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Criminology Black's Theory of Law and Social Control
by
Bradley Campbell

Introduction

Developed by Donald Black and since extended and applied to various subjects by a number of scholars, Black’s theory of law and social control addresses a phenomenon relevant to specialists in nearly every subfield of social science: the handling of human conflict. The theory’s subject matter is present wherever there are moral disputes, wherever one person has a grievance against another, wherever one person defines another’s behavior as deviant. Conflict may occur wherever there is social life, then, and it may lead to arrests, restraining orders, suicides, thefts, boycotts, protests, revolutions, and numerous other responses. But the nature of the disputes themselves does not explain how they are handled. Some insults may lead to homicides, for example, and some homicides may lead to executions. But not all of them do. Likewise not all landlord-tenant disputes result in lawsuits, and not all marital infidelity results in divorce. According to Black’s theory, this kind of variation—variation in social control, or the handling of conflict—can be explained sociologically. Every case of conflict has a social geometry (or social structure) consisting of the social characteristics of everyone involved—such as whether they are wealthy or poor and whether they are intimates or strangers. The geometry of the case predicts how it is handled. This type of explanation—called pure sociology—distinguishes Black’s theory not only from other theories of law and social control but also from all other theoretical paradigms. Pure sociology thus may be applied to subjects other than law and social control. Any form of social life may be explained with its social geometry.

General Overviews

Black’s theoretical strategy, pure sociology, differs from other sociological paradigms both in what it seeks to explain and how it explains it. Pure sociology conceives of human behavior as social life rather than as the behavior of individuals, and it is social life itself that behaves—or varies from one situation to the next. Further, the behavior of social life is explained not with the characteristics of people—either individuals or groups—but with its location and direction in a multidimensional social space. Pure sociology conceives of human behavior in entirely social terms, then, and its explanations differ fundamentally from those of other approaches. Black 1979 gives a concise overview of this strategy, and Black 1995 discusses its main features and epistemological assumptions. Black 2000a and Black 2000b compare pure sociology with conventional sociological work and argue that the strategy allows for much more scientific explanations of social phenomena. Cooney 2006 similarly argues for the strategy’s advantage in explaining the phenomena that interest criminologists, while Michalski 2008 compares the global nature of pure sociology with the parochial concerns of other approaches. The essays in Horowitz 2002 discuss the importance, reception, and influence of pure sociology and of Black’s work generally. For applications of pure sociology to specific subjects, see The Theory of Law, The Theory of Social Control, The Theory of Violence, and Beyond Law and Social Control.

  • Black, Donald. 1979. A strategy of pure sociology. In Theoretical perspectives in sociology. Edited by Scott G. McNall, 149–168. New York: St. Martin’s.

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    A concise overview of pure sociology. Discusses the five dimensions of social space and their relation to previous sociological work. Also notes how the approach can be applied to law, medicine, ideas, and art. Reprinted in Black 1998 (cited under The Theory of Social Control).

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  • Black, Donald. 1995. The epistemology of pure sociology. Law and Social Inquiry 20:829–870.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-4469.1995.tb00693.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The most comprehensive discussion of pure sociology to date. Discusses the aims and characteristics of the paradigm and the standards by which theories employing it should be evaluated. Also details how pure sociology differs fundamentally from other sociological strategies by avoiding psychology, one-dimensionality, units of analysis, anthropocentrism, and teleology.

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  • Black, Donald. 2000a. The purification of sociology. Contemporary Sociology 29:704–709.

    DOI: 10.2307/2655236Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that modern sociology has advanced little beyond the classics, and where it differs it is less scientific. Pure sociology, however, advances beyond classical sociology to offer a new way of conceiving of the social and of explaining social life.

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  • Black, Donald. 2000b. Dreams of pure sociology. Sociological Theory 18:343–367.

    DOI: 10.1111/0735-2751.00105Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An extended version of Black 2000a, this article also argues that pure sociology enables sociology to advance beyond the classics. Gives more detail on the characteristics of the strategy and also contains a much more extensive discussion of the pure sociology of ideas.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 2006. The criminological potential of pure sociology. Crime, Law, and Social Change 46:51–63.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10611-006-9048-ySave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Notes the key features of the strategy of pure sociology and discusses its contributions to the field of criminology. Argues that most criminological theories do little more than profile criminal offenders or groups, while pure sociology has the ability to explain the actual occurrence of behaviors such as violence and predation.

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  • Horwitz, Allan V., ed. 2002. A continuities symposium on Donald Black’s The behavior of law. Contemporary Sociology 31:641–674.

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    A symposium reflecting on Black 1976 (cited under The Theory of Law). Consists of nine essays by various scholars concerning pure sociology generally and the theories of law and social control more specifically.

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  • Michalski, Joseph H. 2008. Scientific discovery in deep social space: sociology without borders. Canadian Journal of Sociology 33:521–553.

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    Discusses how the characteristics of pure sociology can enable it to become a truly global sociology—unlike the politicized and nationalistic sociologies that are currently dominant.

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The Theory of Law

In Black’s work social control refers to how people define and respond to deviant behavior, and law is governmental social control. Law occurs, then, when citizens call the police, when the police make arrests, or when judges and juries render verdicts. As legal realists in the law schools and labeling theorists within sociology long ago pointed out, these behaviors cannot be explained simply with legal factors. Judicial decisions cannot be predicted simply by referring to precedent, the written law, and the like; nor is police behavior a simple matter of rule enforcement. According to Black it is the social characteristics of cases that explain what legal characteristics cannot. Black 1976 was the first systematic presentation of Black’s theory and remains the best introduction to Black’s theory of law and perhaps to the broader theory of social control as well. Black 2002 and Black 2007 are more recent summaries of the theory’s key ideas and contributions. For those interested not only in the content of the theory but also its intellectual and social history, Baumgartner 2001 discusses the theory’s relation to the sociology of law in the United States, while Black 1997 discusses the history of the theory’s reception. Black 1972, written prior to introduction of the theory, points to the inadequacies of scholarship concerning law and discusses how a truly scientific study of law could advance the field. Baumgartner 1999 and Black and Mileski 1973 give an account of the theory’s basic approach and a selection of articles that examine law in light of many of the theory’s variables. For work that addresses other forms of social control, see The Theory of Social Control and The Theory of Violence.

  • Baumgartner, M. P., ed. 1999. The social organization of law. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

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    A collection of previously published articles by various legal sociologists organized according to the five dimensions of social space identified in Black’s theory of law: stratification, morphology, culture, organization, and social control. The articles included are empirical works on various aspects of legal variation, and they provide evidence concerning the predictions of Black’s theory. The organization and logic of this collection is similar to Black and Mileski 1973, but different articles are included.

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  • Baumgartner, M. P. 2001. The sociology of law in the United States. The American Sociologist 32:99–113.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12108-001-1023-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gives and overview of Black’s theory and situates it within the broader context of American legal sociology. Also discusses the significance of the theory of law to the fields of legal scholarship and sociology.

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  • Black, Donald. 1972. The boundaries of legal sociology. Yale Law Journal 81:1086–1100.

    DOI: 10.2307/795221Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An early statement of some of the key differences between Black’s approach and mainstream legal sociology, which had failed to provide a true science of law due to its concern with practical issues such as legal effectiveness and metaphysical issues such as the essence of law. Describes in general terms what a pure sociology of law would look like.

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  • Black, Donald. 1976. The behavior of law. New York: Academic Press.

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    Though the theory has since been extended in various ways, this remains the most comprehensive and thorough statement of Black’s theory of law. Gives numerous theoretical propositions explaining variation in the quantity and style of law based on the social structures of cases of conflict. Also summarizes the evidence—much of it cross-cultural and historical—supporting each proposition.

