Category Archives: Informal 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.


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.


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. <;.

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.


“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.

“Cultural Relativism, Basic Concepts.” Sociology Gide. SEO Expert Chennai, n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2013.



What is nonverbal communication? It is the messages sent, intentional or unintentional, without words—clothing, facial expressions, body language, etc. (Witt p. 57). All nonverbal communication is learned. How would we know to give someone a hug when someone looks sad or give a high five after scoring a goal? This form of communication varies across cultures (Witt p. 57). Did you know that the thumbs-up sign is considered rude in Australia and Iraq (Witt p. 57)? Good relationships consist of good communication—verbal and nonverbal. Nonverbal communication matters more than what people realize (Segal). They say, “Actions speak louder than words”. In this case, yes they do. If a person says that they that they will be at an engagement at a certain time then show up late, it sends the message, “This engagement is not important to me,” otherwise, she would have made the effort to be on time. If two people are having a conversation and one person says she is not angry, yet has a frown and furrowed eyebrows, she contradicts herself. The other person is then confused and mislead.

There are many forms of nonverbal communication: appearance, facial expressions, posture, gestures, eye contact, touch, and space.

We can send messages through our appearances. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” – unknown author. First impressions are important, not only what we say but also how we present ourselves. If I had a big job interview and showed up in sweat pants, torn shirt, and bedhead, the interviewer would probably be less inclined to hire me. Why? I sent the message that I did not care enough to clean up for an important meeting. What we feel on the inside is how we dress on the outside. Growing up in school I was always told, “dress for success.” As I am writing this I feel like a slob. I am wearing jean, running shoes and a sweatshirt. I have noticed that whenever I dress up, I feel all the more confident and presentable.  This is also known as the dramaturgical approach that looks at social interaction as if we were all actors on stage. The “costumes” help actors get into character.  Uniforms or work wear get employees into the respective role; props such as brief cases, cars, phones, or tools are all used to enhance our sense of role (Witt p. 78).

The appearances of our facial expressions provide a wealth of information. Facial expressions are universal—happiness, grief, fear, disgust, etc. (Segal). There are many ways of sending a message through an expression. Just the other day I told my sister a story that I found funny and I thought she would feel the same; but as I was telling her and chuckling along the way, her face portrayed the exact opposite—horrification. In the work force facial expressions can sometimes send more messages than words. If a person, we will call her Susie, represents an organization, she would want to send the message of friendliness and professionalism through her expressions. Let’s say that Susie is listening to a client. Despite her expression, she is interested in the topic; yet, she appears to be uninterested in what the client has to say by her blank expression. This not only reflects poorly on her, but the company too. (“Personal Appearance”).  In this video, we can see how thoughts and emotions toward co-workers can be expressed through facial expressions.   The Office: Faces of Jim

This woman in this picture portrays a wealth of information through her facial expression. What kind of emotions do you think she is feeling?

We do not have to read a peoples’ facial expressions to sense what they feel; people can communicate through posture. Have you ever felt angry in a situation? If so, how did you stand or sit? Most likely you had your arms or legs crossed. Defensive postures have been interpreted as such (Cherry). The other day I came to Biggby to work on this blog. There was a couple sitting at a table across from me and I couldn’t help but notice that the man had good nonverbal communication skills. He sat across from the woman with his feet flat on the floor, crossed hands on his lap, maintained eye contact, and nodded affirmations. He seemed to be interested in what she was saying.

This picture portrays communication through posture. The woman is turned away from the man. What do you think she is expressing? What emotion do you think the man is portraying?

This picture portrays communication through posture. The woman is turned away from the man in the background with the wide stance. What do you think she is expressing? Sadness? Prejudice? What do you think the man is portraying? Danger? Anger?

With posture comes proximity. Proximity is one of those universally known facts, but never discussed. Typically, if we are unacquainted with someone, we stand at a comfortable distance; between 18 inches to four feet spaced apart (Cherry). The better we know someone, the more comfortable we are around him or her; in other words, standing closer to someone is a way to communicate a close relationship without verbal communication. Have you ever entered an elevator with one other person, whom you do not know, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him? Probably not.

