Social control mechanisms lead to social conformity or compliance with the dictates of society. An understanding of a society's social control mechanisms gives understanding of what constitutes social disorder in a particular era, place, or country.
Members of a society may dress in similar fashion because dressing that way allows a person to fit in and to avoid social censure. But members of a society may also dress in similar fashion because only certain types of textiles are available to provide protection against the elements. Over time, these physical limitations and natural requirements lead to a standard form of dress that becomes the norm, and then the norm is enforced through social behavior which constitutes reinforcement or rejection.
Social control mechanisms that are more powerful than negative comments or ostracism are aimed at insuring conformity to more serious rules and regulations. The totality of these mechanisms can be called governmental coercive authority. The laws which define criminal activity formalize rules that apply to activity that allows the normal functioning of business and life. Some societies also criminalize actions that apply to social standing, caste, class or race and enforce with sanctions that range from police harassment to imprisonment and/or execution. In some societies, additional compliance with religious codes and standards is required and is enforced under the governmental coercive authority.
Societies control and insure order which laws are written that require action, such as paying taxes; reporting on treasonous, criminal, or seditious neighbors and family members; calling or reporting facts to the fire department or police when a fire or crime is involved. Societies write and enforce rules and laws to prohibit action, such as drinking alcohol, engaging in "improper" sex, and committing acts which are defined as crimes in some countries and as rights in others.
A well developed and well controlled society will monitor "crime" rates, evaluate the types of crimes, who commits them, and why. Normally, individuals or small groups commit the crimes. Larger groups which commit what is called "organized crime", or criminal enterprise that operates like a combination of an unsanctioned private government and a business, receive specialized attention. But a breakdown in social order to the point of qualifying as "civil disorder" is not perceived, even when such crimes are considered to be rampant.
When a well developed and well controlled society detects that significant numbers of the population are failing to act when the law requires, committing prohibited acts, or acting to disturb the orderly processes of society on a grand scale, then civil disorder is identified. Peaceful mass protests that erupt into mob behavior and rioting are civil disorder that is on a temporary basis, and is usually contained within a small space and a brief period of time. When a significant enough portion of the population refuses to pay taxes, however, the short term and long term consequences can lead to the government's inability to function, and require more massive measures to correct the problem.
Civil disorder can range from thousands of individuals staging a streaking festival, to flash mobs showing up out of nowhere and engaging in actions that range from entertainment spectacles to mob violence. Civil disorder can occur with significant numbers of people refuse to vote and there are not enough voters showing up to properly elect government leaders. Civil disorder, then, can happen on variety of scales, with a variety of national interest, and with a variety of consequences.
The ultimate of civil disorder, however is that behavior and action which is in violation of the codified definitions of criminal activity and which disrupts the conduct of life and business as usual, whether the disorder is in the form of a small riot in a part of town, whether it spreads to a nationwide activity, and whether it lasts for a few hours or for a few years.