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  • Black, Donald. 1997. The lawyerization of legal sociology. Amici 5:4–7.

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    A brief overview of the aims of Black’s theory of law along with a discussion of the state of the sociology of law. Argues that the field has been lawyerized—that most of its practitioners are preoccupied with public policy, jurisprudence, and other matters of interest to lawyers and law professors rather than social scientists.

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  • Black, Donald. 2002. The geometry of law: An interview with Donald Black. International Journal of the Sociology of Law 30:101–129.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0194-6595(02)00021-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gives an overview of the main concepts in Black’s theory of law. Discusses the logic of the theory and includes an exposition of concepts such as partisanship and sociological justice.

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  • Black, Donald. 2007. Legal relativity. In Encyclopedia of law and society: American and global perspectives. Edited by David S. Clark, 1292–1294. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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    Discusses the principal idea of the theory of law—that the law is not constant but instead varies according to the social structure of cases.

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  • Black, Donald, and Maureen Mileski, eds. 1973. The social organization of law. New York: Academic Press.

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    A collection of important works in the sociology of law. The articles included examine various aspects of the relationship of law to other forms of social control, to stratification, morphology, organization, and culture. The organization and logic of this collection is similar to Baumgartner 1999, but different articles are included.

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Issues in the Study of Law

Since the introduction of Black’s theory of law, there have been various extensions of the theory as well as applications of it to particular problems in the field. Black 1987, Black 1992, and Cooney 1994 extend the theory in three ways. Black 1987 extends the theory of compensation—that is, it identifies features that make the compensatory style of law more likely. Black 1992 notes that people can apply social control to themselves and that self-applications of law can be explained with the theory of law. Thus, confessions and guilty pleas can be explained along with arrests, guilty verdicts, and the other legal phenomena previously addressed by the theory. Cooney 1994 extends the theory to explain the variation in the evidence cases attract. Black 1979, Baumgartner 1993, and Black 1984 consider various problems in light of the theory. Black 1979 discusses the measurement of law and notes that the theory’s conceptualization of law as a quantitative variable should ultimately lead scholars to develop more precise interval measures of law. Baumgartner 1993 examines legal discretion, noting that common assumptions about discretion are incorrect, since the exercise of discretion is in fact predictable. Black 1984 points out that common assumptions about litigation in modern America are also incorrect.

  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1993. The myth of discretion. In The uses of discretion. Edited by Keith Hawkins, 129–162. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Notes that legal discretion does not make cases unpredictable. Though discretion may mean outcomes cannot be predicted with a set of legal rules, they are predictable with Black’s theory. Social structures predict discretionary behavior, and so discretion inevitably leads to discrimination in the application of law.

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  • Black, Donald. 1979. A note on the measurement of law. Informationsbrief fur Rechtssoziologie, Sonderheft 2:92–106.

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    Suggests ways of beginning to develop interval measures for the amount of law brought to bear on a case. One such possibility would be to create a scale based on the tendency of people to avoid law. Reprinted in Black 1980 (cited under The Police).

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  • Black, Donald. 1984. Jurocracy in America. The Tocqueville Review 6:273–281.

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    In the course of a discussion of Michel Crozier’s The Trouble with America, examines the role of lawyers and litigation in the contemporary United States. Points out that few conflicts are actually litigated, that lawyers are involved more in negotiation and other tasks than in litigation, that alternatives to law are growing, and that the social environment determines how cases are handled, including whether or not they are litigated.

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  • Black, Donald. 1987. Compensation and the social structure of misfortune. Law and Society Review 21:563–584.

    DOI: 10.2307/3053596Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the compensatory style of law and several different types of liability, mainly in the context of who is held liable in cases of compensation (or who must pay). Explains the increasing compensatory liability of organizations in modern societies, such as where organizations are required to pay for the injuries of individuals. Reprinted in Black 1998 (cited under The Theory of Social Control).

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  • Black, Donald. 1992. Social control of the self. In Virginia review of sociology. Vol. 1, Law and Conflict Management. Edited by James Tucker, 39–49. Greenwich, CT: JAI.

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    Introduces the idea that people can apply social control to themselves, such as when they confess to priests or even execute themselves. Likewise people may subject themselves to law, such as by confessing or pleading guilty to an offense. Suggests that the self-application of law may be predicted with the theory of law—that law obeys the same principles no matter who applies it. Reprinted in Black 1998 (cited under The Theory of Social Control).

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  • Cooney, Mark. 1994. Evidence as partisanship. Law and Society Review 28:833–858.

    DOI: 10.2307/3053999Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows that evidence must be produced. The evidence in a legal case depends on how much the police investigate it, whether witnesses testify, what they say, and whether they are believed. Since each aspect of the production of evidence varies with the social characteristics of those involved, even the facts of a case—at least as presented in court—are predictable with Blackian theory.

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The Mobilization of Law by Citizens

In Black’s theory, the behavior of citizens toward the legal system is one aspect of the behavior of law. When they call the police, for instance, or initiate a lawsuit, that itself is an instance of law that may be explained with the theory. Black 1973 focuses in general on the different ways law may be set in motion. Avakame, et al. 1999, Baumgartner 1978, Baumgartner 1985, Copes, et al. 2001, Doyle and Luckenbill 1991, and Mullis 1995 examine whether people in various contexts are likely to initiate legal cases.

  • Avakame, Edem F., James J. Fyfe, and Candace McCoy. 1999. ‘Did you call the police? What did they do?’ An Empirical assessment of black’s theory of the mobilization of law. Justice Quarterly 16:765–792.

    DOI: 10.1080/07418829900094361Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses data from the National Crime Victimization Survey to examine the reporting of various offenses as well as whether the police made arrests. Findings are generally supportive of the theory but may be viewed as challenging a key component: contrary to Black’s theory, factors associated with citizens’ mobilization of law were not always the same as those associated with arrests.

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  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1978. Law and social status in colonial New Haven. In Research in law and sociology: An annual compilation of research. Vol. 1. Edited by Rita J. Simon, 153–178. Greenwich, CT: JAI.

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    Presents evidence on the use of law among the English Puritans of 17th-century New Haven. Found that high-status citizens were more likely to initiate cases and low-status citizens were more likely to have cases brought against them. Cases involving high-status complainants and low-status defendants were most frequent, while cases involving low-status defendants and high-status complainants were least frequent.

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  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1985. Law and the middle class: Evidence from a suburban town. Law and Human Behavior 9:3–24.

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    Examines the willingness of residents of a suburb to use the law in handling their conflicts. Finds that working-class people are much more willing than middle-class people to call the police about conflicts with intimates or to bring such cases to the municipal court. Neither working-class nor middle-class people brought cases against intimates in the civil court (except for divorce cases).

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  • Black, Donald. 1973. The mobilization of law. Journal of legal studies 2:125–149.

    DOI: 10.1086/467494Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Deals with the mobilization of law—or how the law is set in motion. Mobilization may be reactive, such as when a citizen brings a complaint to the police, or proactive, such as when the police initiate cases themselves. How mobilization is organized affects other aspects of how the law operates, such as the amount of knowledge legal officials have about cases and the ease of legal change. Reprinted in Black 1980 (cited under The Police).

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  • Copes, Heith, Kent R. Kerley, Karen A. Mason, and Judy Van Wyk. 2001. Reporting behavior of fraud victims and Black’s theory of law: An empirical assessment. Justice Quarterly 18:344–363.

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    Attempts to test Black’s theory by examining decisions to report fraud. Includes reporting to nonlegal organizations such as consumer protection agencies as well as reporting to the police, so the dependent variable is not actually “law” as defined by Black. Some of the findings support parts of Black’s theory, but many of the variables studied were unrelated to reporting fraud.

