Social Norms and Values
Both the term, norms, and values, are often used interchangeably in our day-to-day life. But sociologists use them in a specific sense.
Social norms are culturally established rules, standards, guides, and which define correct and acceptable human behavior in a society or a group in particular situations or circumstances, and the norms are based on social values. Norms prescribe the way people should behave in particular situations. In short, norms are a bundle of do’s and clones and are rules to regulate individual and group behavior for social order.
- The expectation that students should not cheat in the examinations is a norm and honesty is a value.
- To wear a school uniform is the norm and the value it carries is the uniformity among the students.
- Similarly, in all societies, there are norms that define acceptable male and female dress.
What are the 4 types of Norms?
Sociologists speak of at least four types of norms as follows:
Characteristics of Social Norms
The characteristics of social norms are discussed as:
Social norms are universal: These are found in all societies. Social norms are the basis of social order. No society can function smoothly without norms.
Norms incorporate value-judgment: A norm is a rule or standards of behavior shared by the group members which they are expected to follow. As standards of behavior, norms are concepts that have been evaluated by the group and they incorporate value-judgment. In terms of value, we judge whether some action is right or wrong, good or bad, expected or unexpected.
Norms are relative: Norms vary from society to society. Sometimes, norms vary from group to group within the same society. All norms may not govern the behavior of all people. For e.g. Norms applicable to older people are not applicable to children. Similarly, norms applicable to policemen are different from those of teachers.
All norms are not equally important: Norms are enforced by sanctions, i.e. reward and by punishment. But all norms are not equally strict and they do not carry the same kind of punishment because they differ in importance. The most important norms in society are called ‘mores’ and those who violate them are severely punished. Other norms, called ‘folkways’, and those who violate them are less severely punished.
Norms are internalized by the individuals: Norms become part of personality through the process of socialization. Individuals internalize the norms of society. Individuals generally behave in accordance with social norms.
Functions of Norms
The major functions or importance of social norms are discussed below:
Norms are indispensable to society’s existence: Norms are an important part of society. Norms and society go together. Man depends upon society for his existence. Norms make living together in society possible. Without normative order, society is not possible.
Norms regulate behavior: Norms are a control mechanism. It is through norms that society regulates the behavior of its members in such ways that they perform activities fulfilling societal needs.
Norms maintain social order: Norms are part of social order. They are a control mechanism. The social order is maintained by norms. That is why it is said that human social order is a normative order.
Norms help to have self-control: Norms help individuals to have self-control. Because of the constraints imposed by norms individuals conform to the norms and maintain discipline by controlling their behaviors.
Norms maintain social cohesion: Society achieves coherent structure through the norms. The collective and cooperative life of people is made possible because of norms. The normative system gives society internal cohesion.
Meaning of Values
In sociology, the meaning of value is different from the meaning of value in economics or philosophy. For example, in economics values means price.
Values are stable, long-lasting beliefs about what is right, good, important, desirable, and worthwhile to an individual. Values influence the nature of an individual’s behavior. Values are the criteria people use in assessing their daily lives; arrange their priorities and choosing between the alternative course of action.
For e.g. values such as patriotism, respect for human dignity, rationality, sacrifice, individuality, equality, democracy, etc. influences the nature of an individual’s behavior and guide their behavior in many ways.
Definition of Values
- G.R. Leslie, R.F. Larson, H.L. Gorman says, “Values are group conceptions of the relative desirability of things”.
- Michael Haralambos says “A value is a belief that something is good and worthwhile. It defines what is worth having and worth striving”.
Characteristic of Values
Values are generally connected with morality and contain a judgmental element, involving the beliefs about what is right, good, important, desirable, and worthwhile to an individual. The characteristics of values are:
- Values provide standards of competence and morality.
- Values are fewer in number than attitudes.
- Values are abstract concepts, not specific objects, situations, or persons.
- Values are relatively stable, permanent, and resistant to change.
- Values are most central to the core of a person.
- Values have two attributes – the content and intensity. The content attribute stresses that a particular code of conduct is important. The intensity attribute specifies how important that particulars code of conduct is.
- When we rank an individual’s values in terms of their intensity. We obtain the value system of that person.
Functions of Values
- Values provide goals or ends for the members to aim for.
- As values are shared in common they hold the society together by providing uniformities in group interaction. Some sociologists argue that shared values form the basis for social unity. Since they share the same values with others, the members of society are likely to see others as “people like themselves”. They will, therefore, have a sense of belonging to a social group.
- Values bring legitimacy to the norms or rules that govern specific behaviors and activities. The rules (norms) are accepted as rules and followed mainly because they embody the values that most people accept. For e.g. Nepalese people believe that helping the poor is the way to make God happy if one wants to achieve sacredness in life.
- Values help to bring about some kind of adjustment between different sets of norms (rules). As people seek the same kinds of ends or goals in different fields of their life, they modify the rules in order to achieve their goals.
Relationship between Norms and Values
Norms and values have unique relation. Norms are specific whereas values are not. Social norms are culturally established rules, standards, guides and which define correct and acceptable human behavior in a society or a group in particular situations or circumstances whereas values are stable, long-lasting beliefs about what is right, good, important, desirable, and worthwhile to an individual and are more nearly independent of specific situations.
The same value may be a point of reference for many specific norms while a particular norm may have several separate values. For e.g. the value “equality” may be the norms for relationships between husband and wife, brother and brother, teacher and student, etc. On the other hand, the norm “a teacher must not show favoritism in grading” may in particular instances involve the value of equality, honesty, humanitarianism, etc.
Difference between Norms and Values
- Norms are rules and expectations that describe how people should and should not behave in particular situations whereas values are general standards, which decide what is good and what is bad independent of a specific situation.
- Values are ends while norms are means to achieve these ends.
- Sometimes, the values and norms of a social conflict with each other. The change in one element of material culture (e.g. mechanization of agriculture as value) may conflict with the associated aspect of non-material culture (destroy norms of joint family or collective living).
- The same value may be a point of reference for many specific norms while a particular norm may have several separate values. For e.g. the value “equality” may be the norms for relationships between husband and wife, brother and brother, teacher and student, etc. On the other hand, the norm “a teacher must not show favoritism in grading” may in particular instances involve the value of equality, honesty, humanitarianism, etc.
Relationship of Norms, Values, and Sanctions
Though there is a difference between norms and values, still, there is often a direct relationship between values, norms, and sanctions of society. For e.g. if a society highly values the institution of marriage, it may have norms that prohibit the act of adultery and allow divorce only in rare cases and strict sanctions such as punishment (jailed, fined) in case the norms are violated. Similarly, next e.g. if society views private property as a basic value, it will probably have strict laws (i.e. norms) against theft.