Norm (sociology)

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In sociology, a norm, or social norm, is a rule that is socially enforced. Social sanctioning is what distinguishes norms from other cultural products or social constructions such as meaning and values. Norms and normlessness are thought to affect a wide variety of human behavior.

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[edit] Levels of enforcement

Levels of enforcement, in decreasing order:

  • Violations of norms are punished with sanctions, possibly enforced by law.
  • Violators of norms are considered eccentric or even deviant and are stigmatized.
  • Alternative behaviors are not acknowledged. The norm is presumed, often to an extreme, in an attempt to avoid any challenge that might provoke stigma or sanction or even lead to redefinition of normative behavior. As a series of examples that are under tremendous contemporary pressure as norms evolve: the term "lover" once was presumed to denote a person of the opposite sex; a "mature" adult once was presumed to be or have been married; and a "couple" once was presumed to have or want children.

[edit] Types of norms

There are three kinds of norms:

[edit] Folkways

A society's web of cultural rituals, traditions and routines. Deviation is not usually considered a serious threat to social organization and is thus sanctioned less severely than moral deviation. Example: In certain households in the U.S., it is a folkway to say grace before eating Thanksgiving dinner. See Faux pas

[edit] Moral

Moral judgements that define wrong and right behavior, the allowed and the disallowed, what is wanted and not wanted within a culture. The word is the plural of the Latin mor-, mos, which means 'custom'. A violation of mores is usually considered by society as a threat to social organization and harshly sanctioned. Examples: Drug use, sexual promiscuity, and extreme styles of dress.

"More than ambition, more than ability, it is rules that limit contribution; rules are the lowest common denominator of human behavior. They are a substitute for rational thought". - Admiral Hyman Rickover

[edit] Laws

In highly organized societies, formalised and precisely delimited norms. The breaking of legal norms, or laws, invokes procedures and judgments through formal, legal institutions, such as police and the courts, set up to enforce them. These norms generally relate to individual violations of mores or to the adjustment of proprietary relationships.

[edit] Heteronormativity

Main article: Heteronormativity

Heteronormativity is a system of norms dictating the range of socially acceptable sexual and gender identities. It is based around the notion that all people fall into two categories, male and female, and that there are essentialized notions of how these two sexes are expected to act.

[edit] Game-theoretical analysis of norms

A general formal framework that can be used to represent the essential elements of the social situation surrounding a norm is the repeated game of game theory.

A norm gives a person a rule of thumb for how she should behave. However, a rational person only acts according to the rule if only it is optimal for her. The situation can be described as follows. A norm gives an expectation of how other people act in a given situation (macro). A person acts optimally given the expectation (micro). In order for a norm to be stable, people's actions must reconstitute the expectation without change (micro-macro feedback loop). A set of such correct stable expectations is known as a Nash equilibrium. Thus, a stable norm must constitute a Nash equilibrium.

There exist various norms throughout the world. What account for the vast variety? From game theoretical point of view, there are two explanans for this. One is the difference in games. Different parts of the world may give different environmental contexts and different people may have different values, which may result in a difference in games. The other is equilibrium selection not explicable by the game itself. Equilibrium selection is closely related to coordination. For a simplest example, the game of choosing which side of the road you drive is common throughout the world, but in some countries you coordinate to drive on the right side and in other countries you coordinate on the left side (see coordination game). A framework called comparative institutional analysis is proposed to deal with the game theoretical structural understanding of the variety of norms.

[edit] Example (gift exchange)

The Norm of Reciprocity:

In the western world, it is a custom to exchange gifts on various holidays. It is so deeply ingrained in the minds of people that many do not think of acting otherwise.

Now, suppose you become fed up with exchanging gifts. It is not necessarily easy to change your actions. Unilaterally changing your actions to stop giving gifts may give others the impression that you are a selfish person, and that impression is probably not in your interest. Notice, that your friends may be following the norm for the same reasons as you. If that is the case, you are wrongly coordinating due to the customary norm of gift exchange and are trapped in a prisoner's dilemma game. Coordination with communication may be necessary to get out of the prisoner's dilemma situation.

[edit] See also


[edit] External links

es:Norma social he:נורמה (סוציולוגיה) la:norma ja:規範 pl:Norma społeczna sv:Sociala normer zh:社會規範

Norm (sociology)

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