Control Balance Theory

Theodore R. Curry

in Criminology

ISBN: 9780195396607
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:
Control Balance Theory

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Control balance is an original theory of deviant behavior developed by Charles R. Tittle, who presented the initial statement of the theory in his book, Control Balance: Toward a General Theory of Deviance (Tittle 1995, cited under Initial Statement of the Theory). Following its 1995 publication, the book received distinguished scholarship awards from both the American Sociological Association and the American Society of Criminology. Tittle’s control balance theory also became the focus of scholarly conference sessions and the subject of several book reviews (Savelsberg 1996, cited under Theoretical Development), and it was featured in two exchanges between Tittle and critics of the theory in the journal Theoretical Criminology (Braithwaite 1997 and Tittle 1997, cited under Theoretical Development). In the ten years following its publication, a dozen journal articles empirically tested various hypotheses and other features of the theory, and Tittle published a major revision of the theory in 2004 (Tittle 2004, cited under Theoretical Development). In spite of this initial flurry of debate, discussion, and research, attention to the theory has waned since 2005, with only three new empirical pieces testing control balance theory. The complexity of control balance theory, combined with the need for primary data to measure and test hypotheses, may account for this development. Control balance theory is predicated on the idea of control, which is (1) the degree to which others and a person’s surroundings can limit an individual’s behavioral options and (2) the extent to which an individual can escape from these controls and exercise such controls over others. The ratio of controls exercised to controls experienced constitutes the control ratio, which is the central cause of deviance in the theory. The key assertion of control balance theory is that control ratio imbalances will be associated with deviance because they will lead to an imbalance between motivation toward deviance and constraints on deviance behavior. Control imbalances can be of two types: (1) control deficits, which occur when the control that individuals can exercise is exceeded by the amount of control to which they are subject, and (2) control surpluses, which indicate that the controls that individuals can exercise surpass the controls they experience. Importantly, in this initial statement of the theory, control deficits are hypothesized to impact only “repressive” types of deviance (similar to street crime), whereas control surpluses should affect only “autonomous” deviance (analogous to white-collar crime and elite deviance). As control ratios approach a balanced point, in which controls exercised and controls experienced are equal, deviance becomes less likely, because deviant motivation and constraints on deviance will be balanced. Direct tests of control balance theory, however, showed that both control deficits and control surpluses tended to be associated with deviance, regardless of whether it was repressive or autonomous. Tests that examined contingent or causal chain relationships between control ratios and other theoretical variables also tended to be supportive and, again, generally without regard to the type of deviance in question. In response to empirical findings and published critical appraisals, Charles R. Tittle removes the typology of repressive and autonomous deviance in his 2004 revision. In its place, he develops the concept of the “control balance desirability” of deviance, which represents how effective a given deviant act is at improving a control ratio imbalance and how impersonal it is. Deviance that requires less direct involvement from actors and that (if successfully completed) is likely to result in substantial improvements to a control imbalance is seen as having greater control balance desirability. However, to date, no research that tested the revised theory has been published.

Article.  4195 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Criminal Justice ; Criminology

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