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Department of Sociology Crime and Deviance, Social Control, and Social Justice

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

– Benjamin Franklin


The tension identified by Benjamin Franklin more than two centuries ago has not dissipated. All societies must manage the tension between the need to protect citizens from harm and the possibility that social control measures deny basic rights, exacerbate inequalities, and create injustices. Societies impose some combination of formal social control, through creating norms, laws and regulations, and enforcing them-formally and informally. Citizens interpret these controls as just (or unjust) and choose how to respond to them – via conformity, criminality, or collectively to advocate for social change. Sociologists, since Durkheim, have understood that nonconformity may be constructive in fostering social change as well as destructive to the social fabric.

The problem of balancing social control and social justice is central to society and to sociology. Washington State University’s sociology faculty’s scholarship on crime and deviance, social control, and social justice addresses key sociological questions: (1) What are a society’s norms and how do these come into being? (2) When and why do people deviate from society’s informal and formal norms of behavior? (3) What are the societal reactions and social control measures invoked in response to collective or individual deviations? and (4) Are the mechanisms of social control evenly applied across the social spectrum and are the intended and unintended consequences of social control efforts just and equitable?

Substantive expertise in crime and deviance, social control, and social justice maintained by our faculty ranges from microlevel knowledge of how informal norms emerge and what makes them effective to macrolevel insights into the unintended consequences of social policies, war, and other social control efforts as well as how citizens collectively or individually respond to social injustices. Together, our work takes a comprehensive approach to the study of crime and deviance, social control, and social justice by exploring diverse topics, using a range of sociological methods, and disseminating our research to a wide audience. Our aim in systematically studying the formation and alteration of norms, enforcement and its consequences, and inequities in formal and informal social control is to inform debates about social change aiming to remedy illegitimate practices in society’s institutions.

Core Faculty

  • Christine Horne is primarily concerned with the development and enforcement of social norms. She has applied this focus to substantive topics such as international human rights norms and the informal neighborhood social control of crime.
  • Lisa McIntyre has explored how legislation and the actions of the legal system sometimes alter or impinge on informal social norms.
  • Clay Mosher conducts research in the general area of crime and deviance, law and society, and in the more specific areas of the individual and structural correlates of substance use and abuse, and the treatment of substance abuse. I am also interested in drug policies, criminal sentencing, and racial issues in the criminal justice system.
  • Jennifer Schwartz examines how structural characteristics can inhibit community efforts to control crime and how these characteristics function similarly or differently to explain female and male offending patterns. She also is interested in identifying and understanding the sources of disparate effects of crime policy on women.
  • James F. Short has demonstrated an enduring commitment to research and public service relevant to this area. He has published on such topics as youth and gang violence, ethnic segregation and violence, and the relationship between social control, trust in social institutions, and the distribution of risk. He now serves as Emeritus Professor of Sociology.