Essay on Different Characteristics of Social Norms

2. Norms are related to the factual order:

In every society we find two types of order-(i) the normative order that insists how the individuals should or ought to behave, and (ii) the factual order that is related to and based on the actual behaviour of the people. It is through the normative order or system that society regulates the behaviour of its members. But this normative order should be related to the events in the real world for it is meant to achieve result in the factual world.

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The factual order also exercises an influence on the normative system. For example, a rule requiring all men to have three wives would be valueless if the sex ratio did not permit it.

Similarly, a rule requiring everybody to bathe in salt water in order to prevent tuberculosis would be valueless if bathing in salt water had nothing to do with curbing the disease. Thus norms in order to become effective must represent correctly the relations between real events. They must take into account the factual situation.

3. Norms incorporate value judgements:

A norm is a standard or behavioural expectation shared by group members. They represent “standardized generalization” concerning expected modes of behaviour. As standardized generalizations, they are concepts which have been evaluated by the group and they incorporate value judgements.

It is in terms of norms that we judge whether some action is right or wrong, good or bad, wanted or unwanted, expected or unexpected. Norms are normally based on values. Norms do not refer to an average tendency of man. But they denote expected behaviour or even ideal behaviour.

4. Norms are relative to situations and groups:

Norms vary from society to society. Some­times, within the same society they differ from group to group. Each group in a society, to a certain extent at least, has its own norms. There is no social group without norms. Within the same society they differ with age, sex, occupation and social status of the individuals.

Some norms do not govern the behaviour of all the people always. Norms of behaviour meant for old people are not applicable to the children. What is ‘alright’ for a man is not ‘alright’ for a woman. Norms meant for soldiers and policemen are different from those of teachers and advocates.

Behaviour patterns meant for married people cannot be followed by unmarried people. Especially in a multi-group society or a complex society such wide variation in norms is found. But in primitive societies, in general, single set of religious beliefs, practices and norms is found, because their culture exhibits high degree of integration.

5. Norms are not always obeyed by all:

It is wrong to assume that people in a society obey all the norms always. Some obey some norms at some times and disobey or ignore some others at some other times. Even those who normally respect and obey norms may go against some norms in some particular situations.

This we can observe in some big political and religious gatherings when highly religious and law abiding people break laws and behave in a frenzy mood when they are provocated. If everyone always did the ‘right’ things at the ‘right’ time and place, there would be no need to have rules or laws.

6. Norms vary with sanctions:

Norms also vary in the kinds of sanctions that are attached to the violation of norms. Norms and sanctions go hand in hand. Norms are the group’s rules of proper behaviour; sanctions are the group’s punishments for violation of the norms.

Sanctions are the re­wards or punishment used to enforce the norms in a society. In addition to being punished for viola­tion of norms, people tend to be rewarded for the proper observance of them. Sanctions may be applied in various ways, ranging from the use of physical force to symbolic means such as flattery.

They are used to enforce or persuade an individual or group to conform to social expectations. Rewards may include smiles, approval, praise, appreciation, money, prestige, etc. Conformity to social norms is secured through both rewards and punishments in most of the instances.

7. Norms are normally internalised by the people:

People in most of the instances accept norms and follow them or obey them. They do not question most of the norms and accept them implicitly. It is because norms become the part and parcel of personality of the individual through the process of socialization.

In fact, socialization is often described as the process whereby an indi­vidual internalises the norms of the group. The cultural rules and restrictions or norms are internalised by the new born individuals through socialization and hence, in most of the times they tend to honour and obey them implicitly.

According to H.M. Johnson, a social norm would state the following: Who is expected, by whom, to do what, or refrain from, doing what, and in what circumstances. Further, it would specify what penalties will be imposed if the norm is violated, or what rewards will be conferred if it is conformed to.

It would decide who will administer the penalties or give the rewards. It would also specify under what circumstances a violation of norm will be regarded as unimportant or ignorable.

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