Category Archives: Formal Norms

SOCIAL NORMS

Without the social norms that we abide by each and every day, there would be absolutely no expectations of how anyone is supposed to “normally” behave. From the moment we wake up on our mattress, usually atop a box spring and frame (the standard sleeping structure in western culture); we follow the norms that have been taught to us since the moment we entered onto this earth.

I think that maintaining these norms, and being seen as normal for abiding by them, are of extreme importance to nearly everyone in every society. To fit in is everyone’s ultimate goal. In order to retain the importance of the norms we’ve constructed, we have created different levels of negative sanctions to deal with the disobedient social deviants. Whether it be conscious or subconscious, every time we view someone falling outside of norms we think negatively of them and react in various ways, from simply rolling our eyes to picking up a phone and dialing the police (depending on the severity of the norm breaking).

who_thisweek_26092011_17731gr-17731h2Norms in society can range from things that are seemingly insignificant as the kind of clothes we wear to things that are considered law. We consider these small norms to be folkways, and little concern is raised when someone decides to deviate from them. Although it is a folkway to wear casual clothing, such as jeans in what is considered a casual setting, no one is too bothered by someone deciding to “dress up” in something more along the lines of a suit jacket or a nice dress.  Norms that are deemed more necessary and absolute, such as driving on a specific side of the road, or refraining from murder, are referred to as mores. These mores are often written down formally whether in formats such as a school handbook, driving manual, or in laws defended by the government. Once written down, these norms are considered to be formal norms, as opposed to informal norms, which are generally grasped by the population, but not necessarily written down. Example of informal norms are the common etiquettes we’ve been raised with, such as not being “too loud” in a public environment or grocery shopping from the store aisles as opposed to someone else’s cart.

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Negative sanctions are not the only sanctions to exist in our world of norms. Positive sanctions are seen just as often as negative sanctions. We’re given positive sanctions for obeying our norms through our good grades in schools, promotions and pats on the back at work, and general statuses in life. Because the average person obeys the norms laid out for them, they will have many more opportunities than someone who has deviated from these norms, such as a convicted felon.  Other than the obvious jail time and/or fines, felons are negatively sanctioned beyond that to continuously remind them of their wrongdoings. These sanctions can include: refusal to enter other countries, not being allowed a job in childcare or public office, etc., whereas these travel and job opportunities are seemingly very basic and attainable to the Average Joe.

tumblr_l8vf4zt3wb1qdpi3fo1_500My personal view of norms is exceptionally mixed. On one hand, I feel that norms suffocate any real sense of self and individualism. However, on the other hand, I recognize the importance of providing someone with violent tendencies a standard at which to abide by so that they don’t act on possible homicidal urges. Unfortunately because norms are so heavily relied upon, they are the major players in creating the petty insecurities we feel on a daily basis. I think that if the norms laying in the more aesthetic/subjective spectrum (such as clothing and beauty standards of the gender binary, grooming habits, interest in pop culture, etc) were to be given less focus and attention, the world would be a much happier place. If everyone could mind their own business and pay no mind as to what someone chooses to wear or who they feel like having a relationship with, it’s my belief that suicide would not be nearly as prevalent; especially in those who strain the importance of such things- teenagers. Instead of constantly having to conform and act off of what we think is “normal” our Me and I could just be one, and there wouldn’t have to be so much stress put on our looking glass self. Bullying wouldn’t exist and Ugg boots would’ve not been so vital to every fourteen-year-old girls existence. But in order to do this, one of the important factors would be to significantly cut the amount of corporate advertising shown in all forms of media. Given that in 2010 advertisers spent fifty billion dollars on television advertising alone (Ad Age), one could say cutting such a thing would be detrimental to the United States economy. Although it’s obvious that petty folkway norms can be seemingly of so much more importance in our daily lives, and cause a myriad of self detriment- I don’t think there’s any realistic way in the foreseeable future to be rid of them.

DEVIANCE

We have all seen them, “gangsters” walking around with saggy pants and baggy sweatshirts known for causing trouble and committing crime, or Goth’s with gaged ears and all black attire, known for being emotionally unstable and violent. These people are said to be deviant, with norms and values that differ from those of the greater society. These subcultures create their own norms and values that others see to be different, or deviant.

Norms are an established standard of behavior maintained by a society.  Norms can be formal, informal, folkways or mores. Formal norms are those that generally have been written down and specify strict punishment if violated. Laws are an example of formal norms. Informal norms are those that are understood but not necessarily recorded. Examples of informal norms include how one behaves in a college level classroom. Folkways are norms that govern everyday behavior but do not result in much concern if violated. Wearing acceptable clothing is an example of a folkway. Lastly, mores are norms that are seen as necessary to the welfare of society, and are based on what is right and wrong. Religious doctrines are an example of mores. Defying any of these norms can result in an individual being perceived as deviant. For an individual to conform is for him or her to go along with peers, acting in a similar manner. Just as one can conform to society, that is following social norms, one can also conform to a deviant group, acting in a way that is different from the rest of society.

