Ross, E. A. on Social Control


  • 1866-1951
  • Education : Coe College (Iowa), Berlin, Ph.D. Johns Hopkins 1891.
  • Classic book : Social Control (1901)

From Social Control

Question of social order, orderliness. Note opposite focus from, say, Hobbes here.

“Successful cooperation … bespeaks a high grade of social order…” (336.7)

Hierarchical organization is yet a further indicator of orderliness.

Highest level is collective (organized) action.

There are distributions of personality types (peaceable pugnacious; aggressive passive; easily contented entrepreneurial). Question is, given this, how do we manage to live together?
How different from Hobbes? Ross doesn’t assume everyone is a brute criminal, but does expect that people will collide with one another as they pursue their personal ends (338.5). Plenty of examples of order emerging from “frontier disorder” but how does this happen?

Common misconception is that this is about a person’s inherited propensity for order and good conduct. Social order appears to be something different – a fabric rather than a growth (339). What, then, does human nature have to offer? Sympathy, sociability, sense of justice, resentment.

social control $\neq$ class control 340.2

Note Ross’ functionalist logic here : “class with most prestige will have the most power” – can you see how this is the opposite of Veblen’s approach. But then he gives an interesting list of types of prestige : numbers (crowds), age (elders), prowess (war chief) [cf. Weber’s charismatic leader], sanctity (priests), inspiration (prophet), ideas (elite), learning (mandarins), money (capitalists)

numbers crowds
age elders filial respect and obedience, parricide a crime, infanticide not
prowess war chief militarism loyalty, pugnacity, personal honor
sanctity priests clericalism chastity, celibacy, humility become chief social values, belief and observance as values
inspiration prophet
ideas elite liberalism
learning mandarins order, precedent (cf. Yale mailing)
money capitalists capitalism industriousness, thrift, sobriety, probity
minions of the state officialism
individuals individualism

“For the location of social power expresses much more truly the inner constitution of society than does the location of political power” (341.6).

Ross, too, has an evolutionary story. We start with a mass. Folks recognize “men of superior character.” The “Public” emerges in which folks count for different amounts. Or the start can be in extended families and the rule is at first by the elders.

Safety from the unknown » need for daily bread » wealth = power.

State as channel not source of control.

Social power is kept balanced or in check by resistance of individuals.

One extreme is one person ruling all. The other is “all ruling all.” Ross calls the constraints of social control the “social requirement.”

PROPOSITION: the volume of social requirement will be greater when power is concentrated than when it is diffused” (345.4). If a new rule is “of the people” they object to it less. On the other hand, if it is quite far from common beliefs and practices then it will smack of minority control.

PROPOSITION: the greater the ascendancy of the few, the more possible for social control to affect the course of social movement” (DJR: eh?)

“Social control takes the tinge of the source from which it springs” (345.7).

PROPOSITION: The character of the social requirement changes with every shifting of social power (346.2).

PROPOSITION: The more distinct, knit together, and self-conscious the influential minority, the more likely is social control to be colored with class selfishness (346.5)


dolichocephalic (having a relatively long head)
propinquity (338.3)