The Various Types of Social Norms

Table of Contents

Social norms refer to beliefs about how members of a society should act in a given context. Social norms vary from one community to another, depending on their cultural backgrounds. The norms fall into various categories, depending on their societal roles. Most of these norms are applicable across the board and are equally applicable in most professions, especially nursing, where social interaction takes the lead. Outlined below are the most common social norms and their relevance to the nursing profession.


Folkways refer to the socially approved standards of behavior among community members. Folkways do not hold any moral significance but form standards to analyze certain characters and behavior. A breach of folkways does not attract serious consequences but is not tolerable by society members. Sociologists believe that folkways often arise unconsciously during social interaction among people. The most common folkway in the nursing profession is wearing gender-sensitive clothing and ensuring an individual’s privacy. Privacy is paramount in most societies today, and every society has its norms regarding the dressing code of its people. A breach of this code of dressing may result in restrictions in terms of movement, or one may earn a rebuke from the society leadership. Further sanctions that a breach of folkways may attract a nurse include low esteem from peers and possible deterrence from practice until the requirements are observed.


Like the folkways, mores are social norms resulting from social interaction. Mores refer to the strict norms that control people’s ethical and moral behavior in a social setting. Mores revolve around the rules of right and wrong, and people normally feel obliged towards them since their violation often results in disapproval. The most common examples of mores that extend into the nursing profession are the religious beliefs and doctrines that govern various societies. Certain religious doctrines largely emphasize decency among women; thus, those who subscribe to such religions may express reservations when a woman wears revealing clothes. Sanctions drawn by mores are often serious and attract stringent punishments. Nurses work in different environments; hence, they must understand the mores applicable within those particular settings. Doing this would help them interact freely with the diverse cultures and social settings where they meet other people.


Taboos are the societal norms that members of a given community hold close. Violation of taboos often results in extreme disgust, and in most instances, violators are regarded unfit for the given social setting. For instance, Muslims consider pork consumption taboo since they perceive pigs as unclean animals. Violation of this taboo can attract painful sanctions such as expulsion from the community. Knowledge of community taboos is important since it regulates the levels of interaction between professionals and society members hence bringing harmony.


Laws are formal types of norms written and enforced by certain law agencies. Violation of laws often draws sanctions of great magnitude depending on the weight of the law breached. Such sanctions could include jail terms, fines, or a ban from practice. Following the law, the procedure is extremely important for nursing since it determines whether a nurse proceeds with practice or not. In many jurisdictions across the world, national laws affect the nursing profession, for instance, laws that touch on issues such as abortion and euthanasia, among many others. Such laws could land nurses jail terms and a permanent ban from practice if breached.

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