Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Social Norms

Social Norms

Michael Hechter
Karl-Dieter Opp
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 452
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610442800
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Social Norms
    Book Description:

    Social norms are rules that prescribe what people should and should not do given their social surroundings and circumstances. Norms instruct people to keep their promises, to drive on the right, or to abide by the golden rule. They are useful explanatory tools, employed to analyze phenomena as grand as international diplomacy and as mundane as the rules of the road. But our knowledge of norms is scattered across disciplines and research traditions, with no clear consensus on how the term should be used. Research on norms has focused on the content and the consequences of norms, without paying enough attention to their causes.Social Normsreaches across the disciplines of sociology, economics, game theory, and legal studies to provide a well-integrated theoretical and empirical account of how norms emerge, change, persist, or die out.

    Social Normsopens with a critical review of the many outstanding issues in the research on norms: When are norms simply devices to ease cooperation, and when do they carry intrinsic moral weight? Do norms evolve gradually over time or spring up spontaneously as circumstances change? The volume then turns to case studies on the birth and death of norms in a variety of contexts, from protest movements, to marriage, to mushroom collecting. The authors detail the concrete social processes, such as repeated interactions, social learning, threats and sanctions, that produce, sustain, and enforce norms. One case study explains how it can become normative for citizens to participate in political protests in times of social upheaval. Another case study examines how the norm of objectivity in American journalism emerged: Did it arise by consensus as the professional creed of the press corps, or was it imposed upon journalists by their employers? A third case study examines the emergence of the norm of national self-determination: has it diffused as an element of global culture, or was it imposed by the actions of powerful states? The book concludes with an examination of what we know of norm emergence, highlighting areas of agreement and points of contradiction between the disciplines.

    Norms may be useful in explaining other phenomena in society, but until we have a coherent theory of their origins we have not truly explained norms themselves.Social Normsmoves us closer to a true understanding of this ubiquitous feature of social life.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-280-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)
    Michael Hechter and Karl-Dieter Opp

    Norms are cultural phenomena that prescribe and proscribe behavior in specific circumstances. As such, they have long been considered to be at least partly responsible for regulating social behavior. Without norms, it is hard to imagine how interaction and exchange between strangers could take place at all (this was a main point in Emile Durkheim’sThe Division of Labor in Society[1893] 1933). Among other things, they instruct people not to kill, not to injure others, to keep their promises, to abide by the Golden Rule, and so forth. That foundation of Judeo-Christian ethics, the Ten Commandments, is neither more...

  5. PART I DISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVES ON SOCIAL NORMS

    • 1 SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE EMERGENCE OF SOCIAL NORMS
      (pp. 3-34)
      Christine Horne

      No concept is invoked more often by social scientists in the explanation of human behavior than ‘norm’” (Sills 1968, 208). Particularly for sociologists, norms are fundamental. Despite their importance, however, there is little consensus about them—what they are, how they are enforced, and how they emerge. Because of this disagreement and confusion, it is difficult to know just what the contribution of sociology has been to the study of norm emergence. Outsiders criticize the discipline for having produced little that is useful (Ellickson 1998), and sociologists themselves are unsure of the state of research on the issue. Part of...

    • 2 THE EVOLUTION OF SOCIAL NORMS: A PERSPECTIVE FROM THE LEGAL ACADEMY
      (pp. 35-75)
      Robert C. Ellickson

      In a classic article that helped launch the field of law and economics, Harold Demsetz (1967) described how members of a tribe of Labradorian Amerindians had privatized their hunting territories in order to exploit new opportunities to sell fur pelts to Europeans. Demsetz offered no explanation, however, of how the Labradorians had succeeded in altering their ways. In effect, he relegated the inner workings of the tribe to a black box. In this chapter I look inside that black box and Suggest how a “market for norms” might enable the individual members of a social group to adjust their informal...

    • 3 NORMS IN ECONOMICS, WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
      (pp. 76-104)
      Thráinn Eggertsson

      A culture, whether it is a national culture, a corporate culture, or the culture of academic economists, guides behavior through both formal rules and informal norms. Just like laws, norms reflect shared beliefs and ideas about various facets of society. Norms specify what behavior is required or, less stringently, what behavior is not allowed; and they sanction illegitimate behavior. Specialized agents of the state, such as police officials and judges, enforce laws and regulations, but norms rely on decentralized enforcement. A person who violates a norm can receive punishment in three different ways: from an actor who directly is affected...

    • 4 GAME-THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE EMERGENCE OF SOCIAL NORMS
      (pp. 105-136)
      Thomas Voss

      Rational choice theory argues that social norms emerge because the norms’ content yields benefits for some agents. Game theory is that branch of rational choice theory that deals with social interactions among rational actors. The subject of game theory is therefore social action and social relations among rational agents (in Max Weber’s sense). The emergence of social norms is closely related to the Hobbesian problem of social order, and its explanation is among the most important issues of social theory. In this chapter I discuss game theoretical approaches to social norms.

      A core concept of game theory is the Nash...

  6. PART II NORMS IN SOCIAL CONTEXT

    • 5 ENACTING NORMS: MUSHROOMING AND THE CULTURE OF EXPECTATIONS AND EXPLANATIONS
      (pp. 139-164)
      Gary Alan Fine

      If groups are to maintain a stable social order—an order that supports social psychological needs for predictability—members must develop a robust and complex system of expectations of behavior that allows for the actions of others within their perceptual fields to be treated as routine. These anticipations and their associated meanings constitute a group’s culture. Despite the assumption of creativity in cultural production, it is the mundane, the ritual, and the foreseen that make a culture the collective property of individuals. The creation of a fine-graded, shared understanding leads to the Hobbesian conundrum, the defining ur-question of sociology: How...

