The role of norms in social behavior is a key question for sociology. Is a norm a sociological reality? And do individuals behave in conformance to norms?
We can offer mundane examples of social norms deriving from a wide range of social situations: norms of politeness, norms of fairness, norms of appropriate dress, norms of behavior in business meetings, norms of gendered behavior, and norms of body language and tone of voice in police work. In each case we suppose that (a) there is a publicly recognized norm governing the specified conduct within a specific social group, (b) the norm influences individual behavior in some way, and (c) sanctions and internal motivations come into the explanation of conformant behavior. Norm-breakers may come in for rough treatment by the people around them -- which may induce them to honor the norm in the future. And norm-conformers may do so because they have internalized a set of inhibitions about the proscribed behavior.
Here are a number of key empirical and conceptual questions that are raised by norms.
What is a norm?
How are social norms embodied in behavior and structure?
How do individuals internalize norms?
How do norms influence behavior?
Why do individuals conform their behavior to a set of local norms?
What factors stabilize a norm system over time?
What social factors influence change in a norm system?
Before we can go much further into this issue, we need to have a fairly clear idea of what we mean by a norm. We might define a norm as --
a socially embodied and individually perceived imperative that such-and-so an action must be performed in such-and-so a fashion.
We can then separate out several other types of questions: First, what induces individuals to conform to the imperative? How do individuals come to have the psychological dispositions to conform to the norm? Second, how is the norm embodied in social relations and behavior? And third, what are the social mechanisms or processes that created...