xiii
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This chapter explores social control from a theoretical perspective based on rhetoric. The chapter highlights three theorists whose insights enable us to see how social control functions. First, the chapter examines the work of Michel Foucault, in particular his notions of power, as they relate to the way social control operates. Second, key concepts from Antonio Gramsci reveal the ways in which social control discursively sustains its hold on society. Finally, the work of Louis Althusser is discussed, especially his notion of interpellation, as it yields a way to view how ideology and social control are interrelated rhetorically. By focusing on the rhetoric of social control, we can gain an understanding of how social control operates and is used by particular agents in society.

Part I Formal Mechanisms of Social Control


The militarization of police has garnered great attention in recent decades. Bolstered by the wars on drugs and terrorism, police agencies have been receiving military weapons and equipment since the 1033 Program was authorized by the Department of Défense. A recent American Civil Liberties Union investigation on police raids found that militarization has occurred with almost no oversight. They studied more than 800 paramilitary raids and found that almost 80% were for ordinary law enforcement purposes like serving search warrants in people’s homes; only 7% were for genuine emergencies, such as barricade or hostage situations. Most compelling, the raids disproportionately targeted people of color. This chapter traces the history of police militarization in America, and how it has targeted and adversely affected minority communities.


Law enforcement social control policies over black Americans can be traced back to early policing. From the development of the “patroller” system (established in 1794 to systematically police slaves) to contemporary police militarization, the relationship between black Americans and the police has been defined by bitter conflict that continuously results in outward expressions of discontent and protests. Recent examples abound, including the Los Angeles riots in the 1990s, the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the protests sparked by the deaths of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. Indeed, social, political, and media speculation has placed police behavior under heavy scrutiny. Questions abound regarding the fairness, appropriateness, legality, and legitimacy of police methods, as critics have accused policing agencies of adopting punitive and repressive measures that target communities of color (and act as provocation for rioting). This chapter will use a critical lens to first investigate the historical social control strategies used against communities of color by law enforcement (beginning with antebellum “beat companies” to more contemporary “broken windows” policies). Next, the author observes that, in addition to institutional evolution, police behavior (specifically related to community policing and responses to community protests) have accordingly shifted since the nineteenth century. For example, the author discusses the three current strategies of protest management (escalated force, negotiated management, and strategic incapacitation) that have all been embraced to varying degrees with relationship to police response to black community protests. Last, the author explores the iterative process of police “command and control” policies and black community protests, noting that these competing forces have “coevolved,” mirroring one another, and feature antagonistic attitudes from both sides.


Crime has declined in the United States over the past 25 years; however, the decrease in victimization has not been equal across all communities. As a result, many law enforcement agencies have concentrated their efforts in high-risk areas, and this concentration of policing can lead to resentment among members of the community, especially if they feel the officers are disrespectful, use excessive force, or disregard their civil rights. These residents are in double jeopardy – experiencing the negative consequences of living in dangerous communities and enduring the direct and indirect costs of aggressive policing. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss community policing as a potential means to increase police legitimacy, strengthen community resilience, and promote prosocial interactions between officers and residents. Community policing is a philosophy that advances organizational approaches designed to leverage citizen engagement and problem solving as proactive strategies to deal with public safety issues, including crime, disorder, and fear of crime. Because community policing is grounded in trust, cooperation, and problem solving, it has the potential to improve residents’ quality of life by developing and strengthening mechanisms of social control and support. Community policing can increase police legitimacy by providing opportunities for community members to examine the actions and policies of the police, assess the alignment of these state-sanctioned activities with residents’ values and needs, and bring the two into agreement. In this chapter the basic principles of community policing will be discussed within the context of how these concepts are related to the exercise of social control and residents’ perceptions of police legitimacy.


