Social control involves the process by which a group perpetuates its culture and system of social relations. In what has become an anthropological locus classicus, Radcliffe-Brown (1934) defined the sanction as a social reaction to a mode of behavior that was thereby approved or disapproved. In his view the concept is of primary significance to sociology because sanctions provide an effective instrument for regulating conduct in conformity with social usage. This formulation, however, seems to obscure a number of important points. Radcliffe-Brown’s argument clearly implies that the sanction, at least in one of its aspects, has a deterrent function. But if this object is to be achieved, logic demands that the sanction must precede the reaction: the sanction must already be in operation when a breach of norm occurs. It seems preferable therefore to define sanctions in terms of a promise of reward for fulfillment of the norms of behavior that are socially recognized and accepted, or in the liability to suffer the consequences that attend their breach. According to this view, the sanction is thus characterized by a quality of latency that is expressed most clearly, in the case of negative sanctions, in a general belief in the continuing likelihood of the execution of the threat. This implies two further properties of the sanction. A sanction cannot be arbitrary or ad hoc: its existence must be generally known, and it must be regular in its incidence. In fulfilling these conditions, the sanction serves not merely to deter; it also indicates the appropriate steps that may be taken to redress the situation when a norm has been infringed or to express approbation when it has been overfulfilled.
The sanction is, of course, a concept of fundamental importance in jurisprudence and has played a paramount role in different legal theories. But there seems no good reason why its use should be restricted in this way. The legal sanction, manifested in the form of the penalties, remedies, and modes of redress of the law, represents only one particular means of enforcing conformity to norms and restating their validity when they are breached. Each group and subgroup within a society tends to develop its own distinctive pattern of usages and the means of maintaining them without necessary recourse to the municipal law. Sanctions therefore come to operate within every conceivable set of group relationships: they include not only the organized sanctions of the law but also the gossip of neighbors or the customs regulating norms of production that are spontaneously generated among workers on the factory floor. In small-scale communities, or within segments of a large-scale society, informal sanctions may become more drastic than the penalties provided for in the legal code. Thus the concept of sanctions is not merely of jurisprudential interest; it also has immediate sociological relevance to the analysis of the problem of social control.
It will be apparent then that social control is achieved through no single mechanism. On the contrary, different principles and processes will frequently be found working together in any given situation. Accordingly, it is only by specifying the character of the sanctions present in the situation that one can isolate the different elements for analytical purposes and give them their proper weighting. The institution of law represents, of course, one major instrument of social control, and it is most usually marked off from other such agencies by virtue of the fact that its sanctions are imposed by politically organized society. As Seagle (1941) has observed, for example, it is the fact that the sanction is applied exclusively by organized political government that distinguishes the sphere of law from the spheres of religion, morals, and custom.
The mechanism of sanction . The differentiation of the instruments of social control in stateless and state societies and in peasant communities and bands of hunting and gathering people has provided ground for controversy between jurists and anthropologists and among anthropologists themselves. Although their discussions have not always clarified the nature of law in different types of societies, they have been fruitful in opening up the broader sociological problem of social control. Malinowski’s position as a pioneer in this field remains undisputed. Working in an island society that lacked any of the familiar machinery for the enactment, administration, and enforcement of law, Malinowski was led to seek elsewhere for the sources of social cohesion. He came to the conclusion that there was a class of rules “too practical to be backed up by religious sanctions, too burdensome to be left to mere goodwill.” This constituted the Trobriand “civil law,” the binding character of which lay in the sanctions of reciprocity and systematic incidence (Malinowski 1926). Later critics have pointed out that reciprocity is a concept of such wide generality that it cannot usefully serve to delineate the sphere of law. A curious feature of Malinowski’s thinking on these matters is that, despite his emphasis on conflict, he appears not to have appreciated that just as the sanction implies the potential breach of norm, so much of law has to be concerned with what may be called the “pathology” of social relations. The emphasis on reciprocity has been important in deepening our understanding of why rules of behavior are accepted in so many areas of social life without the need to resort to formal mechanisms of redress. The question that remains unanswered is what happens when reciprocity breaks down and breach actually occurs. The point had been raised often enough, but it was left to Llewellyn and Hoebel (1941) in their now classic study of the Cheyenne to repair the defect and put the anthropological study of legal sanctions back on its proper path. In their succinct and expressive phrase, “the law has teeth”: their procedure was to show that, even in societies lacking instituted juridical bodies, the investigation of instances of “hitch,” dispute, grievance, and trouble led directly into the way in which physical coercion was organized.