Perhaps the most recognized deviant groups in society are criminals. Criminals can be individuals who commit crimes such as murder or assault, or small crimes such as income tax evasion or misinterpretation of advertisement. Whether the crime was a violent crime resulting in extreme punishment, or a small senseless one with little recognition, every move we make as humans has a sanction. Sanctions are tactics used by society to penalize or reward individuals for their behavior. Negative sanctions used for criminal activity, for example, include jail or prison sentencing, fines and community service. These sanctions are largely responsible for the “good behavior” of society, as individuals stray from behavior that could result in these negative sanctions. Positive sanctions are also part of keeping society under control, so to speak. These sanctions include praise or rewards for good behavior, such as a student being on the honor roll, or getting certificates for perfect attendance. Sanctions are a means of encouraging conformity to the standards of society, while also preventing individuals from becoming deviant.

All types of sanctions are a part of social control.  “We create norms to provide social order . . . we enforce them through social control – the techniques and strategies for preventing deviant human behavior in any society” (Witt 130). Social control can be exercised in families, by parents, in colleges, by teachers, or in government by the police or legislature. One example of social control in schools is the hidden curriculum. Just as sanctions teach individuals what is socially acceptable throughout life, the hidden curriculum is used in schools to teach children what behaviors are acceptable. For example, students learn to speak only when they are called on, and are taught how to socialize with authority figures in an acceptable way. These lessons are ones that will be critical throughout life, to conform to society.

Teachers are likely to have a life-long effect on their students. Not only do teachers demonstrate socially acceptable behavior to students, but they often label students as well. Labeling can both help and hurt a child while growing up. For example, if the teacher labels a student as dishonest at a young age, that child is likely to keep that label throughout his or her education. Labeling can also be seen as a sort of stereotyping. African Americans have been labeled as delinquents, bad kids or criminals for years. Labeling a group of people as bad, in this case, puts them at a disadvantage because they are more likely to accept that label.

Norms are more important in everyday life than most people know. Without norms, we would not know how to work together, how to work individually, or how to function as an entire community. Although there are disadvantages of having norms, such as having deviant individuals, norms are an absolute necessity of society.

 

Works Cited

Lunchcountersitin, . “Incarceration Rate per 100,000 Residents.” Chart. Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009). Web.

Maricopa CountyJail. Web. 23 Feb. 2013. <http://maricopacountyjail.net/&gt;.

Sackermann, Joern. Germany, Gothic People. Lightstalkers, Cologne. Web. 23 Feb. 2013.

Stylephotographs, . African Student Raising her Hand in University Class. 123RF. Web. 23 Feb. 2013.

Witt, Jon. SOC. 2012th ed. N.p.: McGraw Hill, 2012. Print.

CULTURAL RELATIVISM

“He who Marches out of step hears another drum”

–Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

The easiest way to address the idea of cultural relativism is to consider the norms of the society that we are accustomed to. A norm is the behavior that we deem normal or acceptable. There are different types of norms including Folkways (everyday behavior), Mores (thought necessary in a society), Formal Norms (laws), and Informal Norms (things society sees as normal that are not written laws). Examples of these everyday norms are: dressing appropriately for work (Folkways), the act of adultery (Mores), paying taxes (Formal Norms), or how to react when entering a classroom (Informal norm). But norms change. Cultural relativism is the practice of looking at differences in society through that society’s eyes. This is an idea of objectively considering the acts, traditions, or behaviors of a culture different from your own. It is an unbiased process of analyzing a world that we are not accustom to, because it was not the culture we were socialized into. This act of socialization that occurs when we are young and continually occurs as we grow is the process that teaches us what to view as a norm and what to view as deviant.  The extreme opposite of Culture Relativism is Ethnocentrism. This is where a culture is analyzed for its differences in a negative manner. In other words, ethnocentrism is seeing traditions and beliefs that are different from your own, comparing the two, and favoring your own.

An example of these processes can be applied to the pictures above. On the left there is a girl who has scars on her face. These scars are purposeful and deemed as normal and positive in the society she was raised. The scars are a way to identify her with the village that she came from. The girl on the right has a tattoo on her shoulder. This is also a purposeful and positive symbol that she has decided to place upon her body. Both of these acts are similar, they have both scared their skin for life in order to identify with their culture or a value that they hold. Seeing this as it was previously stated, would be looking at these processes through a culturally relativistic view. Seeing only the girl with a primitive way of identifying with her village, or a girl who paid to mar her body with an insignificant picture would be an ethnocentric view of their cultural values and normative practices.

 

Works Cited

“One Few Over The Cuckoo’s Nest Quotes.” Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2013. http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2100252-one-flew-over-the-cuckoo-s-nest

“Cultural Relativism, Basic Concepts.” Sociology Gide. SEO Expert Chennai, n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2013. http://www.sociologyguide.com/basic-concepts/Cultural-Relativism.php