Deviation from Social Norms

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  • Created on: 04-06-13 12:59
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Deviation from Social Norms
In all societies, there exists a widely accepted standard of behaviour. These standards may
be required by the law, for example, do not murder, or they may be implicit, i.e. generally
accepted but not legally binding, such as not breathing on people.
Therefore, one approach of defining abnormality is as a `deviation' from those behaviours
which are recognised socially as, `normal' or acceptable. Any behavioural patterns which
breach these behaviours can be described as `abnormal'.
Cultural relativity: Behaviour that is considered socially acceptable in one society may
appear abnormal elsewhere. For example, walking around Birmingham town centre naked
would be a definite breach of social norms, however in a naturist society, this would be the
social norm.
Open to abuse: This definition can be distorted by the desirability of behaviour, which
can be used as a means of political control. That is, behaviours that are not desirable to the
ruling leaders of a society can be deemed as psychopathological, and so people who, for
example, challenge a dictatorial leading party's views, could be unjustly locked up, branded
as abnormal and dangerous.
Era dependent: The application of the deviation from social norms definition can be greatly
influenced by time. Social norms change over time, and behaviour that was once considered
psychopathological may become accepted as socially acceptable behaviour over time. For
example, interracial marriages were once condemned and widely considered unacceptable
in Western societies. Nowadays however, they are no longer considered abnormal.
Deviation from social norms can be valuable: This definition of deviation from social
norms does not take into account the value of some breaches of socially acceptable
behaviour. For example, Jesus Christ was written to have interacted with lepers and people
with communicable, physical diseases. This was widely considered unacceptable behaviour
however it broadcasted a very important message about loving people regardless of their
physical condition.
Context is extremely important: Deviation from social norms definition often cannot be
applied at face value rather must be considered carefully according to context. For
example, a man walking around town wearing an undersea diver outfit may upon first glance
seem abnormal, however if there is a charity race going on then this behaviour suddenly
becomes acceptable.


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