This chapter examines the history and evolution of land use regulation in the United States. The economic effect and influence on neighborhood composition is considered. The work of political theorists Antonio Gramsci and Michel Foucault is utilized to analyze the practice of zoning in the United States. An overview of the Standard Zoning Enabling Act, which sets the foundation for zoning within the United States, is presented. Michel Foucault’s notion of “disciplinary power” and Gramsci’s theory of “environmental hegemony” are highlighted to elucidate how land use regulations have operated to enhance the social and economic status of some populations, while limiting the opportunities of others. The potential for changing land use polices is also discussed.


Public spaces are typically for everyone, and can be used by anyone, but governments control how they may be used. Examples of public spaces include roads, public squares, parks, beaches, public libraries, and the Internet. These spaces can be used for a variety of reasons, such as giving people a place to assemble and engage in free speech. Governments cannot avoid applying social control on the usage of public spaces, and their limitations often lead to controversy (whether for being excessive, insufficient, or both).

This chapter discusses the various ways governments apply social control around the world in regards to their public spaces, and how that inevitably intersects with and influences the usage of public spaces. Examples are taken from around the globe, from Tiananmen Square (Beijing, China) to Times Square (New York City, United States), from the American South before the Civil Rights Movement and South Africa during Apartheid, and in various countries impacted by the Arab Spring uprisings.


This chapter provides a cross-cultural look at the intersection of religion and the state with a focus on social control, social movements, political authority, and legitimacy. To better understand the complexities of governance, this chapter examines state social control of religion with a specific focus on the effects of that control on society. State leaders often seek to control and use the power of religion to gain legitimacy, authority, and control over citizens. Conversely, religious leaders sometimes seek to engage and even control the power of the state. This chapter highlights some of what happens when religious leaders directly engage in politics and challenge the social control mechanisms of political authority.

At times religious majorities seek not only to participate in the public square, to make policy, but also to exercise complete control of political and cultural institutions. In many nations, from Christians in the United States to Buddhists in Myanmar, some religious and government leaders share the goal of complete religious control over their societies. What happens to the religions and to the society when these religious and government leaders are successful? What happens to the religion when a state controls, supports, and promotes that religion? This chapter uses the case histories of the repression of the Muslim minority by the Buddhists nationalists in Myanmar and the desires of the United States Christian Dominionists goals to illustrate and highlight the way that the twin powers of the state and religion serve as direct agents of social control by transmitting values of each institution through law, policy, and by punishing those who deviate.

Part II Social Control through Public Policy


Neoliberal globalization processes have created the conditions for the differential incorporation of men and women around the globe (Castles & Miller, 2009; Toro-Morn & Alicea, 2004). Indeed, this has been called the age of global migrations. People are on the move sometimes by their own choice, but most frequently pushed by forces beyond their control. Modern nation-states occupy a curious place in this process as it has traditionally managed and restricted the conditions and terms of entrance. This has prevented groups from entering under legitimate conditions creating migration flows of undocumented peoples. The treatment of refugees by modern nation-states in the global North has been problematic at best, neglectful and criminal at worst. In keeping with the goals of this volume, this chapter examines the rhetoric of one modern nation-state – the United States – in implementing border controls and immigration policies. Nation-states have always sought to control borders and regulate flow of people, but the current era offers some moments that demonstrate the contradictions embedded in the neoliberal regimes for modern, nation-states. In this paper, the authors are attentive to current immigration policies to expose the inconsistencies and tensions. The nation-state with its desire to enforce borders and social controls creates a humanitarian crisis unseen in modern history. The authors propose that modern nation-states in the era of global migrations cannot escape the contradictions engendered by neoliberal globalization.


While deinstitutionalization has changed how and where those with serious mental illness receive mental health treatment, the high rate of homelessness among those with mental illness, the number of mentally ill incarcerated, and the general inadequacy and underfunded nature of public psychiatric resources suggest an inadequate social reaction to their needs. While United States (US) policies have appeared to deemphasize long-term confinement in hospitals, the author contends that various ideologies maintain a process of social control whereby those with serious mental illness continue to be minimized and disempowered within American society.

