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Asked by ggg56 | Mar 26, 2008 | AS Level > Sociology > Homework
ggg56 asks:

what is meant by the term 'universalistic norms'

etutor answers:

Norms can be exclusionary or universalistic.

Norms of difference and exclusion are specific to a group or community or culture. They benefit members of a more or less well-defined subgroup within a larger society. In addition to defining a relevant behaviour, they often define who is in and who is out of the group or community. Hence, if we violate our community’s norms, our community might exclude us from active participation. If we value membership and participation in that community, we may see this exclusion as a severe sanction. Hence, we will have a strong interest in
abiding by our community’s norms in order to avoid exclusion. This interest might be exceeded by other interests, such as the prospect of obtaining a very good job that our community would frown on, especially if it is a job outside the community.

Universalistic norms typically are thought to apply to everyone or to everyone in a particular kind of role. Some universalistic norms cover very small group interactions and others cover essentially collective interactions. For example, the norm against lying typically covers interactions between two or very few people. A collective norm against dropping litter or polluting the air is typically not one that merely concerns our immediate associates but people throughout the larger society, including many whom we do not and will not ever know.

A striking fact about these classes of norms is that some of them are far more likely to be congruent with interests than are others. It is prima facie in our interest to abide by our community’s norms of exclusion. But we would typically also find it against our interest to violate the norm against lying because such a violation is likely to make those to whom we lie reluctant to rely on us in the future, to both our disadvantage
and theirs. Again, this interest might occasionally be overcome by other interests that would give us an incentive to lie. We would not, however, so immediately see it as in our interest not to drop litter. Indeed, what makes it against our interest to drop litter is primarily (and perhaps only) the possibility of facing sanction in some way for doing so. We might personally prefer not to drop litter for our own moral or fastidious reasons, but it might often not narrowly be in our interest to avoid dropping litter. In general, universalistic collective norms are less likely to be backed by interests independent of sanctions than are
universalistic dyadic norms.

I hope this is helpful.

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responded Jun 6, 2008 12:05:08 PM BST
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