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  • Doyle, Daniel P., and David F. Luckenbill. 1991. Mobilizing law in response to collective problems: A test of black’s theory of law. Law and Society Review 25:103–116.

    DOI: 10.2307/3053891Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the reactions to various neighborhood offenses in several Chicago neighborhoods. Generally fails to find relationships between a number of variables derived from Black’s theory and the reporting of these offenses to police and other officials.

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  • Mullis, Jeffrey. 1995. Medical malpractice, social structure, and social control. Sociological Forum 10:135–163.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02098567Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the empirical evidence concerning malpractice claims in the United States. Many of the patterns identified—such as the fact that poorer patients sue less often than wealthier patients and that patients sue hospitals less often than individual doctors—can be explained with Black’s theory of law.

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The Police

Black’s theory of law applies to all aspects of the legal system, including the behavior of the police, and the articles referenced in this section examine various aspects of police work. Black 1970 considers what police do after responding to a call. At this point, they may choose to record an incident as a crime or not, and their reactions depend on several non-legal aspects of the cases. Geiger-Oneto and Phillips 2003 examines the handling of traffic violations—whether police stop drivers and what they do afterward. Black 1971 and Cooney 1992 focus on arrests, while Borg and Parker 2001 and Lee 2005 examine clearances of homicides. Austin 2005 focuses generally on the activities of police in Singapore, and Black 1980, a collection of essays about the police, gives a comprehensive description and explanation of police behavior in the United States. For empirical works on other aspects of the law, see The Mobilization of Law by Citizens and Criminal Courts.

  • Austin, Timothy. 2005. Life on the atoll: Singapore ecology as a neglected dimension of social order. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 49:478–490.

    DOI: 10.1177/0306624X05274502Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses patterns of law and crime in Singapore with a focus on how the social ecology and social structure predict these patterns. Argues that Black’s theory can partially explain trends in police activity.

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  • Black, Donald. 1970. Production of crime rates. American Sociological Review 35:733–748.

    DOI: 10.2307/2093948Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of police encounters in three American cities reveals that whether an act is officially recorded as a crime depends on factors such as the complainant’s social status, the relational distance between the complainant and suspect, the complainant’s preference, and the complainant’s deference toward the police. Reprinted in Black 1980 (cited under The Police).

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  • Black, Donald. 1971. The social organization of arrest. Stanford Law Review 23:1087–1111.

    DOI: 10.2307/1227728Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents evidence from a study of police encounters in three American cities. Examines factors that lead police to make arrests, and it demonstrates that the likelihood of arrest is determined not just by legal factors such as the amount of evidence but also social factors such as the preferences of complainants, the relational distance between complainants and suspects, and the deference displayed by suspects toward the police. Reprinted in Black 1980 (cited under The Police).

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  • Black, Donald. 1980. The manners and customs of the police. New York: Academic Press.

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    Mainly a collection of Black’s previous writings on the police. Presents evidence from a large observational study of the police and summarizes information from other sources. Police behavior is viewed as one aspect of the behavior of law itself, and so the evidence presented is interpreted in light of Black’s theory of law.

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  • Borg, Marian, and Karen F. Parker. 2001. Mobilizing law in urban areas: The social structure of homicide clearance rates. Law and Society Review 35:435–466.

    DOI: 10.2307/3185409Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An indirect test of Black’s idea that the theory of law predicts whether police will clear a crime. Since it uses aggregate rather than case-level data, it does not directly test the theory, but it finds that macro-level variables associated with Black’s various dimensions of social space are associated with homicide clearance rates in urban areas.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 1992. Racial discrimination in arrest. In Virginia review of sociology. Vol. 1, Law and conflict management. Edited by James Tucker, 99–119. Greenwich, CT: JAI.

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    Reviews the evidence on the role of race in arrest. Even though some of the evidence is inconsistent, it generally displays the patterns predicted by Black’s theory—for example, that whites who offend blacks are arrested less frequently than blacks who offend whites.

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  • Geiger-Oneto, Stephanie, and Scott Phillips. 2003. Driving while black: The role of race, sex, and social status. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice 1.2: 1–25.

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    Based on a survey of students at the University of Houston, examines factors associated with whether drivers are stopped by the police and how they are treated. Finds that race, sex, and various forms of social status derived from Black’s theory all affect police behavior.

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  • Lee, Catherine. 2005. The value of life in death: Multiple regression and event history analyses of homicide clearance in Los Angeles County. Journal of Criminal Justice 33:527–534.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2005.08.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of homicide clearance in Los Angeles County that finds support for Black’s idea that the likelihood of homicide clearance is affected by the social characteristics of the victim. Does not measure many of the variables in the theory, but it does examine the role of race—a variable that is highly correlated with various types of social status. Finds that cases involving white victims are more likely to be cleared.

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Criminal Courts

Black’s theory of law applies to a broad range of behavior, including jury verdicts, sentences, and other aspects of courts and trials. The articles referenced in this section examine the handling of cases in criminal courts. Kruttschnitt 1985 and Mileski 1971 examine factors that influence sentencing, while Kruttschnitt 1980–1981, Kruttschnitt 1982a, and Kruttschnitt 1982b examine variation in the sentencing of female offenders in particular. Myers 1980 examines sentences as well as prosecutors’ decisions and verdicts. For empirical works on other aspects of the law, see The Mobilization of Law by Citizens and The Police.

  • Kruttschnitt, Candace. 1980–1981. Social status and sentences of female offenders. Law and Society Review 15:247–266.

    DOI: 10.2307/3053604Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents evidence that generally supports Black’s theory as applied to the sentencing of female offenders. Women received more severe sentences when they were low in status, unintegrated, or unrespectable.

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  • Kruttschnitt, Candace. 1982a. Women, crime, and dependency: An application of the theory of law. Criminology 19:495–513.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1982.tb00435.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of female offenders processed through a probation department. Consistent with Black’s theory of law, women who were economically dependent on someone else—and therefore likely to be subject to more informal social control—were treated less severely.

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  • Kruttschnitt, Candace. 1982b. Respectable women and the law. The Sociological Quarterly 23:221–234.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.1982.tb01009.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the effect of respectability on the sentencing of female offenders. Employs several indicators of respectability—such as prior psychiatric care and prior drug use, in addition to prior criminality—and examines which is used more often. Regardless of the measure used, respectability was associated with less severe sentencing.

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  • Kruttschnitt, Candace. 1985. Are businesses treated differently? A comparison of the individual victim and the corporate victim in the criminal courtroom. Sociological Inquiry 55:225–238.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.1985.tb00861.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the length of probation sentences for offenders convicted of theft and forgery offenses. Consistent with Black’s theory, those who victimized organizations were treated more severely.

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  • Mileski, Maureen. 1971. Courtroom encounters: An observation study of a lower criminal court. Law and Society Review 5:473–538.

    DOI: 10.2307/3052769Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Describes patterns in the day-to-day operations of a lower criminal court. Includes information on the differential handling of cases. Defendants were treated leniently overall, for example, but those with criminal records were treated more severely in cases of public drunkenness, as were skid-row vagrants.

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  • Myers, Martha A. 1980. Predicting the behavior of law: A test of two models. Law and Society Review 14:835–857.

    DOI: 10.2307/3053211Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of outcomes of cases in a criminal court. Examines whether several variables derived from Black’s theory are related to various aspects of the handling of cases—such as the seriousness of the changes, the verdicts, and the sentences imposed. Results are mixed but generally unsupportive.

