What are social norms?

We explain what social norms are, their characteristics, examples and their relationship with legal norms. In addition, other types of standards.

  1. What are social norms?

Social norms are a group of rules and provisions determined by society regarding the conduct of individuals.

These are social considerations that society imposes on us as adequate or respectful. However, non-compliance does not constitute a crime , but must be followed to enjoy a better coexistence and acceptance.

Social norms include values , customs , rituals, traditions and behaviors of all kinds, which may be more or less close to moral norms or the cultural tradition of society.

These types of norms are informal and come from the social consensus , that is, from what a certain society (or sector of it) considers in good taste at a given time.

  1. Characteristics of social norms

Social norms vary according to their sociocultural context , they are not universal: they depend on the place and time to which they belong. For example, the social norms of Victorian England, famous for its puritanism and modesty, are not the same as they exist today in the same country, nor were they similar to those that existed at the same time, but in China.

On the other hand, the breach of the social norms does not entail a formal or legal sanction in itself, but not following them can lead to situations of rejection , since what they are looking for is to standardize the behavior. For example, we may be denied the right to enter a church, if we intend to do so in a bathing suit.

  1. Examples of social norms

social norms greeting
Social norms depend on the historical and cultural context.

There are all kinds of social conventions that qualify as social norms. For example:

  • In almost the entire West, he shakes hands when greeting an unknown person. If, instead, it is someone familiar, the greeting changes to a kiss on the cheek or other types of interactions, which in turn will depend on the sex of that person: in certain countries men greet each other with a handshake always, while in others it is normal to kiss on the cheek.
  • In colonial America dependent on Spain, it was usual to separate society by race (Indians, blacks, whites), and formal treatment between the subaltern races (Indians and blacks) towards the dominant one should be given according to certain linguistic formulas: “Your mercy” or “Your excellence.” Whites should do the same when dealing with emissaries of the king or their own authorities.
  • In some Muslim countries, the code of respect at mealtime involves the final belching as a sign of thanks and approval. In the West, on the other hand, belching at the table is a gesture considered rude and in bad taste.
  1. Social norms and legal norms

Social and legal norms have a similar origin: they are part of the norms with which a society decides by consensus to govern itself and that organize, structure and articulate everyday treatment. However, legal norms have a much more formal, universal and coercible status , since their non-compliance entails severe sanctions by the State .

On the contrary, social norms can lead to misunderstandings, to offend others, or to social isolation, but rarely to more risky situations.

Furthermore, social norms can be respected in many ways, even partially, or they can be replaced by others. While legal norms are immovable and define the framework of justice and coexistence of societies.

  1. Other types of standards

The norms or normative orders can be of many types, according to the authority that issues them or to the vital space that they try to regulate or control. Thus, it is also possible to talk about:

  • Religious norms . They arise from religious institutions and regulate the spiritual life of people. They are personal and voluntary. They imply adherence to a code or philosophy considered as a path to salvation or elevation.
  • Legal norms . They come from a judicial or legal authority and are coercive. They make up the body of laws with which a society governs itself.
  • Moral standards . They govern the behavior of individuals in a society. They depend on what that society considers “good”, “bad” or “adequate.”

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