Social norm

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Social norms ( social norms, social scripts ) are concrete instructions for action that affect social behavior . They define possible forms of action in a social situation. They are always subject to social change , are socially and culturally conditioned and therefore differ from society to society. Norms express society's (external) expectations of the behavior of individuals. The binding nature of these expectations varies (see also taboo ). They can be distinguished from the (inner) rational examination of the conscience of actions (see morality , ethics , categorical imperative ). Formal as well as informal norms are components of social order.

Émile Durkheim was one of the first sociologists to study the effects of normative regulations. Talcott Parsons in particular later explored the effect of norms on the behavior of individuals.

Control and impact of norms

Social norms are ideas, maxims for action and rules of behavior that are accepted and represented by most members of society (social actors). B. (in our culture) that you don't smack your lips while eating, that you pull your fly closed at an unobserved moment, or that you don't bump into other people. Social norms structure the expectations of the interaction partners in a situation and make actions and reactions predictable to a certain extent; They therefore reduce the complexity of social interaction, narrow the possibilities of behavior in the negative view, on the other hand create free development within the normative limits without constraints.

Concepts of norms can compete with one another (see social role ). From a system-theoretical point of view, however, they are hierarchically related to one another, in which the recommendations for action placed further "above" use a general term where the individual standard describes a special case. Example: A single standard states that when eating (due to the risk of injury, for example) one should not spear food with a knife and bring it to the mouth. When consuming a Frankfurter Handkäses , however, the opposite norm applies that, due to local custom, it can only be consumed with a knife. In this case, the more general standard formulates: One should eat as the respective consumption regulations suggest. The valid exception forces and justifies (older / eloquent usage: "confirms") the establishment of a more general rule. General moral recommendations for action that are very far abstracted from the concrete individual case are called maxims .

Compliance with social norms is controlled by fellow human beings or by persons in a certain position of power (e.g. teachers). You can react to them with sanctions ( reward or punishment ) or with ignore (i.e. you can react but don't have to).

Compliance with social norms is subject to social control . The forms of deviation from the norm range from mere eccentricity to crime . The civilized handling of norm violations and a well-dosed culture of conflict aimed at restoring harmonious coexistence are also an integral part of social norm.

Social norms are not weighted equally in real social coexistence. Their implementation is based on their value for the individuals involved or the degree of their general acceptance. Their importance depends on the efforts made to enforce them. With high relevance z. B. in the protection of human dignity , social norms are codified through laws and enforced through punishment ( sanctions ).

Norms are often derived from ethical and moral objectives ( values ). If someone behaves according to a norm without consciously thinking about the sanctions associated with this norm, then he has internalized the norm . Norms serve to simplify social action ; the existence of norms makes it possible to form expectations about the behavior of other people.

Socialization of norms

The child learns the respective social norms applicable in society during upbringing and the like. a. get to know them at home and at school ( socialization ). Over the years, the number of norms increases, and adolescents adapt more and more to society . From an adult human, people expect that they know and follow most of the norms so that they do not attract attention in public. It is considered a sign of higher education if one is able to derive the individual norms from the respective higher maxims (“insight into the necessity”). The mere knowledge and unreflective adherence to the most important individual norms (“externally determined moral behavior”) is regarded as a sign of low education. The highest maxim of moral education is the greatest possible enhancement of moral judgment in the individual.

Norms in the social sciences

In the social sciences, norms are regulations governing the moral or conventional behavior of people that apply within a social group. These include B. Customs and customs , prohibitions and laws . They serve to protect values , they enable the individual to live and to live together in the community. They have a relief function for the individual: They give him orientation and free him from the constant pressure of having to look for his own rules of conduct. In an open society , norms are not set once and for all, but are subject to constant pressure to legitimize.

In general, there are three types of (social) norms: optional, should and must norms.

Empirical evidence

The acceptance of norms can be determined through observation or questioning. The rule is that every single measurement is subject to a measurement error, even a measurement of weight and height, the more physiological measurements (blood pressure) and psychodiagnostic measurements (intelligence, extraversion, fear tendency ...). Therefore it can never be said with absolute certainty whether the actual characteristic value (the “true value”) of a person corresponds to the observed (just measured). In addition, even the true value can shift more or less quickly, so the personality of a person can change over a lifetime or the blood pressure can be increased due to the excitement of the doctor's visit, although it is otherwise within the normal range.

Statistical norm

The “norm” is sometimes a mean value (arithmetic mean, median, modal value) or, more generally, a characteristic value of the central tendency - this can be well represented by the Gaussian normal distribution . A certain range around this mean (e.g. a standard deviation) is defined as normal (in the psychodiagnostic field the term "average" is more common), deviations from this average range are usually referred to as "above / below average" or "deviating" as well the extreme areas are described as "abnormal". Other common terms are “scarce” and “well above average” as well as “clinically relevant” in clinical test procedures. A person shows a deviation from the norm when a trait or a certain behavior occurs less frequently / more frequently or is less or more pronounced than in people who fall within the average range. For variables that are not normally distributed, percentile ranks are usually used to determine the statistical norm. For example, a percentile rank between 25 and 75 can be considered average, that is, the range in which 50% of the values ​​in the population are located.

Ideal norm

The “ideal norm” is a state of perfection that is considered desirable. Ideal norms describe the possibilities of human beings, which should serve as models for human striving and action. The assessment as "normal" or "abnormal" is made here from the point of view of ethical, ideological or other values. Any failure to comply with this standard is considered a deviation and thus abnormal. A well-known example of this type of norm is the command "You shall not lie". Although every person lies, i.e. it is completely normal from a statistical point of view, another state is considered to be worth striving for.

Functional norm

The functional norm relates to a person's goals and achievements. It indicates whether the person is achieving their goals and fulfilling their set tasks. Developmental and functional conditions that correspond to the behavioral possibilities of a person are considered normal. A functional impairment is present when a person fails to cope with a certain task, although he can solve it with the options available to him (example: failure of an examination despite sufficient knowledge and conscientious preparation).

Reconstruction of particular norms in Popitz

At the beginning of the norm reconstruction it must be clarified whether a norm is valid only for a subgroup or for all members of society.

  • Are the reconstructed norms of an examined group clearly distinguishable from the norms of other groups?

Popitz also defines any behavior as a social norm that is to be expected in the future, that recurs regularly, that is wanted and that is associated with a risk of sanctions in the event of deviation (cf. Popitz 1961: 85). To reconstruct a norm, it is then necessary to check whether the remembered behavior is “intended” and “regular”, “can be expected” in the future and is associated with a “risk of sanctions” (cf. Popitz 1961: 85 ff.). So four exam questions are answered:

  1. Is there an intention behind valid standards, that is, do they have a desiderative character?
  2. Are the behavioral expectations applied regularly?
  3. Are the standards directly related to the future expectations of the third-party placements?
  4. Can I reconstruct a sanction risk that is supposed to prevent behavior deviations?

Only when all four questions have been answered in the affirmative without a doubt do I speak of a social norm that is only valid for a subgroup of society, a particular norm.

Compliance with norms or ethical examination of conscience

A moral commandment sets standards of value for action, e.g. B. “What you don't want someone to do to you, don't do it to anyone else” ( Golden Rule ). For mature people, norms of action do not become valid simply because they are given, but their obligation character arises after responsible examination. A norm that is not based on a value has no moral binding force.

Since compliance with norms is closely linked to rewards / punishments, it can be in conflict with ethical principles.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. ^ H. Popitz: Social norms. (1961). In: W. Essbach, F. Pohlmann (Ed.): Heinrich Popitz: Social norms. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2006, pp. 59–204.