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The Theory of Social Control

Conflict is present whenever one person has a grievance against another, and any response to conflict is social control. Law is one way of handling conflict, but it is not the only way. Most conflicts are handled with toleration, avoidance, violence, sorcery, psychotherapy, or some other nonlegal method. How an offense is handled, according to Blackian theory, depends on the conflict’s social structure. Two books that offer an extended and detailed overview of the theory of social control are Black 1998 and Horwitz 1990. Black 1984 and Black 1990 cover the main aspects of the theory, such as the forms of social control, the different ways it varies, and explanations of some of its main aspects. Black 2000 focuses on some of the important differences between Blackian theories and other accounts of social control, while Cooney 2009 examines variation in the social control of homicide. See The Theory of Law and The Theory of Violence for work that specifically addresses those two forms of social control.

  • Black, Donald. 1984. Social control as a dependent variable. In Toward a general theory of social control. Vol. 1, Fundamentals. Edited by Donald Black, 1–36. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

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    Introduces the subject of social control and discusses the primary ways it varies (in form, style, and quantity). Also presents theories of normative variation, settlement, and partisanship. Concludes by discussing the broader context of the theory of social control. Just as law is an instance of the larger phenomenon of social control, social control itself is an instance of evaluation. Reprinted in Black 1998.

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  • Black, Donald. 1990. The elementary forms of conflict management. In New directions in the study of justice, law, and social control. Prepared by the School of Justice Studies, Arizona State Univ. New York: Plenum Press.

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    Identifies the five fundamental forms of social control—toleration, avoidance, self-help, negotiation, and settlement—as well as the multidimensional social structure in which each occurs. Reprinted in Black 1998.

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  • Black, Donald. 1998. The social structure of right and wrong. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

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    Largely a collection of Black’s previous writings on conflict and social control. Gives a comprehensive account of the theory of social control. Includes theories of settlement, partisanship, avoidance, compensation, and of moralism itself.

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  • Black, Donald. 2000. On the origin of morality. Journal of Consciousness Studies 7:107–119.

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    Takes issue with theoretical approaches that identify morality with the standards of social groups. Notes that in the simplest societies the group is rarely the agent of social control, and that in modern societies there is immense variation in the handling of cases. Unlike societal approaches, the case-level approach of pure sociology can explain this variation.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 2009. Is killing wrong? A study in pure sociology. Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press.

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    Perhaps the most thorough and well-designed test to date of the theories of law and social control. Reviews historical, contemporary, and cross-cultural evidence on the handling of homicides, including both legal and nonlegal responses. Responses to homicides, even within a single society, vary immensely, and they can be predicted with the social geometry of the cases.

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  • Horwitz, Allan V. 1990. The logic of social control. New York: Plenum.

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    Guided by the framework of Black’s theories, presents a comprehensive account of the theory of social control and the evidence supporting it. Discusses the styles of social control, the forms of social control, and the effectiveness of social control in a cross-cultural and historical context.

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Issues in the Study of Social Control

With a broad subject matter, Black’s theories of social control apply to issues within a number of different sociological subfields. Black 1983 is relevant to the field of criminology, as it argues that much crime is social control and that it may not be useful to classify it as a form of deviance. Baumgartner 1998 and Cooney 2009 apply the theory to the field of ethnic relations, Borg 1992 to international conflict, and Horwitz 1982 to the handling of mental illness. Pure sociologists have also examined other aspects of social control. Baumgartner 1984 examines upward social control, while Black and Baumgartner 1983 addresses third-party behavior. Black 1984 is a large collection of essays addressing numerous aspects of social control. A great deal of work in pure sociology also addresses the subjects of law and violence. For citations of these works, see The Theory of Law and The Theory of Violence.

  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1984. Social control from below. In Toward a general theory of social control. Vol. 1, Fundamentals. Edited by Donald Black, 303–345. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

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    Addresses various forms of upward social control—cases where lower-status persons act on grievances against higher-status persons. Notes that upward social control is similar to downward social control in employing a penal style and authoritarian procedure.

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  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1998. Moral life on the cultural frontier: Evidence from the experience of immigrants in modern America. Sociological Focus 31:155–179.

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    Presents findings of an ethnographic investigation of ethnic conflicts in the United States. Finds that members of immigrant groups generally use tolerance and avoidance in handling conflicts with outsiders but that they are more confrontational toward members of other minority groups than toward members of the dominant ethnic group.

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  • Black, Donald. 1983. Crime as social control. American Sociological Review 48:34–45.

    DOI: 10.2307/2095143Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Points out that many crimes in modern America, such as homicide, assault, and vandalism, resemble the forms of social control used in stateless societies. They may be explained with a theory of social control rather than crime, then, since their criminality is incidental and not a fundamental feature of the behaviors. Reprinted in Black 1984.

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  • Black, Donald, ed. 1984. Toward a general theory of social control. 2 vols. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

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    A two-volume collection of essays discussing various aspects of social control. Some of the works use Black’s theoretical approach, while others use other strategies to examine the same subject. Includes essays on gossip, compensation, therapy, vengeance, and social control in illegal markets, suburbs, and totalitarian societies. Vol. 1, Fundamentals; Vol. 2, Selected problems.

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  • Black, Donald, and Baumgartner M. P.. 1983. Toward a theory of the third party. In Empirical theories about courts. Edited by Keith O. Boyum and Lynn Mather, 84–114. New York: Longman.

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    Features one of the most important aspects of the theory of social control—the reaction of third parties to a conflict. Presents a typology of third-party behavior, including various types of support and settlement. Reprinted in Black 1998 (cited under The Theory of Social Control).

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  • Borg, Marian J. 1992. Conflict management in the modern world-system. Sociological Forum 7:261–282.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF01125043Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A theoretical discussion of social control among nation-states. Using Wallerstein’s terminology of core and periphery nations, nations can be ranked as having a high or low position in social space. Black’s theory predicts that conflicts between equals, upward conflicts, and downward conflicts are handled in different ways, and so the theory can be extended to identify conflict structures that lead to various forms of international conflict.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 2009. Ethnic conflict without ethnic groups: A study in pure sociology. British Journal of Sociology 60:473–492.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2009.01252.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of ethnic conflict experienced by Muslims and Nigerians in the Republic of Ireland. Finds that lower status and more culturally distant immigrants are subject to more ethnic hostility, while higher status immigrants—though they are subject to less of it—respond more assertively on occasions when they do encounter hostility.

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  • Horwitz, Allan V. 1982. The social control of mental illness. New York: Academic Press.

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    Drawing from a wide range of cross-cultural and historical evidence, examines the social response to mental illness. Also presents an in-depth account of therapeutic social control.

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Social Control in the Workplace

Practitioners of pure sociology have studied the handling of conflict in a number of different settings. Many of these studies examine various aspects of conflict in the workplace. Tucker 1999 examines the handling of conflict in a postbureaucratic organization, while other studies focus on specific types of workplace conflict. For example, Morrill 1989, Morrill 1992, and Morrill 1995 deal with conflicts among executives, Borg 2000 and Borg and Arnold 1997 examine one way employers exercise social control against their employees, and Tucker 1989 and Tucker 1993 document various ways employees exercise social control against their employers. For studies of social control outside of the workplace, see Social Control in Leisure Settings.

  • Borg, Marian J. 2000. Drug testing in organizations: Applying Horwitz’s theory of the effectiveness of social control. Deviant Behavior 21:123–154.

    DOI: 10.1080/016396200266306Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines drug testing in workplaces as a type of compliance strategy, a form of social control that Horwitz predicted would occur in specific social conditions. A study of organizations finds that, consistent with the theory, drug testing is more likely as the workforce becomes larger, less stable, and more diverse.

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  • Borg, Marian J., and William P. Arnold III. 1997. Social monitoring as social control: The case of drug testing in a medical workplace. Sociological Forum 12:441–460.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1024629311818Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of drug testing in anesthesiology departments in the United States Finds that drug testing is more likely in departments where relationships are weak and normative status is low.

