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Culture and Social Norms

TOK presentation on cultural differences in social norms.


on 7 January 2014

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Transcript of Culture and Social Norms

Social Norms
and Culture

Examples of varying social norms
Japan - dating typically begins in college (boys ask and pay for dates)
Iran - against the law to date, separated until marriage
Ways of Knowing Addressed
Social Norm
Used to indicate an
established and approved way of doing things

(e.g. dress, speech, appearance, etc.)
Can vary in different groups and evolve through time
Ignoring social norms risks one to becoming unacceptable/an outcast
Social norms are not static
Affected by:
Different settings: Ex. church vs. a party
Different time periods: Ex. 1800s vs. modern dating behavior
Different countries/cultures
Perception of Time
Asian countries - perception of time is rather past-oriented (ancestors, values, etc.)
Latin America - present oriented
W. Europe and N. America - future oriented
Muslims - very clear set of protocols (washing, cleansing, prayers)
Aboriginals (Australia) - leave dead in trees
Solomon Islands - leave in reef for sharks to eat
What affects human behavior in culture?
Social standing
Past experience
A group-held belief about how members should behave in a given context
The "Ring"
OK to a Westerner
Insulting to Turks and Brazilians
Thumbs Up
Hitchhiking, OK, good
"Up yours pal!" in Iran and Iraq

4 Categories of Norms
: a norm for everyday behavior that people follow for the
sake of convenience or tradition
Ex. Holding the door for someone behind you

: a norm
based on morality
, or definitions of right and wrong
Ex. Muslim and Western perceptions of the role of women in marriages based on cultural moral values


: a norm that is
written down and enforced by an official agency
. Violating a law results in a specific punishment.
Ex. No driving while intoxicated, shouldn't kill people
: a norm that
society holds so strongly that violating it results in extreme disgust
. The violator is often considered unfit to live in that society.
Ex. In most countries, cannibalism and incest are considered taboo. In some Muslim countries, eating pork is taboo.
Passing on norms through words
Praise/criticism can be positive/negative sanctions for norms
Our use of language can be dictated by social norms
Ex. You wouldn't say "F*** You!" when answering the phone because that is frowned upon
Relating back to real-life situation, my mom told me that the norm in Chinese culture was to insist on paying.

What is the role of language in sustaining relationships of authority?
Chinese culture - you would call your teacher "teacher" and your siblings by their respective positions in the family
Are social norms dictated by what we are able to express? Or would they be sustained regardless of what is spoken/if they are spoken at all?

Does this mean language barriers between cultures have an effect on what we are able to understand about their social norm behaviors?
Ex. A German man and a Japanese man are greeting each other, they don't speak each other's languages, how would they know what to do?
Sense Perception
Seeing parents, taking in what we observe as the norm; sensation + interpretation
Non-verbal communication cues, such as a head shake or a nod, can deter or reinforce behavior in order to conform to norm
Ex. Going to the mall without pants
Real life situation: As I grew up, I noticed that many families didn't do that here, hence the dropping of the Chinese social norm for a different one
Can cultural differences in social norms affect the way we perceive a specific situation?
Ex. Two people are both observing another man take off his shoes in an airport, an Indian and a French - How would they react? Why?
Or, being loud in a public place - Which cultures would see it as ok, which would not?
What does this imply about sense perception's validity in comparison to cultural perceptions? Which one should be more valued?
Is this really the most vital way of establishing norms? Would there even be norms if sense perception was limited?
Real-Life Situation
Typically when I go out to eat with my mom and her friends (Also Chinese, for clarification), I end up dreading getting the bill. Not because I have to pay but because I know what's about to happen:
The check comes, everyone tries to reach for it, the situation starts out fairly normal - one person offers to pay. Nope. Someone protests and will literally snatch the bill away. Another tries to sprint to the front desk first.
It ends up turning into a brawl of middle-aged Asian women, fighting over who gets to pay. And I'm sitting there, pretty much mortified.
But why? It's considered odd in Chinese culture to NOT try and pay.
Knowledge Issue: Does culture have an impact on what social norms we adopt, or are social norms perpetuated by culture itself? (In short, which influences which)
The desire to feel accepted is a main motivator behind conformity to social norms
Asperger's Syndrome - a developmental disorder that makes it very difficult to interact with other people
Their emotional reactions to certain comments/situations may not be what others are looking for, which might lead to discomfort
Can this be compared to cultural barriers where another person acts in a way that we don't find acceptable? Or are they entirely different?

Different cultures are all able to recognize the six basic emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust). What does this imply about norms? Are they universal as well?
What about the prioritization of emotions? What emotions does American culture regard as more important than others?
How do you expect people to act at a funeral?
How come some languages have words for a certain emotion but others don't?
Ex. Tahitians do not have a word for sadness. Germans have a word, schadenfreude, indicating joy at someone else’s misfortune, that has no equivalent in English.
What role would this play in establishing norms?
Areas of Knowledge
How come certain norms are seen as unethical in one country and ethical in another?
Are there any that are universal?
Stealing - would this be considered ethical in certain cultures?
River Town - Chinese students interpret Hamlet differently, they question why Hamlet dares to go against the King (Claudius)
Structure of cultural norms, respecting authority is the norm

Knower's Perspective
I'm obviously the product of two significantly different cultures so, over the years, I've had to try and pick which social norms I want to adopt. This has made me question why I choose certain norms over others, and why each culture has their own definitions of "normal."

I personally believe that social norms evolve to fit cultures but they are not exclusively determined by what kind of culture we grow up in. Each person is not limited to the social norms within their own culture, it's just a matter of which ones are more important to them as an individual.

Some cultures may uphold structure to a high regard and there will be a greater emphasis on adhering to social norms, whereas others allow for more freedom in expressing social behavior to society's standards. All cultures, however, do have social norms in order to distinguish who is a part of the group, and who isn't. So, what does this say about human nature?
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