According to the Control Balance Theory, both the probability of deviant behavior occurring and the characteristic form of deviation are determined by the relationship between the control that a person is exposed to and the control that he exercises himself.
The Control Balance Theory has its starting point in the observation that other control theories only consider forms of control that affect an individual from the outside. Charles Tittle’s Control Balance Theory, on the other hand, emphasizes that every human being is not only passively exposed to control, but also actively exercises control over others. The relationship between actively exercised and self-experienced control is important here. Tittle describes this relationship as a ‘control ratio’. This “control ratio” can be either balanced or unbalanced. For Tittle, the type of imbalance affects the specific expression of the deviance it causes. It distinguishes between three states:
- If the experienced and the exercised control are in balance, “Control Balance” exists. In this state, deviant behavior is unlikely.
- If someone exercises more control than he or she experiences, there is a control surplus. In this state, individuals tend to engage in autonomous forms of crime. This refers to acts of a more indirect nature. There are few direct confrontations with the victim.
- If an individual experiences more control than he or she exercises, there is a control deficit. Repressive forms of deviance occur. These are characterized by direct confrontations with the victim.
Tittle assumes that every person strives for the greatest possible degree of autonomy – in other words, wishes to influence the relationship of control in his favour. An imbalance in the control ratio therefore creates a predisposition to deviant behaviour. If there is a control deficit, an attempt is made to compensate this by deviant behaviour. If, on the other hand, there is a control surplus, there is the temptation to extend it even further.
However, a predisposition to deviant behaviour alone is not sufficient for this behaviour to occur.
Two prerequisites must be fulfilled in order for the predisposition to become a motivation for deviance:
- An individual must perceive the control deficit or control surplus and recognize that his own control ratio can be influenced by a certain deviant behavior. The deviant behaviour must therefore be regarded as suitable to reduce the deficit or to further increase the surplus.
- The individual must experience a negative emotion, especially humiliation. This is perceived as provocation, which in turn justifies deviance.
Deviant behaviour occurs when a motivated individual has an opportunity to act and constraints can be overcome. Such inhibitions can be moral convictions, self-control or fear of punishment.
Tittle links very specific forms of crime to different levels of control ratio, as shown in the table below.
|Forms of deviance
|„submission“Sexual submission, as a form of oppression of others
|„defiance“Disobedience to authorities, strikes
|„predation“e.g. theft, assaults, rape
|„exploitation“e.g. targeted influence on politicians, contract killings, price agreements
|„plunder“e.g. environmental pollution by oil companies, arbitrary taxation of dependents
|„decadence“torture for sexual satisfaction, sadistic humiliation of others
Tittle integrates several other theories into his Control Balance theory. In particular, he borrowed from Agnew’s General Strain-Theory and Gottfredson and Hirschi’s General Theory of Crime.
Critical appreciation & relevance
A big advantage, but at the same time a weak point of the Control Balance theory is its complexity. Unlike most other theories, it is able to explain many different forms of crime. One of the reasons for this is that it integrates other theories and thus provides a framework in which the different factors of effect can be seen in relation to each other.
One problem with Control Balance Theory is that its complexity makes it very difficult to evaluate. Tittles focus on autonomy as a driving motivation of people can also be criticized. He does not take into account that people also have other drives and needs.
Implication for criminal policy
According to Tittle, (social) control only has an inhibitory effect on deviant behaviour if it finds a healthy mediocrity. On the one hand, social structures should be strived for in which social control and self-control can be developed in the sense of Hirschi’s Bond Theory and Gottfredson and Hirschi’s General Theory of Crime. This would mean that the classical institutions (e.g. family, school) must be promoted to the extent that they can effectively exercise control over the individual. On the other hand, the theory also implies that this control must be limited. Oppression and steep hierarchies, which distribute power very unequally, should therefore be avoided.
According to the Control Balance Theory it is therefore not enough to address only certain target groups. It must be possible to shape the reality of people’s lives in such a way that as few control deficits and control surpluses as possible arise.
- Charles Tittle (1995): Control Balance: Toward a General Theory of Deviance. Boulder, Colorada: Westview Press.
- John Braithwaite (1997). Charles Tittle’s Control Balance and Criminological Theory. Theoretical Criminology, 1(1), 77-97.
- Wood, Peter B.; Dunaway, R. Gregory (1997/1998). An Application of Control Balance Theory to Incarcerated Sex Offenders. Journal of the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Research Consortium, Volume 4.