Pospisil (1958), on the basis of his work among Kapauku Papuans, has suggested that too great an emphasis has been placed upon physical force in defining the character of the legal sanction, pointing out that cultures exist where physical sanctions are practically lacking. This introduces an unnecessary confusion. The crucial question is not the actual mode of coercion employed but recognition of the legitimate authority in which is vested the power of coercion. Such authority is certainly recognized among the Kapauku, although coercion may frequently be achieved by other than purely physical means. Where, in a society lacking developed forensic institutions, rules of conduct may be enforced through the powers of coercion vested in a legitimate authority, I propose to speak of jural rather than legal sanctions, indicating that here we are in the realm of ius, but not of lex.
Jural sanctions . Once the criterion of legitimate coercion is adopted, it becomes apparent that primitive societies, lacking the formal machinery of the law, may yet display a remarkable range of sanctions that can be distinguished as jural. It has sometimes been claimed of many of the simplest societies that their social life is dominated by notions of the supernatural: there is a paucity of rules of law that is the reflex of the comprehensiveness of taboo. Such views, however, do not do justice to the facts. Thus it is reported of the Eskimo, for example, that persistent breach of taboo may be met by a shaman’s decree of banishment. More strikingly, it is also reported that recidivist homicides may be dispatched by an individual acting at the request of the local community or with its compliance; this individual does not incur vengeance. Another interesting type of jural sanction was reported by Radcliffe-Brown in the Andaman Islands (1922). There, aggrieved persons were apparently able to vent their spleen by destroying any property they could lay their hands on, but unfortunately there are a number of points touching the operation of the sanction which the sources do not make very clear. It is possible that the Andamanese practice was somewhat similar to the custom of kamara reported from the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain. kamara took a number of variant forms, but essentially it was a device whereby a person who had suffered injury could damage or distrain the property of someone of acknowledged influence within the community. This individual was expected then to bring pressure on the offender to make retribution.
But in general, within the range of primitive societies, the most common mode of redress for wrong is found to rest on the principle of self-help. In these circumstances, the legal initiative lies invariably with the individual or group against whom a wrong has been committed. Yet the exacting of vengeance is not an arbitrary procedure. It has to be carried out according to certain rules and is undertaken only when morally supported by the community or because, indeed, it has been pressed upon individuals or groups by expressions of public approval or disapproval.
The principle of self-help involves a point of considerable importance for the discussion of sanctions. This is what Nadel (1947) has called the social range of offenses, where the kind of sanction provoked depends upon the nature of the social units involved in the offense. Thus, in some societies if adultery or homicide occurs within the local lineage it may be regarded more as a sin than as a legal wrong, calling for ritual expiation rather than the application of jural sanctions. If, however, it involves members of different clans within a larger political unit, the offense may be met by a punitive raid or may have to be compounded by payment of compensation. In other words, it is not enough to regard a given sanction simply as the appropriate response to, or mode of redress for, any particular offense. Rather the sanction has to be viewed as it pertains to the set of social relationships involved in any given situation and at a particular moment in time. Failure to see the sanction in these terms can lead to misconceptions and to misguided hypotheses of an either/or character, as in attempts, for example, to correlate the importance of sorcery with the presence or absence of “superordinate justice” (Whiting 1950). Formulations of this kind pose a false dichotomy; they also miss the point that because each individual is the focus of a number of different social relationships, combining in his person a number of different roles, a variety of sanctions may attach to a single act of behavior. Thus, to take an example from our own society, a member of one of the professions who commits a serious breach of professional etiquette faces the possibility not only of prosecution in the courts, but also of being struck off the roll; he may also find that he has sacrificed his position as chairman of the local literary and philosophical society and that his wife and children have lost the good will of friends and neighbors. In other words, there is in all societies a coincidence of sanctions, some of a jural, some of a mystical or other character, all operating simultaneously toward the goal of achieving social control. Thus the problem that has to be faced is only partly the clear demarcation of one kind of sanction from another; more important is the need to classify and analyze the typical situations in which the different kinds of sanctions are provoked or achieve dominance.