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  • Morrill, Calvin. 1989. The management of managers: Disputing in an executive hierarchy. Sociological Forum 4:387–407.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF01115016Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of conflict among executives in a large bank. Consistent with Black’s theory of social control, upward disputes, downward disputes, and lateral disputes were handled using different strategies. For example, upward conflicts among executives were often handled covertly, downward conflicts were often handled unilaterally, and lateral conflicts were often handled by higher-ranking third parties.

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  • Morrill, Calvin. 1992. Vengeance among executives. In Virginia review of sociology, Vol. 1, Law and conflict management. Edited by James Tucker, 51–76. Greenwich, CT: JAI.

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    A study of conflict among executives in a Fortune 500 manufacturing company. Executives handled conflicts in various ways, such as by arguing or negotiating or through vengeful retaliation. Different social configurations were associated with different forms of social control.

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  • Morrill, Calvin. 1995. The executive way: Conflict management in corporations. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Based on a large study of conflict among executives in thirteen corporations. Found that the way executives handled their conflicts was associated with the bureaucratic structure of the organization.

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  • Tucker, James. 1989. Employee theft as social control. Deviant Behavior 10:319–334.

    DOI: 10.1080/01639625.1989.9967820Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Points out that much theft by employees is moralistic—a response to grievances employees have against their employers or supervisors. Moralistic employee theft is more likely on the part of workers who are in marginal positions—such as employees who are socially isolated and who have low-paying, temporary jobs.

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  • Tucker, James. 1993. Everyday forms of employee resistance. Sociological Forum 8:25–45.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF01112329Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of 250 workers employed in temporary positions. Examines how they handled grievances against their employers and finds that the most frequent responses were gossip, toleration, and resignation.

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  • Tucker, James. 1999. The therapeutic corporation. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Examines conflict in an employee-owned manufacturing corporation—an organization with a postbureaucratic structure. Conflicts were commonly handled therapeutically rather than authoritatively. The structure of the organization leads to an environment characterized by intimacy, equality, and homogeneity—an environment in which therapy thrives.

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Social Control in Leisure Settings

While pure sociologists have studied the exercise of social control in formal settings such as workplaces courtrooms, they have also examined ways people handle conflict in more informal settings such as places where they spend their leisure time. As Cooney 1994 points out, even an offense such as homicide may be handled not just in legal settings but also in day-to-day interactions—such as when people cut off communication with killers and their families. In any setting where people interact, there is conflict and various means of handling it. Kuan 2004 examines how adolescents handle conflicts with their peers and parents, while Baumgartner 1984 and Baumgartner 1988 describe how surburbanites handle conflicts with their neighbors. Godard 2003 explains variation in the handling of conflict on reality television shows, Baumgartner 1992 examines conflicts among children in a daycare, and Hoffmann 2006 discusses situations where people criticize one another during Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Finally, Tucker 2004 describes the beliefs and practices of New Age healers, from whom many people seek help in dealing with their inner conflicts. For studies of social control in more formal settings, see Social Control in the Workplace.

  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1984. Social control in suburbia. In Toward a general theory of social control.Vol. 2, Selected Problems. Edited by Donald Black, 79–103. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

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    Presents information from a study of social control in a suburb of New York City. Found that these middle-class suburbanites tended to use nonconfrontational strategies of social control and connects this to their atomization, transiency, and fragmentation of social ties.

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  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1988. The moral order of a suburb. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An ethnographic study of the handling of conflict among residents of a modern American suburb. Argues that social life among these residents is characterized by moral minimalism—that is, they use nonconfrontational methods of handling conflict, such as toleration and avoidance. Social control among suburbanites is thus similar in many ways to social control among hunter-gatherers, and these groups have several structural features in common.

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  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1992. War and peace in early childhood. In Virginia review of sociology. Vol. 1, Law and conflict management. Edited by James Tucker, 1–38. Greenwich, CT: JAI.

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    A study of conflicts among children in a daycare. Found that conflicts erupted frequently but dissipated quickly, that they were commonly handled with mild forms of violence, and that intervention by adults was frequent while intervention by other children was rare. These patterns of conflict can be explained with the children’s atomization, their equality among one another, and their subordination to adults.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 1994. The informal social control of homicide. Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 34:31–59.

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    Reports results of interviews with homicide offenders and their families, who were often subject to various forms of informal social control. Informal social control was generally more severe where law was more severe, except that killings of strangers, while they attracted more law, did not attract more informal social control.

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  • Godard, Ellis. 2003. Reel life: The social geometry of reality shows. In Survivor lessons: Essays on communication and reality television. Edited by Matthew J. Smith and Andrew F. Wood, 73–96. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

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    Examines the handling of conflict on eleven reality television shows and considers how the social structures of the television shows lead to different forms of social control.

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  • Hoffmann, Heath C. 2006. Criticism as deviance and social control in alcoholics anonymous. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35:669–695.

    DOI: 10.1177/0891241606286998Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of social control in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Focuses on the use of criticism, which may be direct, indirect, or humorous. Criticism was primarily used by high-status members of the group against low-status members.

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  • Kuan, Ping-Yin. 2004. Peace, not war: Adolescents’ management of intergenerational conflicts in Taiwan. Journal of Comparative Family Studies 35:591–614.

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    Examines the various ways adolescents in Taiwan handle their disputes. Found that they usually avoid escalating conflicts and use various nonconfrontational strategies. Variables drawn from Black’s theory of law, such as relational distance and social integration, along with various variables drawn from other theories, determined which strategies of social control adolescents used.

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  • Tucker, James. 2004. New age healers and the therapeutic culture. In The therapeutic culture. Edited by Jonathan Imber, 153–169. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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    Discusses the therapeutic nature of New Age religion. Therapy is a morally minimalistic style of social control that focuses on helping a person who has a need, and New Age beliefs in the self as divine, powerful, and sinless are compatible with this style. The social environment of New Age healers is characterized by atomization, equality, and fluidity—features associated with therapeutic forms of social control.

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The Theory of Violence

Not all violence is dispute related, but most is, and violence that occurs in this context is social control, akin to law rather predatory behaviors such as robbery or burglary. That violence—even criminal violence—may be moralistic is an idea unfamiliar and objectionable to many, so overviews of the pure sociology of violence often focus on this feature. Black 2004 discusses four broad types of violence prior to discussing the theory’s application to moralistic violence, and Cooney and Phillips 2002 addresses the distinction between moralistic and predatory violence and the need for this distinction. Jacques and Wright 2008 also distinguishes between the different forms with regard to drug related violence. Tucker 2004 and Vendantam 2007 also make note of this distinction, and they address another important aspect of the pure sociology of violence also pointed out by Black 2004. That is, the social explanations in Black’s theories differ fundamentally from individualistic or societal explanations of violence. A conflict’s geometry, or social structure, is not a characteristic of an individual or group. See also General Overviews and The Theory of Social Control for a discussion of the broader theory.

  • Black, Donald. 2004. Violent structures. In Violence: From theory to research. Edited by Margaret A. Zahn, Henry H. Brownstein, and Shelly L. Jackson, 145–158. Newark, NJ: LexisNexis/Anderson.

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    An overview of the Blackian approach to violence. Identifies four types of violence but notes that most violence is a response to conflict and can be explained with a theory of social control. Presents theories of the behavior of weapons and the social structure of the classic blood feud.

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  • Cooney, Mark, and Scott Phillips. 2002. Typologizing violence: A Blackian perspective. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 22:75–108.

    DOI: 10.1108/01443330210790102Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses two types of violence—moralistic and predatory—and examines their similarities and differences. In the modern United States, for example, low-status persons are more likely to engage in both moralistic and predatory violence. They differ, however, in that predatory violence is more likely to involve high-status victims, strangers, and organizational asymmetry.