The author presents three different ideologies for examination: the “otherness” of mental illness, stigma and social exclusion, and perspectives of dangerousness. These ideologies are hypothesized to limit the social capital and power of those with serious mental illness. Considering Antonio Gramsci’s definition of hegemony and “common sense,” this chapter urges a challenge to these hardened ideologies if those with serious mental illness are to have greater inclusion in US society.


To explain the persistent abhorrent perspective society holds of sex offenders, the concept of sex offenders, the evolution of salient sex offender legislation, and the relationships between sex offenders and social control with a focus on the current and emerging socio-legal issues are discussed. As one of the most vilified criminal offenders, sex offenders are inextricably related to social control as demonstrated by the disproportionately imposed legal restrictions they have experienced compared to offenders without a history of sex crimes. Public support of excessive punishments toward sex offenders has been bolstered by societal depictions that have induced perceptions of sex offenders as monstrous beings.

Aversions toward sex offenders unfold when it is perceived that the solidarity of society is dissolute and volatile. During these periods of perceived social disintegration, mass media emerges as a source that can contextualize the depraved actions of sex offenders, though the media have arguably perverted their role as an educator and contributed to misinformation. Education and revised evaluative assessments of sexual recidivism are suggested as approaches to redefine how sex offenders should be portrayed, as a heterogeneous group of individuals that vary in their amenability to rehabilitative treatment.

Part III Resistance and Reification: Surveillance, Political Violence, and Mass Media


We live in an age of unparalleled access to personal data. Technological advances that seem second nature today allow for the mass accumulation of personal information by even the smallest of companies. The same technology also can be used directly by the state to accumulate mass information on its citizens. In the hands of government law enforcement officials, these surveillance advances also can be used to greatly enhance the state’s ability to exercise social control – a circumstance that has both positive and negative connotations. This chapter discusses the increasingly important confluence of privacy rights, surveillance, and social control as seen from a constitutional standpoint.

After years of limiting the expectations of privacy that citizens may have in their day-to-day lives, several recent Supreme Court decisions have attempted to take account of the privacy expectations held by individuals in today’s ever-evolving technological world, and in doing so have limited the ability of law enforcement to engage in surveillance without first obtaining a warrant. Yet more needs to be done. Specifically, the author argues that the law of standing must be updated to permit judicial claims by individuals who challenge the legality and constitutionality of comprehensive surveillance programs.


The “4th Industrial Revolution” is characterized by a rapidly developing integration of digital technology and “cyber-physical” capability. Diffusion of open source technology has been cited by security and policing theorists, who note an emerging array of technology-enabled challenges to status quo security regimes. What characteristics define post-industrial crime, and how do post-industrial criminal methods challenge industrial-era security and policing regimes? This chapter opens with an overview of the “4th Industrial Revolution” and its theoretic challenges to conventional security and crime controls. Several pathways of impact are defined in terms of their challenges to industrial-era security, policing, and social controls, and in the complications posed by expanding state countermeasures to combat them. The chapter describes a series of practical, legal, ethical, and technical challenges to be considered for policing and security policy as the 4th Industrial Revolution proceeds.


Police technology fundamentally shapes the police role, and the adoption of technology is even linked to the success of police reforms. Police adoption of emerging technological tools changes the way police interact with citizens. The change in police citizen interactions can then have serious implications for the social control that police have over citizens, the civil liberties citizens enjoy, police accountability, and the legitimacy that the police hold in contemporary American society.

While technology impacts these critical issues in policing, not all technology adopted by the police is likely to influence their relationship with the public. As such, this chapter closely examines the ways that several emerging technologies adopted by the police (i.e., body-worn cameras (BWC), aerial surveillance, visual surveillance, social media, mapping and crime prediction, and less lethal force technology) impact issues related to social control, accountability, and legitimacy. The current literature seems to indicate that some innovations such as BWCs enhance police accountability and legitimacy, and also expand social control. Other technologies such as aerial surveillance and conducted energy devices increase social control, and display a complicated or unclear influence over police legitimacy.


