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Norms

Norms

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Description:

This lesson will differentiate and discuss the different types of norms.

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Tutorial

What's Covered

This tutorial will cover the following topics and their importance to culture:

  1. Norms
  2. Mores
  3. Folkways

1. NORMS

Norms can be either formal or informal. We define norms as formal or informal rules of conduct and behavioral expectations in social interaction.

ExampleAn informal norm is classroom etiquette. You're expected to sit there, not interrupt the teacher, be quiet, and not distract other students.

We also have formal norms, like legal obligations, laws, etc. Those are more formal, written types of norms.

Term to Know

Norms

Formal and informal rules of conduct and behavioral expectations in social interaction.

In addition to norms being formal and informal, there are also what are called prescriptive norms and proscriptive norms.

Prescriptive norms are norms that tell you what you should do. They prescribe what you should do in social interaction.

ExampleYou should sit quietly in a classroom. You should obey the law of society. These are prescriptive norms telling you what to do.

Proscriptive norms, on the other hand, prescribe what an individual is not to do, what should be avoided.

ExampleYou should not talk while another is talking, or steal from the boss at work. These are proscriptive norms, because they tell you what you should not do, what kind of behavior should be avoided.

Terms to Know

Prescriptive Norms

Norms that prescribe what one should do in social interaction.

Proscriptive Norms

Norms that prescribe what one should not do in social interaction.


2. MORES

William Graham Sumner was an early American sociologist who died in 1910. Sumner held the first sociology professorship at Yale College. He developed the ideas of mores and folkways, terms that are still used today.

Mores are elevated norms with moral dimensions that are widely observed in society, for example, murder, incest and child abuse. As members of society, you are morally obligated to behave in certain ways, and most people observe these behaviors. Most people don't go around killing each other or abusing children.

Term to Know

Mores

Elevated norms with a moral dimensions that are widely observed.

These types of awful behaviors in society are also taboo. Taboos are mores that have proscriptive bans on the worst conduct in society.

ExampleYou might be familiar with the show To Catch A Predator, in which a decoy goes online and chats with somebody looking to solicit sex from an underage person. When the predator goes to meet the decoy, they find Chris Matthews waiting to trap him. This is an example of taboo behavior, because you're not allowed to solicit sex from somebody who's underage.

Term to Know

Taboo

Mores that are proscriptive bans on the worst conduct in society.


3. FOLKWAYS

Folkways, on the other hand (another of Sumner's terms), are norms that govern casual interaction, whose violation often has little consequence for the offender. Despite the lack of consequence, they're still widely observed.

IN CONTEXT

Think about all the meaningless interactions you have on a given day, like when you return to work on a Monday and have this exchange with your coworker:
“How was your weekend?”
“Good. Yours?”
“Good.”

This conversation doesn’t really reveal anything to either party, yet people engage in this kind of behavior all the time. To not do it would seem odd. These are simply day-to-day interaction casual norms, or folkways.

ExampleIf you get invited to a dinner party, it might be thoughtful to bring an appetizer, bottle of wine, or small gift to the host. You're won’t be ostracized if you don't do it, but you might still do it because it is a widely observed folkway.

Term to Know

Folkways

Norms for casual interaction whose violation often has little consequence but are widely observed nonetheless.

Hint

Folkways can vary by subculture, whereas mores are more universally held.

Think About It

Why is it important to study norms, mores, and folkways? Because they are the foundation of culture. They're the rules that enable us to live together in groups and form relatively stable societies that can last over time and not come apart, because we all know how to behave together. We need rules, laws, mores, and norms to exist.

The better you are at learning all of these little subtleties, the more socially aware you are and the more likely you're going to have success. Nobody likes that coarse, uncouth, or crass person who doesn't seem to understand the subtle rules of interaction that the rest understand. The more familiar you are with all these things, the better off you're going to be, and you learn it through socialization, through watching others as you grow.

Summary

Today you learned about norms, formal or informal rules of conduct and behavioral expectations in social interaction, as well as two different types of norms, mores and folkways, and their importance in culture and society.

Good luck!

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Zach Lamb.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Folkways

    Norms for casual interaction whose violation often has little consequence but are widely observed nonetheless.

  • Taboo

    Mores that are proscriptive bans on the worst conduct in society.

  • Mores

    Elevated norms with a moral dimensions that are widely observed.

  • Proscriptive Norms

    Norms that prescribe what one should not do in social interaction.

  • Prescriptive Norms

    Norms that prescribe what one should do in social interaction.

  • Norms

    Formal and informal rules of conduct and behavioral expectations in social interaction.