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  • Jacques, Scott, and Richard Wright. 2008. The relevance of peace to studies of drug market violence. Criminology 46:221–253.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2008.00102.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the use of violence in drug markets by identifying and classifying different types of violent behavior and comparing related peaceful behaviors. Predatory violence can be compared to peaceful forms of resource transfer—such as fraud, gifts, and sales—while moralistic violence can be compared to peaceful forms of social control such as negotiation, avoidance, and toleration.

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  • Tucker, James. 2004. How not to explain murder. Global Crime 6:235–243.

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    In the course of a critical discussion of the documentary Bowling for Columbine, lays out the basic approach pure sociology takes toward violence. Points out the problem of macrosociological views such as the one presented in the film and argues that occurrences of violence are best explained with case-level features.

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  • Vedantam, Shankar. 2007. A social theory of violence looks beyond the shooter. Washington Post, 23 April.

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    Based on an interview with Black shortly after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, where a single student—Seungh Hui Cho—killed thirty-two persons. The author discusses Black’s theories, how they would begin to explain the massacre, and how such an explanation would differ from other explanations. Available online.

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Domestic Violence

Moralistic violence may occur among intimates such as family members, or it may occur among more distant persons such as acquaintances and strangers. Cooney 2003 describes overall changes in violence over time, including an especially sharp decline in public violence in the last few hundred years. One thing this means is that a greater proportion of the violence in modern societies is intimate violence. Baumgartner 1993 and Michalski 2004 seek to explain violence against women by their husbands, while Peterson 1999 addresses violence—in this case, homicide—against men by their wives. Finally, Tucker and Ross 2005 offers a theory of violence against children by their parents. For work that addresses other forms of violence, see Interpersonal Violence and Collective Violence.

  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1993. Violent networks: The origins and management of domestic conflict. In Aggression and violence: Social interactionist perspectives. Edited by Richard B. Felson and James T. Tedeschi, 209–231. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10123-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on the role third parties play in violence against women by their spouses. Such violence is most likely where women have few supporters, either because the spouses are socially isolated or because women are socially isolated compared to their husbands. Conversely, violence is less likely where women have many supporters, either because both spouses have many social connections or because husbands are socially isolated compared to their wives.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 2003. The privatization of violence. Criminology 41:1377–1406.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2003.tb01023.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses a long-term trend in Western societies: as the amount of violence has declined, it has also become a more private affair. That is, a greater proportion of today’s violence involves individuals rather than groups and intimates rather than strangers.

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  • Michalski, Joseph H. 2004. Making sociological sense out of trends in intimate partner violence: The social structure of violence against women. Violence against Women 10:652–675.

    DOI: 10.1177/1077801204265018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that women are more likely to be subject to violence by intimate partners when they are socially isolated and when they are socially distant from and subordinate to their partners.

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  • Peterson, Elicka S. L. 1999. Murder as self-help: Women and intimate partner homicide. Homicide Studies 3:30–46.

    DOI: 10.1177/1088767999003001003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses moralistic homicides committed by women against intimate partners. Suggests that such homicides occur in situations where women lack access to other means of social control.

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  • Tucker, Jamesand Susan Ross. 2005. Corporal punishment and Black’s theory of social control. In Corporal punishment in theoretical perspective. Edited by Michael J. Donnelly and Murray A. Strauss, 277–286. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Applies Black’s theory of social control to the corporal punishment of children by parents. Suggests that corporal punishment is more likely to occur where family structures are hierarchical, where parents and children are socially distant from one another, and where children are isolated from supporters outside the household.

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Interpersonal Violence

The studies on interpersonal violence referenced here deal with violence that is not collective—or at least does not involve very large groups—and normally occurs between friends, acquaintances, and strangers rather than family members. Cooney 1997a discusses the role of the state in reducing this kind of violence, while Cooney 1997b and Cooney 1998b discuss factors such as status and social ties and their association with violence in various contexts. Cooney 1998a, Phillips and Cooney 2005, and Baumgartner 1992 point to the role of third parties in shaping violence, while Phillips 2003 examines whether a number of factors are related to vengeance in modern America. For work that addresses other forms of violence, see Domestic Violence and Collective Violence.

  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1992. War and peace in early childhood. In Virginia review of sociology. Vol. 1, Law and conflict management. Edited by James Tucker, 1–38. Greenwich, CT: JAI.

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    Examines conflict among children in a daycare. The children were frequently violent, but their violence was mild and of short duration. These features seem to result from the children’s immobility and independence from one another combined with the presence of authorities who repress violence.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 1997a. From warre to tyranny: Lethal conflict and the state. American Sociological Review 62:316–338.

    DOI: 10.2307/2657307Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addresses whether Hobbes was correct that the state acts to reduce the amount of violence in society. Concludes that a weak version of Hobbes’s claim is correct with regard to homicide: that is, most stateless societies have higher levels of homicide than state societies. However, homicide rates may also be extreme in state societies with extremely strong and centralized governments. In these totalitarian societies officials of the state are the agents of violence.

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  • Cooney, Mark 1997b. The decline of elite homicide. Criminology 35:381–407.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1997.tb01222.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Points out that one of the most striking and consistent facts about homicide in modern societies is historically variable. Though killers and victims today are overwhelmingly of low social status, this is not true of simple societies, tribal societies, or even early modern societies. The decline of elite homicide can be explained with the increase in legal means of handling conflict, which are disproportionately available to high-status disputants.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 1998a. Warriors and peacemakers: How third parties shape violence. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    Focuses on the role of third parties in determining whether conflicts become violent and what form the violent takes. The effect of third parties depends on whether they act as settlement agents or partisans as well as whether they intervene forcefully, weakly, warmly, or coldly. How and whether a third party intervenes depends on a conflict’s social configuration.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 1998b. The dark side of community: Moralistic homicide and strong social ties. Sociological Focus 31:135–153.

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    Argues that in contrast to what social disorganization predicts about crime generally, moralistic homicide may flourish where communities are strong. This is true when social interaction in strong communities has characteristics that are conducive to confrontational forms of social control—characteristics such as proximity, immobility, sociability, publicity, and loyalty.

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  • Phillips, Scott. 2003. The social structure of vengeance: A test of Black’s model. Criminology 41:673–708.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2003.tb01001.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tests Black’s theory of vengeance using a case-control method where pairs of conflicts were matched by asking prisoners to describe an incident of vengeance as well as a nonviolent conflict from the same time period. Consistent with Black’s theory, measures of relational distance and functional independence were related to vengeance, though measures of other variables were not.

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  • Phillips, Scottand Mark Cooney. 2005. Aiding peace, abetting violence: Third parties and the management of conflict. American Sociological Review 70:334–354.

    DOI: 10.1177/000312240507000207Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on a study of interviews with men imprisoned for assault or homicide. By matching pairs of violent and nonviolent conflicts, the authors test Black’s theories of partisanship and examine the role of third parties in determining whether a conflict turns violent or remains peaceful. As predicted, close and distant ties were associated with partisanship, and partisanship was associated with violence.

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Collective Violence

Collective violence, violence by groups, comes in numerous forms, each with its own social structure. Senechal de la Roche 1996 and Senechal de la Roche 2001 identify the social conditions associated with four forms of violence—lynching, rioting, vigilantism, and terrorism—while Senechal de la Roche 1997 and Senechal de la Roche 2004 focus on lynching. Building on Senechal de la Roche’s work, Black 2004, Campbell 2009, and Campbell 2010 identify the social structures of terrorism and genocide, and Hawdon and Ryan 2009 uses Black’s theory of terrorism to explain how terrorists are able to plan for and carry out their attacks. For work that addresses other forms of violence, see Domestic Violence and Interpersonal Violence.