Analytic examples . Some progress in examining the social context of sanctions has been made by Turner (1957) inan analysis of the conflicts operating within the social system of the Ndembu of Northern Rhodesia. Among the various redressive mechanisms known to the Ndembu are informal arbitration, formal courts under the control of chiefs, and certain kinds of public ritual. Turner has suggested that jural machinery is likely to be invoked when a dispute is conducted in terms of an appeal to common norms, or, alternatively, when the dispute itself involves an appeal to different or opposed norms, but it can still be settled fairly easily because there exists “a common frame of values which organize a society’s norms into a hierarchy.” There are, however, other kinds of conflict, which have their source in the contradictions inherent in the social structure itself. For example, when the rules of nepotic and adelphic succession both operate within a matrilineal system, they tend to promote faction within local groups. If these conflicts are not effectively sealed off, they may lead to the disruption of the group. For disputes of this kind, usually sparked by the breach of some legal or customary norm, jural sanctions are likely to be inappropriate and ineffectual. A court of law, employing rational techniques of inquiry, hears the arguments of the various parties and on its reading of the evidence proceeds to allocate blame to one or the other of the disputants. Such a procedure cannot “relieve the quarrels so as to preserve the threatened relationships.” This explains why it is that among the Ndembu and other peoples of the central African “matrilineal belt” so few cases arising out of disputes with in the matrilineage come before the tribal courts. These indeed are the kinds of situations par excellence in which the sanctions associated with accusations of witchcraft and sorcery or the wrath of ancestral spirits are predominant and where group unity can be reaffirmed only by ritual means. So, too, in modern Western society the invocation of legal sanctions may be found inadequate for the handling of certain kinds of domestic disputes. A court of law, by concentrating on husband and wife as right-bearing and duty-bearing units, excludes itself from examining a close and complex relationship in its totality; the less rigid techniques of a marriage guidance council or other similar agency may have to be invoked if reconciliation of the parties is the end to be achieved.
With the development of recognized courts, a new and important phase has been reached in the eternal task of achieving social control. Once forensic institutions have been established, little comes to escape their purview, and there are few matters that may not be the subject of judicial scrutiny. Yet, perhaps for this very reason, it is important to remember, as the last example cited itself suggests, that adjudication may cover a range of different procedures. The distinguishing criteria of a court appear to be that it is capable of enforcing the principle of jurisdiction and that it is led to the apportionment of liability by the rational assessment of the evidence and arguments adduced before it.
In many African societies, informal hearings before village elders and the detection of the causes of personal and natural misfortune by divination share certain of the characteristics of the judicial process, but clearly it would be a mistake to equate them with courts. Similarly, as Gluckman (1962) argues, it seems a mistake to speak of the institutionalized song duels of the Eskimo as “juridical instruments” even though they do serve to settle disputes and restore normal relations between estranged members of the community. It may be true that the result of the contest is a “judgment” in favor of one of the contestants, but, so far as can be gathered from the literature, the mode of arriving at that judgment has little in common with a judicial process. Here a lack of clear analytical distinctions can blur the important sociological problem of why in different societies, or in different ranges of relationship within the same society, different kinds of sanctions may be invoked for similar kinds of breach of norm.
