Social Norms Meaning, Definition & Characteristics

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 01:15 -- Umar Farooq

What does Social Norms Mean?

Social norms are the shared expectations of group members in a social situation, while culture norms are the ideally expected manners of behaviour. The given 'social situation' is created when the interaction processes work among the members. In such a situation how the initiator starts his interaction and what the receiving members expect from the initiator, are the roles defined by social norms. In other words, social norms are the codes of mutual relationship. These are the standards of right and wrong. The society expects from its members to abide by the normative behaviour of their culture. Culture provides sources of conformity to the norms and an intimidation to their violation. These guide our interaction pattern on the one hand and are reproduced during the same process. Without the existence of group norms, human behaviour is hardly differentiable from animal behaviour. Within our cultural values are imbedded and ultimately our values are protected by our social norms. Anything getting importance in life becomes our value. Social norms for its safety are produced. By mutual expectations among the group members human behaviour is predictable because we can anticipate others behaviour in a certain situation by their group norms.


According to Young &. Mack: "social norms refer to the "group-shared expectations".

Larson & Goerman: "Social norms are rules developed, by a group of people that specify how people must, should, may, should not and must not behave in various situations".

Robert Biesrdt define it “A norm is a rule or standard that governs our conduct in the social situation in which we participate'. He further writes that a norm can be treated as a cultural specification that guides our conduct in society.

Characteristics of Social Norms

Social norms are universal. Social norms are the very basis of social order. Any society in the absence of norms cannot perform the way it should perform.

Related to the factual order. In every society we find two types of order (i) the normative order that encourage member of the society should or ought to behave in a certain way, 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.

Incorporate rate value judgments. 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.

These are relative to situations and groups. These 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.

Not always obeyed by all. It is wrong to assume that people in a society obey all the norms always. Some obey it at some times and disobey or ignore some others at some the times.

Norms vary with sanctions. These vary in the kinds of sanctions that are attached to the violation of norms and sanctions go hand in hand.

Normally internalized by the people. People in most of the instances accept norms and follow them or obey them. They do not question and accept them implicitly.

Cultural and Social Norms

There are two aspects

Cultural Norms - Cultural norms are ideally expected manners of behavior." These are the goals of society. What we expect from our elders are our cultural norms and these are what our elders guide us and how they behave with us. These are the codes of behaviour found in our books, the chest of our elders, in the ideas of parents and expectations of society in all. These are in general social life of people. How they behave with one another and what they expect from one another are the social norms.

Social Norms: "Social norms are the socially approved ways of behavior." The ways to which people have no objection. The ways which are accepted by the people. These guide and controlled us in our actions. They distinguish us as man from animal. Animals have no norms. Human behaviour has a direction, an ideology and a purpose which are guided by social norms."