    • 6 THE EMERGENCE OF THE OBJECTIVITY NORM IN AMERICAN JOURNALISM
      (pp. 165-185)
      Michael Schudson

      Objectivity is the chief occupational value of American journalism and the norm that historically and still today distinguishes U.S. journalism from the dominant model of continental European journalism (Donsbach 1995, 17–30).¹ Objectivity is at once a moral ideal, a set of reporting and editing practices, and an observable pattern of news writing. Its presence can therefore be identified by several measures: (1) journalists’ express allegiance to the norm—in speeches, conferences, formal codes of professional ethics, textbooks in journalism education, debates and discussions in professional journals, and scientific surveys of journalists’ opinions; (2) ethnographers’ observations of journalists at work...

    • 7 NATIONAL SELF-DETERMINATION: THE EMERGENCE OF AN INTERNATIONAL NORM
      (pp. 186-233)
      Michael Hechter and Elizabeth Borland

      This chapter contrasts two leading views on the emergence of norms: an institutionalist view advocated by many sociologists (see chapters 1 and 10, this volume) and an individualist view, which underlies most economic, rational choice, and evolutionary analyses (see chapters 2, 3, 4, and 9, this volume). These two views are used as prisms through which to examine the emergence of the norm of national self-determination.

      Self-determination can refer to individuals as well as to groups like nations. For individuals, self-determination is a synonym for the attainment of personal autonomy; it refers to “acting as a causal agent in one’s...

    • 8 SOCIAL NETWORKS AND THE EMERGENCE OF PROTEST NORMS
      (pp. 234-273)
      Karl-Dieter Opp

      Many citizens feel an obligation to participate in politics. For example, empirical studies have shown that a duty to participate in protests is accepted not only by activists in protest groups but by a great number of ordinary citizens, as well. This chapter explores the emergence of protest norms. Because there is no standard theory in the social sciences that can explain the rise of protest norms, it is first necessary to specify the relevant general propositions. Although there is much theoretical speculation on the importance of social networks for the emergence of norms, the precise role of social networks...

    • 9 THE EMERGENCE OF MARRIAGE NORMS: AN EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
      (pp. 274-304)
      Satoshi Kanazawa and Mary C. Still

      Evolutionary psychology is an application of evolutionary biology to human behavior. It is an emerging perspective that is sweeping psychology and anthropology, one that promises to provide a universal microfoundation to all social and behavioral sciences. Although evolutionary psychology proper is a micro theory of human cognition and behavior, we believe that, coupled with reasonable assumptions, we can extend it to explain emergent properties, such as norms. It is our contention in this chapter that the evolutionary psychological perspective can explain the emergence of a large number of norms, particularly those that are considered to be morally significant.

      Evolutionary psychology...

    • 10 SEX AND SANCTIONING: EVALUATING TWO THEORIES OF NORM EMERGENCE
      (pp. 305-324)
      Christine Horne

      Norms are most often seen as behavioral rules, about which there is some degree of consensus, that are enforced through social sanctions. Although much sociological research is relevant to the issues of norm distribution and effectiveness, there is little explicit focus on the content of normative rules. Two general approaches to the issue can be identified: for some scholars, norms reflect existing behaviors; for others, they constrain self-interested action that has negative consequences for the group. Examples that appear to support and to contradict both perspectives come readily to mind, but little empirical evidence exists that allows rigorous evaluation of...

  7. PART III EXPLORING THE EMERGENCE OF SOCIAL NORMS

    • 11 NORMS OF COOPERATIVENESS AND NETWORKS OF TRUST
      (pp. 327-347)
      Karen S. Cook and Russell Hardin

      We may motivate cooperation either through norms of cooperativeness or through relationships of trust and trustworthiness. Although either device might work in any context, there appear to be distinctive realms in which these two devices work best. Norms work best for smaller groups or communities with long-standing relationships. Trust and trustworthiness play their role most clearly in more complex societies in which individuals establish or join multiple networks for achieving various purposes. Strong norms typically involve spontaneous within-group sanctioning of violators. The possible sanctions for violation of a group’s norm are quite numerous and varied because there need be no...

    • 12 RULE FINDING ABOUT RULE MAKING: COMPARISON PROCESSES AND THE MAKING OF RULES
      (pp. 348-393)
      Guillermina Jasso

      Humans are rule makers. Every day, and in every area of life, they make rules—rules for themselves, rules for other individuals, and rules for groups and societies.¹ This intense rule-making activity may be a manifestation of a basic impulse to organize and systematize and simplify. Indeed, humans are not onlyrule makers,they are alsorule finders.In understanding the world around them, humans find a wealth of rules—rules that summarize their views about the way the world works.

      It is thus no accident that science and ethics—the fruits of the intellect and the will, to use...

    • 13 WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT THE EMERGENCE OF SOCIAL NORMS?
      (pp. 394-416)
      Michael Hechter and Karl-Dieter Opp

      In this final chapter, we consider the extent to which the empirical analyses in part II of this volume point the way to a theory of the emergence of norms.¹ First, we explore some of the principal points of agreement and disagreement that have surfaced in the volume. This prompts us to reconsider the fundamental issue of how norms can best be defined. We then proceed to a number of suggestions for future empirical research. The chapter concludes with some observations about the ambiguity and mutability of norms.

      Because our contributors represent a wide variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives,...

  8. Index
    (pp. 417-429)