Nevertheless, the instance of the Eskimo song encounter does direct attention to a variety of sanctions occupying a borderland between the realms of law, morals, and custom. The literature on the song contest does not make clear how points are scored in the duel, nor does it indicate what part the spectators play in this connection. On the other hand, the fact that the contestants are obliged to accept the taunts, jibes, and accusations of their opponents without taking affront suggests parallels with forms of licensed “joking” familiar in the anthropological literature. There is, for example, the system of clan joking relationships described for the Plateau Tonga of Northern Rhodesia. Among the Tonga, the clans are the only enduring units of social organization, and they are linked in a complex arrangement of joking partnerships. The Tonga explain these relationships by reference to some antagonism between the animals from which the clans derive their names or to some legend of origin. Whenever members of such paired clans meet, they tease one another and indulge in mutual abuse. Joking of this kind occurs in informal situations, but this, like the Eskimo song contests, which are conducted for pure entertainment, has to be seen as a necessary preparation of the stage, so to speak, for those more serious occasions when culturally licensed abuse may be employed as a public sanction. The jural unit of Tonga society is the matrilineal group, but there are many situations where this group is not free to act without destroying the very principle of lineage unity on which the social structure is built. Those who waste their kin’s property or commit incest provide instances of this kind. Their offenses are, in a sense, jural wrongs; but they also touch questions of ultimate social morality. For the protection of the community, the sanction of public castigation and ridicule of the offender by his clan joking partner is invoked (Colson 1953). Institutions embracing the “joking” principle are widespread; and they are not confined to tribal societies. It appears that “youth groups” may perform a similar role in some of the rural communities of present-day Spain and Wales (see Peters 1967). Such groups, which initially establish their “irresponsibility” by playing childish pranks as part of their normal behavior, are on occasion able to express the outraged moral feelings of the community by playing offensive practical jokes on those who have offended but who cannot be readily reached by straightforward legal sanctions. These instances, incidentally, illustrate another important mechanism in the process of social control. This is the principle whereby the enforcement of the sanction is thrust upon a “stranger” to the group; it is used in situations involving the unity of the group rather than the claims of aggrieved individuals. Through the medium of the clan joking partners, or the youth group, who are strangers to the adult community by virtue of their customary infantile behavior, the fiction of group cohesion can be maintained and group norms reaffirmed.
Function of integration . The importance of the sanction lies, then, as Radcliffe-Brown noted (1934), in its integrative function. The social system is made up of many different kinds of groupings, frequently based on different principles of social organization and serving different sets of interests. Associated with these groupings and with the different and sometimes conflicting sets of social relationships in which their members are involved, there is a wide range of social sanctions, at the back of which are the organized sanctions of the law, supported by the coercive authority of society. Even in those systems where “legal totalitarianism” has been carried furthest, it is clear, as Lewin (1947) has documented with reference to South Africa, that social control is not achieved exclusively through the operation of the sanctions of the law. Faced with this problem, certain jurists have been led to postulate a “general habit of obedience” to explain why, everywhere in society, laws are more often obeyed than disobeyed. A sociological approach, on the other hand, would stress that the efficacy of law rests, in the final analysis, on the support it receives from the operation of non-legal sanctions in the various domains of social life.
We can see something of the way this process operates in some analyses of the judicial process in African tribal societies. Barotse judges, for example, had behind them the full power and authority of their nation as well as of the British colonial administration. In the handling of disputes, however, the sanctions of morality and custom and, indeed, the whole normative structure of the society are channeled into the judicial process itself. Litigants and judges alike appeal to, and couch their arguments in terms of, the same body of norms. When a man is condemned, it is usually because he has failed to measure up to the standards of behavior that he himself has invoked in his statements to the court (Gluckman 1955). It is, of course, patent that there are important differences between the judicial processes in African societies and those in modern Western societies. Unfortunately the classic studies of the judicial process in Anglo-American systems have concentrated on judicial reasoning in the upper levels of the juridical hierarchy or upon exposing the nonlegal influences that play upon the mind of the judge. What seems to be required for purposes of significant comparison is the more intensive sociological investigation of courts and other similar bodies at the lower levels of the hierarchy, in the context of the communities within which they operate. Such studies might prove to be very important in illuminating the way in which social norms and sanctions are brought into relationship with the legal system.
A. L. Epstein
Bohannan, Paul 1957 Justice and Judgment Among the Tiv. Published for the International African Institute. Oxford Univ. Press.
Colson, Elizabeth (1953) 1962 Clans and the Joking-relationship Among the Plateau Tonga of Northern Rhodesia. Pages 66-83 in Elizabeth Colson, The Plateau Tonga of Northern Rhodesia. Manchester Univ. Press. → First published in Kroeber Anthropological Society, Papers.
Gluckman, Max 1955 The Judicial Process Among the Barotse of Northern Rhodesia. Manchester Univ. Press; Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Gluckman, Max 1962 African Jurisprudence. Advancement of Science 18:439-454.
Gluckman, Max 1965 Politics, Law and Ritual in Tribal Society. Oxford: Blackwell; Chicago: Aldine.
Hoebel, E. Adamson 1954 The Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.
Lewin, Julius 1947 Studies in African Native Law. Cape Town: African Bookman; Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.
Llewellyn, Karl N.; and Hoebel, E. A. 1941 The Cheyenne Way: Conflict and Case Law in Primitive Jurisprudence. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.
