norm/normative. Those sets of social rules, standards, and expectations that both generate and regulate social interaction and communication. Norms are identified above all by their morally constraining and binding nature, and are perhaps best viewed as thc 'dos and don'ts' of any social situation. They refer to the ways in which we tend to orientate ourselves in interaction by reference to what we feel is appropriate, acceptable or generally expected. In this sense norms have been seen not only as negotiated features of interaction, but emphasis has been placed on the ways in which they regulate individuals in interaction. This latter emphasis itself stems from a view of society as a constraining external 'normative order' into which individuals are socialized.
The concept should therefore be seen as raising a number of related problems and related debates. The extent to which norms may be said to be universal or all-embracing within any social group or society, forms a useful point of entry into these debates. Think through any two different social situationsfor example, interacting with friends at a party, and interacting with strangers on a train. What norms might be common to both scenarios, and which ones might be specific to one or the other; do any apparently conflict or contradict? These questions highlight the difficulty of isolating norms from the active contexts of interaction, because seemingly diverse and often contradictory norms characterize the social groups, role relations and contexts within which we continually interact and participate. A second but related issue concerns the degree to which all communication and interaction is structured and determined by norms. One view, for example, would stress the idea that all social conduct is indeed directed towards conforming with the norms and expectations of others. Such a view would maintain that conformity and social order are maintained and reinforced by a variety of social controls and penalties, often referred to as sanctions. Indeed it is very often through the operation of sanctions that we become aware of norms which commonly do tend to be invisible or taken for granted until broken or transgressed (for example, behaving at a friend's party as if everyone was a stranger on a train). Responses to breaking or ignoring norms range from mild disapproval to outrage, ridicule and a whole battery of formal and informal punishments. However, two major problems confront this view. First, the tendency to suggest that all social activity is governed by norms has been challenged by attending to the creatlve, relatively unstructured aspects of interaction (see, for example, symbolic interactionism), and the ways in which individuals not only conform to but also constantly negotiate and break norms. The second issue at stake here concerns the definition and reinforcement of norms. Do they represent and support particular dominant or powerful groups' interests, activities and values as opposed to others, or do norms represent an underlying social consensus, whereby 'society' regulates and reproduces itself? [from: O'Sullivan, 1994]