  • Black, Donald. 2004. The geometry of terrorism. Sociological Theory 22:15–25.

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    Provides a definition of pure terrorism, which is self-help by organized civilians inflicting mass violence on other civilians and identifies the social geometry associated with it. The theory explains why pure terrorism is a recent phenomenon, and it predicts its eventual demise.

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  • Campbell, Bradley. 2009. Genocide as social control. Sociological Theory 27:150–172.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9558.2009.01341.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Defines genocide as unilateral and organized mass killing on the basis of ethnicity and argues that genocide is a form of social control, a way of handling ethnic conflict. Like other forms of social control, it can be explained with its social geometry, and genocide occurs under conditions of immobility, social distance, and inequality.

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  • Campbell, Bradley. 2010. Contradictory behavior during genocides. Sociological Forum 25:296–314.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1573-7861.2010.01177.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines cases in genocides where the same individuals act as killers and rescuers. Most theories of genocide and rescuing, since they explain behaviors with the properties of groups or persons, cannot explain these cases of “contradictory behavior.” But consistent with the pure sociology of genocide, individuals in such cases kill those who are socially distant and rescue those who are socially close.

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  • Hawdon, James, and John Ryan. 2009. Hiding in plain sight: Community organization, naïve trust and terrorism. Current Sociology 57:323–343.

    DOI: 10.1177/0011392108101586Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addresses the question of how terrorists preparing their attacks remain socially distant but physically close to their targets (as Black’s theory of terrorism predicts) while also remaining undetected. Argues that the avoidance cultures of suburbs provide an environment in which terrorists can forgo interactions with outsiders and insulate themselves from the dominant culture without calling attention to themselves.

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  • Senechal de la Roche, Roberta. 1996. Collective violence as social control. Sociological Forum 11:97–128.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02408303Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Identifies four forms of unilateral, nongovernmental collective violence: lynching, rioting, vigilantism, and terrorism. These are distinguished from one another based on the type of liability used and the degree of organization. Collective violence occurs when conflicts are characterized by social distance and inequality, but the degree of these variables also predicts the particular form of collective violence that arises.

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  • Senechal de la Roche, Roberta. 1997. The sociogenesis of lynching. In Under sentence of death: lynching in the American South. Edited by William Fitzhugh Brundage, 48–76. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

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    Presents a pure sociological theory of lynching, a form of violent social control that involves a logic of individual liability (where only alleged wrongdoers are punished) and a low degree of organization (where the attackers disband after punishing the offender). The social geometry of the conflict—such as the relational distance, cultural distance, functional interdependence, and inequality between the offender and victim—predict whether a lynching will occur and how severe it will be.

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  • Senechal de la Roche, Roberta. 2001. Why is collective violence collective? Sociological Theory 19:126–144.

    DOI: 10.1111/0735-2751.00133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Identifies the conflict structures that lead to collective rather than individual violence. Applying Black’s theory of partisanship, concludes that violence collectivizes when third parties to a conflict are close to one side and remote from the other, when one side has a higher social status, and when third parties are solitary among themselves.

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  • Senechal de la Roche, Roberta. 2004. Modern lynchings. In Violence: From theory to research. Edited by Margaret A. Zahn, Henry H. Brownstein, and Shelly L. Jackson, 213–225. Newark, NJ: LexisNexis/Anderson.

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    Focuses on lynchings that occur in modern America. These occur whenever spontaneous crowds inflict violence on an individual offender, and therefore many acts of violence considered “hate crimes” can be classified as lynchings. The theory of lynching predicts their occurrence, and it also explains why they differ from lynchings occurring in many other contexts.

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Beyond Law and Social Control

Black’s theoretical strategy—pure sociology—is applicable to any form of human behavior. While Black and other pure sociologists have worked mainly in the areas of law and social control (see, for example The Theory of Law, The Theory of Social Control, and The Theory of Violence), they have in some cases begun to apply the approach to other subjects. Black 1979, Black 2000, and Black 2002 present various theoretical formulations concerning ideas, and Black 1979 also offers explanations of medicine and art. Cooney 1997 discusses hunting behavior, which may be moralistic or predatory, and Cooney 2006 offers a theoretical proposition concerning acts of predation such as burglary and piracy. Finally, Jacques and Wright 2008 employs the strategy to explain research, and Michalski 2003 to explain welfare.

  • Black, Donald. 1979. A strategy of pure sociology. In Theoretical perspectives in sociology. Edited by Scott G. McNall, 149–168. New York: St. Martin’s.

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    A discussion of the theoretical paradigm used in Black’s work. Gives examples of how the strategy can be applied to various subjects and presents theories of medicine, ideas, and art. Reprinted in Black 1998 (cited under The Theory of Social Control).

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  • Black, Donald. 2000. Dreams of pure sociology. Sociological Theory 18:343–367.

    DOI: 10.1111/0735-2751.00105Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contains an extensive discussion of the theory of ideas, which includes propositions about the success and attractiveness of ideas and their scienticity. The theory explains why people find some ideas more interesting than others, why some sciences developed before others, and numerous other facts.

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  • Black, Donald. 2002. Pure sociology and the geometry of discovery. Contemporary Sociology 31:668–674.

    DOI: 10.2307/3089917Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a theory of scientific discovery—that scientific discovery is a curvilinear function of social distance from the subject. The theory explains why some sciences have more discoveries than others, and it explains why Black’s theory of law was able to reveal properties of law overlooked by legal scholars and other sociologists of law.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 1997. Hunting among police and predators: The enforcement of traffic law. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society 16:165–188.

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    Describes the method by which police enforce traffic laws. Notes that much of what they do can be described as “hunting”—the discovery and capture of unwilling people or their property. Though the police are engaged in social control, the technique they use—hunting—is also used by pirates, highwaymen, and street robbers. Hunting is a technique that occurs in various contexts, then, but under similar social conditions: mobility, relational distance, and enmity.

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  • Cooney, Mark. 2006. The criminological potential of pure sociology. Crime, Law, and Social Change 46:51–63.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10611-006-9048-ySave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    During the course of a discussion of the potential and actual contributions of pure sociology to the field of criminology, offers a theoretical proposition concerting predation—or the act of taking without giving. Predicts that predation increases with social distance and applies this to various phenomena such as burglary, sea piracy, and cheating during business transactions and drug deals.

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  • Jacques, Scott, and Richard Wright. 2008. Intimacy with outlaws: The role of relational distance in recruiting, paying, and interviewing underworld research participants. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 45:22–38.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022427807309439Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the role of relational distance in doing research on active criminals. In a study of active drug sellers, those who were more intimate with the researchers were more likely to be recruited, required less payment, and were more likely to cooperate and to give truthful information.

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  • Michalski, Joseph H. 2003. Financial altruism or unilateral resource exchanges? Toward a pure sociology of welfare. Sociological Theory 21:341–358.

    DOI: 10.1046/j.1467-9558.2003.00193.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Applies Black’s theoretical strategy to the phenomenon of welfare, or the unilateral provision of monetary resources. Predicts that welfare varies inversely with cultural distance, relational distance, and group size, that it varies directly with the respectability of the recipient, and that it flows in a direction toward greater conventionality and less wealth and integration.

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Sociological Technology

Technology is applied science, and just as an engineer might make use of the discoveries of physics, would-be sociological engineers can use Black’s theories of law and social control to shape the world as they desire. Black 1989 and Black 1991 discuss how lawyers might use the theory to win cases and how reformers might use it to reduce legal discrimination. Kan and Phillips 2003 and Phillips 2008 explore the idea of using this strategy to reduce racial discrimination in death penalty cases, and Jacques and Wright 2010 discusses how it could be used to reduce drug-related violence. Black and Baumgartner 1987 describes ways to increase self-help in modern society, and Baumgartner 1987 uses the theory of law to assess the likelihood of success for a particular proposal for legal reform. See The Theory of Law and The Theory of Social Control for information on the theories being applied.

