Social Norms

… a core concept used in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101

Concept description

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (reference below” defines social norms as “the customary rules that govern behavior in groups and societies, [which] have been extensively studied in the social sciences.”

It goes on to say:

“With a few exceptions, the social science literature conceives of norms as exogenous variables. Since norms are mainly seen as constraining behavior, some of the important differences between moral, social and legal norms, as well as differences between norms and conventions, have been blurred. Much attention instead has been paid to the conditions under which norms will be obeyed. Because of that, the issue of sanctions has been paramount in the social science literature. Moreover, since social norms are seen as central to the production of social order or social coordination, research on norms has been focused on the functions they perform, and whether they do so efficiently.

“In almost all the literature on norms, it is unquestionably assumed that norms elicit conformity, and that there is a strong correlation between people’s normative beliefs and their behavior. By normative beliefs is usually meant individual or collective beliefs about what sort of behavior is prescribed (or proscribed) in a given social context. Normative beliefs are habitually accompanied by the expectation that other people will follow the prescribed behavior and avoid the proscribed one.”


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2011), Social Norms, at, accessed 31 August 2018.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Interests and the Policy Process (core topic) in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101.

Page created by: Alec Wreford, last modified by Ian Clark on 31 August 2018.

Image: Oxfam, What do aid agencies need to do to get serious on changing social norms?, at, accessed 31 August 2018.