In a democratic system such as the United States, freedom of expression and free speech are core values in the Constitution and fiercely protected by civil liberties organizations and advocates. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right to protest and to express what may be considered unpopular or dissenting opinions. However, the right does not extend to incitement of violence and the state is authorized to protect the safety of citizens. One of the most recent movements challenging the country’s recognition of freedom of expression has been the alt-right/white nationalist movement, particularly Richard Spencer who is a vocal white supremacist and president of the National Policy Institute. A number of universities such as Auburn University, Texas A&M, the University of Florida, and Michigan State University recently found themselves in the middle of a free speech and expression event versus the potential for political violence situation because of the rhetoric of Spencer’s White Lives Matter campus tour and possibility of protests or counter-protests following his speeches. This invites the question of to what extent a university can ban controversial speakers out of concern for violence and when must they allow controversial speech? The chapter will start by looking at state control of political protests and speech in the United States and then how similar dissent is addressed in other countries.

Internationally, dissent is often handled differently with much less tolerance and often a more confrontational response by the state. For example, following the Arab Spring and passage of restrictive laws to prohibit influencing public opinion, Saudi Arabia has seen a rise in political arrests as the state uses its authority to suppress political competitors and consolidate power. The State Security Agency, overseen by the king, claimed in September 2017 that a group of academics, scholars, writers, and leading Islamist figures were inciting violence and called for their arrest. This wave of arrests along with several prior ones and state exercise of media control, exemplifies Saudi Arabia’s desire to suppress dissent by exercising state control. In Venezuela, a law prohibiting messages of hate from being transmitted via broadcast and social media was passed, carrying a possible sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted. The Assembly claimed the law was intended to promote “peace, tolerance, equality, and respect,” but it has been criticized for suppressing extremist sectors of right-wing political groups in the country. Additional case studies of Uganda’s use of military forces to control public outcry over corruption and deteriorating public services will also be evaluated.


“The Need to Disrupt Social Control” discusses three examples: sexual assault, civil rights, and state security, and how all three involve social control forces that promote or permit the oppression of individuals, groups, and societies. Amentahru Wahlrab, Sarah M. Sass, and Robert Edward Sterken Jr. briefly provide examples of how social control can be disrupted including #MeToo (sexual assault), the American Civil Rights Movement (civil rights), and the Arab Spring (authoritarian regimes) to illustrate how social control has been disrupted in these areas. The chapter illustrates how patriarchal norms allow for sexual assault by those with power within contexts, such as Hollywood, academia, business, and politics. Sexual assault survivors and bystanders often do not report instances of assault due to informal social norms permitting such actions and fear of personal and professional harm.

On a different level, the jail in the American south was one of the most feared institutions for African Americans. It was not uncommon for an African American to never return from what would be a night in the “drunk tank” for a white person. Black Americans stayed “in their place” due to the threat of the jail cell. Finally, the chapter details how tyrants use the full weight of state security forces, including the police and the military, to maintain their control. Fear of security forces is routinely encouraged by arrests, torture, and even disappearance (of people) at the hands of the security forces. “The Need to Disrupt Social Control” concludes that in these cases, social control maintains an oppressive order of some kind, thus social control is understood as a potential negative.


This chapter examines the role mass media plays in the maintenance of social control and policy formulation and implementation in the Trump political era. First, an historical survey of mass media theory is presented and used as an analytic lens through which to identify that mass media has long been recognized as a powerful tool of social control or disruption and in public policy formulation and implementation. Second, this chapter explores the challenges posed to society and policy when a president uses mass media to spread misinformation and disinformation. Third, this chapter identifies the divisive nature of US political attitudes in the Trump era and how social media contributes to cleavage. Fourth, this chapter explores efforts by foreign actors, particularly Russian, to spread discursive and thus social chaos through disinformation campaigns in the United States and other western democracies. This chapter concludes that mass media has been both a divisive and uniting force, although the rise of social media and its susceptibility to manipulation poses a danger to social cohesion and effective public policy formulation and implementation. These factors have contributed to civil divisiveness and lack of policy clarity.


Pages 275-287
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Cover of Political Authority, Social Control and Public Policy
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Public Policy and Governance
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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