Malinowski, Bronislaw (1926) 1961 Crime and Custom in Savage Society. London: Routledge. → A paperback edition was published in 1959 by Littlefield.
Nadel, Siegfried F. 1947 The Nuba: An Anthropological Study of the Hill Tribes in Kordofan. Oxford Univ. Press.
Peters, E. L. 1967 Group Joking Relationships. Unpublished manuscript.
Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1922) 1948 The Andaman Islanders. Glencoe, III.:Free Press.
Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1934 Social Sanction. Volume 13, pages 531-534 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan. → Reprinted in Radcliffe-Brown’s Structure and Function in Primitive Society, published by Cohen and West in 1952.
Seagle, William (1941) 1946 The History of Law. 2d ed. New York: Tudor. → First published as The Quest for Law.
Turner, V. W. 1957 Schism and Continuity in an African Society: A Study of Ndembu Village Life. Manchester Univ. Press.
Whiting, Beatrice B. 1950 Paiute Sorcery. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology, No. 15. New York: Viking Fund.
To assent, concur, confirm, approve, or ratify. The part of a law that is designed to secure enforcement by imposing a penalty for violation of the law or offering a reward for its observance. A punitive act taken by one nation against another nation that has violated a treaty orinternational law.
Sanction is a broad term with different meanings in different contexts. Sanction can be used to describe tacit or explicit approval. Used in this sense, the term usually is used in assigning liability to a party who was not actively involved in wrongdoing but who did nothing to prevent it. For example, if the upper-level managers of a business knew that their employees were using unfair employment practices and did nothing to stop them, it may be said that the managers sanctioned the unfair practices.
The term sanction also can describe disagreement and condemnation. In criminal law, a sanction is the punishment for a criminal offense. The criminal sanction for a criminal defendant varies according to the crime and includes such measures as death, incarceration, probation, community service, and monetary fines.
In civil law, a sanction is that part of a law that assigns a penalty for violation of the law's provisions. The most common civil sanction is a monetary fine, but other types of sanctions exist. Depending on the case, a sanction may be the suspension or revocation of a business, professional, or hobby license, or a court order commanding a person to do or refrain from doing something. A sanction may even be tailored to the case at hand. For instance, under rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, if a party refuses to obey a discovery order, or an order to relinquish requested evidence, the court may order that the evidence sought be automatically construed in favor of the requesting party, refuse to allow the disobedient party to make claims or defenses related to the evidence, stay or postpone the case until the discovery order is obeyed, dismiss the action or render judgment for the requesting party, declare the disobedient party in contempt of court, or make any other order that is just under the circumstances.
In civil litigation, sanctions are slightly different from remedies. A remedy is the relief accorded to a victorious litigant. The remedy may be money damages, an order that forbids or commands the opposing party or parties to do or refrain from doing a certain act or acts, or some other result favorable to the victorious litigant. Remedies are not always intended to punish a person, while sanctions are always punitive. Nevertheless, remedies and sanctions are similar in that they refer to a loss that a civil litigant must bear if she is found liable for a civil wrong.
In some cases a party may have to remedy another party's loss as well as suffer criminal and civil sanctions, all for the same act. For example, if an attorney is professionally negligent in his handling of a client's case and steals funds from the client's trust account, the attorney may face a malpractice civil suit from the aggrieved client in which the client asks for money as a remedy for the malpractice. The attorney also may suffer sanctions from the professional conduct committee of the state bar association and criminal sanctions from a prosecution for the theft.
The contempt-of-court offense provides a flexible form of sanction. Contempt-of-court sanctions may be either civil or criminal. The court may order a party to pay a fine or suffer some setback in the case (civil contempt), or it may order that the party be placed in jail (criminal contempt). The basic difference between the two is that criminal contempt is an act of disrespect toward the court, whereas civil contempt acts tend to be less offensive transgressions, such as the unintentional failure to comply with discovery orders or to perform other acts ordered by the court.
A common form of sanction is the administrative agency sanction against a corporation. Corporations must follow various rules passed by federal, state, and local administrative agencies authorized by lawmaking bodies to regulate specific topics of government concern. If a business does not obey agency rules that apply to it, it may face sanctions levied by the administrative agency responsible for enforcing the rules. For example, federal and state environmental protection agencies are authorized by statute to levy fines against businesses that violate environmental laws and regulations.
