In sociology courses, students learn about social norms. Social norms are actions and behaviors that are common and accepted in a society. For something to be a norm it has to be widely accepted and understood by the society. For example, giving up your seat on a public bus to an elderly person is considered a social norm. The action is known to many people in our society, and it is understood be to be the kind a generous thing to do.
Norms can be described in four ways. First norms are described as formal or informal. Formal norms describe appropriate behavior, and have a punishment if a person acts inappropriately. These kinds of norms are usually written down, and include the laws of our society. Shoplifting is a type of formal norm, because it is considered illegal and there a consequences which can include jail time or fines.
Informal norms are behaviors that many people are aware off and try to do, but do not have consequences if the norm is broken. For example, in our society it is considered polite to hold the door open for other people, and a large amount of people do hold door for other. However, other people do not, and while it is rude, there is no consequence of not following the norm.
Norms are also described in their importance to society. When describing norms in this way, they can be called mores or folkways. Mores are norms that many people identify with and considered necessary for the society to survive because they are actions many people either cherish or are against. Each society wants to follow their mores, so very often mores are formal norms. Murder and child abuse are both examples of mores.
Folkways are norms that control our everyday behavior. Folkways are important because they shape they shape how to people in a society behave. However, if these norms are broken few people will be concerned because these norms simply govern our everyday actions. Walking up the up escalator in a tore for example is a folkway. However, if someone walks down the up folkway it is an annoyance and breaks to norm, but will not result in anything negative such as being arrested.
In this clip from Californication, one observes the breaking of a social norm. In the clip, one gentleman answers his cellphone in the middle of a movie, and begins talking loudly to his girlfriend. This of course annoys his fellow movie goers, and makes sit difficult for anyone to enjoy the movie. A fight breaks out between the cellphone user, and another man in the audience, resulting in the cellphone user being punched and knocked out. Once the cellphone user is knocked out, the audience claps for the other man because he took care of the norm breaker, and they can all go back to enjoying the movie.
This clip is an example of social norms, because even though there is no law forbidding cellphone usage in movie theaters, it is a common practice for people to silence their phones while watching a movie. Because of the lack of consequences, talking on your phone while in a movie theater would be considered an informal and folkway norm.
Norms are a large part of our society because they govern the way we act, and so many of us follow them. Many of our daily behaviors such as tipping waiters at restaurants, waiting in line, and dressing appropriately for a job interview are social norms that we learned and apply to our daily lives without thinking about them.