  • Baumgartner, M. P. 1987. Utopian justice: The covert facilitation of white-collar crime. Journal of Social Issues 43(3):61–69.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1987.tb02347.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that in assessing potential reforms it is necessary to consider whether they are sociologically feasible. Considering a proposal to equalize justice through the cover facilitation of white-collar crime by the police, maintains that sociological reality would likely put a stop to such a plan before it was attempted, and that if attempted it would be unlikely to achieve its stated goals.

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  • Black, Donald. 1989. Sociological justice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Discusses the applicability of Black’s theory of law. Through sociological litigation, lawyers could use the theory to help them decide which cases to take, which clients to represent, and how to win the cases they decide to pursue. Likewise, for those concerned with discrimination in the legal system, the theory predicts that certain methods would work to reduce discrimination in trial decisions and other aspects of the legal system.

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  • Black, Donald. 1991. Relative justice. Litigation 18:32–35.

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    Mainly an overview of the idea of sociological litigation, or the self-conscious application of sociology to the practice of law. Discusses various ways lawyers can use the theory to make their practice more effective. Also briefly discusses ways legal discrimination might be reduced by either equalizing the cases or eliminating certain kinds of social information from legal proceedings.

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  • Black, Donald, and M. P. Baumgartner. 1987. On self-help in modern society. Dialectical Anthropology 12:33–44.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00734787Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Identifies strategies by which self-help might be increased in modern societies. Since law varies inversely with self-help, depolicing would be one such strategy. Self-help could also be increased by designing physical space so that it increases mutual awareness and by developing communication technologies that allow people constant access to others. Also in Black 1980 (cited under The Police).

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  • Jacques, Scott, and Richard Wright. 2010. Drug law and violent retaliation. In Criminology and public policy: Putting theory to work. Edited by Hugh Barlow and Scott H. Decker, 201–214. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

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    Deals with the relationship between violence and law in drug-related conflicts. Argues that the application of drug law decreases the normative status of drug offenders and increases the likelihood that they will use violence to resolve drug-related disputes. One way to reduce the amount of drug-related violence, then, would be to reduce the penalties for drug-related offenses.

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  • Kan, Yee W., and Scott Phillips. 2003. Race and the death penalty: Including Asian Americans and exploring the desocialization of law. Journal of ethnicity in criminal justice 1:63–92.

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    Uses a study of mock jurors to test the effects of race on sentencing in homicide cases and to explore Black’s idea of desocializing law, which reduces discrimination by removing social information. Mock jurors in the study were more likely to recommend a death sentence in cases with black offenders and white victims or when information about race was unknown.

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  • Phillips, Scott. 2008. Racial disparities in capital punishment: Blind justice requires a blindfold. American Constitution Society for Law and Policy Issue Briefs.

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    Research shows that race disparities in capital punishment cases in Harris County, Texas, originate in the district attorney’s office. Prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty in cases where blacks kill whites. Suggests a procedure that would eliminate these disparities by withholding racial information from those making decisions about whether to seek the death penalty. Available online.

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Controversy

Black’s work on law and social control has received high praise and prestigious awards. Black 1998 (cited under The Theory of Social Control), for example, received the Theory Prize as well as the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Book Award in 1994. From the beginning, though, the theory has had numerous detractors, many who denounce the theory with harsh and sweeping terms. The critics referenced here, for example, call Black’s work “reactionary prejudice” and “common sense.” They describe it as “sterile” and “logically incoherent.” One says that it “makes the blood run cold,” and another says it has “a special intuitive appeal to the generation of sociologists that shared . . . the experience of political protestors and long-haired hippies of the late 1960s.”

Criticisms

A number of detailed critiques of Black’s work have appeared since the publication of Black 1976 (cited under The Theory of Law). One of the earliest, Gottfredson and Hindelang 1979, argues that Black’s theory fails by not taking into account that the “seriousness” of an offense affects how it is handled. Greenberg 1983 similarly claims that a theory of law must take into account legal rules, while also criticizing Black’s theory for its lack of causal explanation. Hunt 1983 criticizes the theory, among other things, for its value-neutral approach to the law, Wong 1995 criticizes it for its “scientism,” and more recently Scheff 2003 criticizes the approach for ruling out the use of nonsociological variables in its explanations. Marshall 2008 repeats many of these earlier criticisms, echoing Greenberg 1983 in dismissing covering-law explanations and Scheff 2003 in arguing against disciplinary purity. See also Responses.

  • Gottfredson, Michael R., and Michael J. Hindelang. 1979. A study of the behavior of law. American Sociological Review 44:3–18.

    DOI: 10.2307/2094813Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses data from a crime survey to test Black’s predictions concerning law. Claims that the seriousness of an offense, rather than variables derived from the theory of law, predict whether a victim will report the offense to the police. See also Black 1979 and Hembroff 1987 (cited under Responses).

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  • Greenberg, David F. 1983. Donald Black’s sociology of law: A critique. Law and Society Review 17:337–368.

    DOI: 10.2307/3053351Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Criticizes several aspects of Black’s theory of law. The covering-law approach used in the theory is said to be inadequate in that the propositions are logically unrelated and no causal relationships are identified. Also takes issue with the theory’s failure to address the consequences of law or the content of legal rules. See also Horwitz 1983 (cited under Responses).

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  • Hunt, Alan. 1983. Behavioral sociology of law: A critique of Donald Black. Journal of Law and Society 10:19–46.

    DOI: 10.2307/1409999Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mainly an ideological critique of Black’s work, which the author repeatedly describes as “reactionary.” Claims that the value-neutrality Black claims is impossible and that in fact his work consistently blames victims for the misdeeds of legal officials. See also Cooney 1986 (cited under Responses).

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  • Marshall, Douglas A. 2008. The dangers of purity: On the incompatibility of “pure sociology” and science. The Sociological Quarterly 49:209–235.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2008.00112.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Takes issue mainly with the “purity” of Black’s strategy of pure sociology. Claims that without psychology causal explanations of human behavior are impossible and criticizes the covering-law approach used in most of Black’s work. See also Michalski 2008 (cited under Responses).

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  • Scheff, Thomas J. 2003. Letter to the editor. Contemporary Sociology 32:544–545.

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    Argues that one of the defining features of pure sociology—its purity—is misguided. Advocates interdisciplinary approaches and criticizes approaches such as Black’s pure sociology, Blau and Duncan’s study of the American occupational structure, and other sociological approaches that try to explain human behavior with sociology alone.

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  • Wong, Kam C. 1995. Black’s theory on the behavior of law revisited. International Journal of the Sociology of Law 23:189–232.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0194-6595(06)80002-XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Criticizes Black’s theory for its “scientism” and argues that it would be improved by making the theory less general and less hostile to other approaches. Argues that the theory fails because it is not precise enough to be effectively tested, and because law does not in fact behave according to the same principles in all times and places.

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Responses

Pure sociologists have responded on a number of occasions to the arguments presented by the works cited under Criticisms. Black 1995, while not a direct response to a particular critique, presents the logic of paradigm, summarizes its virtues, and delineates many of the claims made by critics over the years. Black 1979, Black 2010, and Hembroff 1987 address some of Gottfredson and Hindelang’s claims, while Horwitz 1983 responds to Greenberg, Cooney 1986 to Hunt, and Michalski 2008 to Marshall.

LAST MODIFIED: 04/14/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396607-0067

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