An international sanction is a special form of sanction taken by one country against another. International sanctions are measures that are designed to bring a delinquent or renegade state into compliance with expected rules of conduct. International sanctions may be either non-forceful or military. Military sanctions can range from cutting off access to limited strikes to full-scale war. Non-forceful international sanctions include diplomatic measures such as the withdrawal of an ambassador, the severing of diplomatic relations, or the filing of a protest with the united nations; financial sanctions such as denying aid or cutting off access to financial institutions; and economic sanctions such as partial or total trade embargoes. The U.N. Security Council has the authority to impose economic and military sanctions on nations that pose a threat to peace.
"Limits of the Criminal Sanction." 2002. New Jersey Law Journal (July 29).
Pate, William H. 2002. "To Sanction or Not to Sanction: Why Arguing Against the Court's Precedent is Not an Automatic Rule 11 Violation." Campbell Law Review 25 (fall).
Sanction is here understood as the act of legislative authority that secures a measure of inviolability for a law by providing either reward (premial sanction) for its observance or punishment (penal sanction) for its transgression; or as the reward or punishment so prescribed. In human experience effective legislation requires sanctions, which are commonly penal rather than immediately premial in kind, to provide motives to induce those subject to laws to conform to their requirements. A lawmaker neglecting to provide a sufficient motive to enforce the keeping of a law would be acting foolishly in making the law at all, for without such a motive the effect intended would no more probably be achieved with the law than without it, and the law itself would be useless. Moreover, it is necessary to verify the order that is reasonably held to exist between good action and happiness, and between evil action and the loss of happiness. But the faithful performance of duty often entails sacrifice and self-denial, while the neglect of it brings unmerited gratification. Unless something exists to balance the scales and restore the order between good action and happiness when this is disturbed, the reasonable expectation of men is defeated, and the difference between what is good and what is not is obscured, if indeed any appreciable difference is left.
Natural and moral as well as positive law requires a sanction. Concretely many different rewards and punishments serve as sanctions for moral law. Some of these affect an individual in himself, such as approval or remorse of conscience, interior peace and tranquillity or the want of it. Others affect the individual in his relation to others—for example, the enjoyment of the esteem, respect and affection of his fellows, or his subjection to their contempt. For the Christian still others affect the individual in his relation to God—for example, friendship with God, or the loss of it, and especially the final attainment of, or separation from, God.
The proponents of naturalistic ethics tend to regard the natural consequences of vicious action that recoil on the evildoer as adequate sanction for morality and sufficient in themselves to ensure right conduct. While it may be admitted that the virtuous, even in their earthly lives, enjoy a greater measure of happiness than the wicked and that the way of the transgressor is often a hard one, it cannot be seriously maintained that virtuous living invariably results in happiness so far as the present life is concerned or that vice and crime always meet an adequate measure of retribution. Human experience too obviously affirms the contrary. To provide a motive capable of inducing a man to live virtuously, it is reasonable that the rewards held out for the observance of the moral law should exceed the sacrifice and self-denial entailed in its observance. But commonly enough in ordinary life, and especially where virtue makes demands that approach the heroic, earthly reward and punishment seldom provide a sufficiently impelling incentive. Any idea of a sanction for moral law that leaves out of account man's relationship to God must be, for the generality of men at least, partial and inadequate.
See Also: punishment.
Bibliography: m. cronin, The Science of Ethics, 2 v. (Dublin 1939). o. lottin, Principles de morale, 2 v. (Louvain 1947). r. pound, Social Control through Law (New Haven 1942). a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951– ) 15.2:2621–22.
[p. k. meagher]
sanc·tion / ˈsang(k)shən/ • n. 1. a threatened penalty for disobeying a law or rule: a range of sanctions aimed at deterring insider abuse. ∎ (sanctions) measures taken by a nation to coerce another to conform to an international agreement or norms of conduct, typically in the form of restrictions on trade or on participation in official sporting events. ∎ Ethics a consideration operating to enforce obedience to any rule of conduct. 2. official permission or approval for an action: he appealed to the bishop for his sanction. ∎ official confirmation or ratification of a law. ∎ hist. Law a law or decree, esp. an ecclesiastical decree. • v. [tr.] 1. (often be sanctioned) give official permission or approval for (an action): only two treatments have been sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration. 2. impose a sanction or penalty on.
Richard A. Smith