Our values dictate our codes of conduct. Our values—what we truly believe—become apparent through our actions (in other words, nonverbal communication). For example, if I truly valued a friend I would show her interest in a conversation. I try to avoid yawning, make eye contact, and affirm her through nods.  Have you ever talked to someone who seemed uninterested in what you were saying? I have. It’s annoying, isn’t it? Values are the expression of what we believe, but Norms are the guidelines of our actions. Every society has a set of social norms. For example, “respect elders,” “Do not murder,” “Sharing is good,” etc. Social norms must be expected from every member of society in order for the norm to function. When we go to class we are not told what to do, yet every student sits down and waits quietly for the professor to begin the lecture. Another example is the movie theater. When we go to a movie, we expect viewers to be silent and to sit in the seats provided. Let’s say that you go to a movie theater and you wait quietly for the movie to begin. Then, an old man with large round glasses and white wiry hair enters and begins to shout and cartwheel. How would you react? Others would probably give him weird looks; bold people would maybe try to correct him. He broke the norm. The old man deviated away from expected actions.  The movie theater norm is a folkway. Folkways are a set of norms that guide everyday expectations; if broken, the deviant is not severely punished. On the other side of the spectrum are mores. Mores are the social expectations that must be rigidly upheld in order to maintain societal order.  The violators are severely punished. If the old man who cartwheeled in the theater were to pull a weapon on the crowd, the United States law would punish him.  On the other hand, formal norms are written down, but violators are punished by the state. For example, many restaurants have the, “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule. The United States government wouldn’t punish the violator; he or she would simply be turned away from the restaurant. Informal norms are those understood rules but never discussed or taught. I subconsciously sat with my back to the person sitting across a table from me at Biggby. It is not considered normal to face a stranger and make eye contact with he or she. No one ever taught me this, nor have I ever discussed with anyone how to act in a coffee shop. (Witt p. 59-60)

So what happens if nonverbal communication goes wrong? When nonverbal communication goes wrong it can be interpreted as deviance, such as the old man mentioned above. For example, I remember the first time I spoke with my friend’s mother. She stood very close and put her hand on my shoulder and did not break eye contact. It was less than comfortable. Another example is Ben. Ben is an articulate speaker; however, if you were to ask his colleagues they would say he is forceful and unapproachable. Ben speaks with his arms crossed, wide stance, and chin up. In meetings, while everyone is seated he chooses so stand and pace. While he may not intend to exude force, everyone reads it as such. (Segal).

Nonverbal communication can also act as a “saving-face” ploy, also known as impression management. In Japan, if the “company man”, or the breadwinner of the family, loses his job he continues to rise early, get dressed and head off to the working sector of the city. Instead, he goes to the library or other places to pass the time until he returns home at the usual time. He may do this to maintain the appearance of a workingman. He may be too ashamed to admit to his family that he lost his job (Witt p. 78-79). People do this more subtlety than realized. If embarrassed in front of friends or a crowd, a person may roll his eyes and shake his head. We can see this frequently in sports. If a goalkeeper fails to save a goal, the keeper shakes his head, places hands on top of his head or covers his face.

Can nonverbal communication skills be improved? Of course! There are many simple solutions. When you are in a conversation, maintain eye contact. This doesn’t mean never break eye contact-that would be unusual. Dress in a presentable way; others will be more prone to treat you in a respectable manner. When addressing a crowd or public speaking, do not look at the ground or mutter. Speak up and look them in the eyes. These are just a few simple tactics to improve nonverbal communication skills.

Works Cited

Cherry, Kendra. “Types of Nonverbal Communication.” Psychology., 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.

Segal, Jeanne, Melinda Smith, Greg Boose, and Jaelline Jaffee. “Nonverbal Communication: Improving Your Nonverbal Skills and Reading Body Language.” N.p., Jan. 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.

“Personal Appearance.” N.p., 2011-2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.

Witt, Jon. Soc. Ed. Gina Boedeker. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.

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