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The above description of folkways and mores should prompt us to agree that some clusters of folkways and mores are more important than others; for example those concerned with forming families and raising children are more important than those concerned with playing cricket. Organised clusters of folkways and mores dealing with highly important activities are embodied in the social institutions of the society.

Institutions comprise of behaviour, norms, values and ideals and systems of social relationships. To define it; “An institution is an organized system of social relationships which embodies certain common values and procedures and meets certain basic needs of the society.” In most complex societies there are five basic institutions – family, religion”, political (government), education and economic.

In modern societies science is institutionalized. Beyond these, the concept tapers off into less significant clusters of behaviour patterns like those surrounding football, hunting etc., which are sometimes loosely called institutions but probably should not be included because they are so much less important.


Institutions are among the most formal and compelling of the norms of a society. When the folkways and mores surrounding an important activity become organised into a quite formal, binding, system of belief and behaviour, an institution is said to have developed; for example, banking, corporate enterprise, investment markets, checking accounts, and collective bargaining are economic institutions which began with simple barter many years ago and passed through many stages of development. (Similarly you can think of how family or marriage as an institution has developed.) An institution thus includes:

(i) A set of behaviour patterns which have become highly standardized;

(ii) A set of supporting mores, attitudes and values; and

(iii) A body of traditions, rituals and symbols.



While some mores function simply as mores, there is a strong tendency for them to become incorporated into the laws of a society. Many people object mores automatically or because they want to do the right thing. Some, however, are tempted to violate mores. These people may be forced to conform by the threat of legal punishment.

Think of an erratic driver who is in the habit of violating traffic norms, hitting people and driving rashly. We control the behaviour of this driver through laws without which he could have caused various injuries to people. Thus, the law serves to reinforce the mores. Those who still do not conform are punished, imprisoned or even executed.

This discussion of law as a codified expression of the mores is a functionalist view of law. Conflict sociologists see law as a tool of the powerful in controlling and exploiting the powerless. They see law as a means of legitimizing exploitation. Police and courts enforce the arrangements whereby some maintain their privileges at the expense of the underprivileged.


Both views can be considered as correct. In any complex society, law enforces the mores and also protects and preserves the social system in which there are always some who are more privileged than others.


Mores are ideas which indicate whether acts are right or wrong. Values are ideas about whether experiences are important or unimportant. Value may, thus, be defined as a conception or standard by which feelings, ideas, actions, qualities, objects, persons, groups goals, means etc. are evaluated as desirable or undesirable, more meritorious or less, more correct or less.

For example, there is no moral debate about whether classical music is right or wrong. But while some people consider hearing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony one of life’s great experiences, for other it is a crashing bore.


People who highly value physical fitness will exercise regularly and watch their food and drink. Values thus guide a person’s judgement and behaviour.

Values are arranged hierarchically. In each society, some values are prized more highly than others. Punctuality, material progress, and competition are major values in American society while none of these is important to the Hopi Indians.

The members of a simple society generally are closely agreed upon a single set of values, while complex societies develop conflicting value system. For example, is it more important to promote maximum economic development or to protect the environment? Should people develop individuality or be responsive to group opinion? Is change better than stability? Would a return to the simple life be a gain or loss? Value disagreements are endless in complex societies, and values change from time to time.

Value shift also affects the folkways and mores. For example, the value shift toward sexual permissiveness is changing the mores of courtship, legal decisions about patrimony, and patterns of family life in American society. Meanwhile, the moral majority and others are making a determined effort to restore traditional sex and family values.


Values are an important part of every culture. An act is considered legitimate, that is, morally acceptable when it is in harmony with accepted values. When our values defined the admirable woman as dutiful, domestic and dependent, it was legitimate to discourage higher education for women; now that we increasingly admire women who are self-reliant, independent and successful, higher education for women is considered legitimate and necessary.

Note: Values’ are often contrasted with ‘norms’; hence it is important to have a conceptual clarity of ‘norms’ while considering values. A further discussion of norms and values is given below to clarify the matter.

Norms and Value

We, like any other culture, have a number of guidelines which direct conduct in particular situations differently with our friends and teachers, in accordance with certain guidelines. Such guidelines are known as norm a norm is a specific guide to action’ which defines acceptable and appropriate behaviour, in particular situations. For example, norms of dress provide guidelines for what to wear on particular occasions.

A formal dance, a funeral, a marriage party, a working day in office, on the building site or in the hospital – all these situations are governed by norms which specify appropriate attire for the occasion. Norms of dress vary from society to society. A Rajasthani lehnga-chunrii would be attire for special occasions like a marriage in parts of India like Bihar, UP and Orissa. But it is a normal dress of females all over Rajasthan.

Norms are enforced by positive and negative sanctions that are rewards and punishments. Sanction can be informal, such an approving or a disapproving glance or formal such as a fine or a reward given by an official body.

Continuing the example of norms, of dress, an embarrassed silence, a hoot or derision or a contemptuous stare will make most members of society who have broken norms of derision or a contemptuous stare will make most members of society who have broken norms of dress change into more conventional attire. Usually the threat of such negative sanctions is sufficient to enforce normative behaviour.

On the contrary, an admiring glance, a word of praise or an encouraging smile provide rewards for conformity to social norms. Like informal sanction, formal sanction may be positive or negative. The Supreme Court ruling that Election Commissioner should act responsibly, speak reasonably and maintain the dignity of a constitutional body like CEC, can be an example of negative formal sanction.

Unlike norms, which provide specific directives for conduct, values provide more general guidelines. As explained earlier, a value is a belief that something is good and desirable. It defines what is important, worthwhile and worth striving for. Like norms, values differ from society to society.

For example, the Sioux Indians placed a high value on generosity. In terms of Sioux values, the acquisitive individual of western society would at best be regarded as peculiar and more probably would be condemned as grasping, self-seeking and anti-social.

Many norms can be seen as reflections of values. A variety of norms can be seen as expressions of a single value. In western society the value placed on human life is expressed in terms of the following norms. The norms associated with hygiene in the home and in public places reflect a concern for human life.

Norms defining acceptable ways for settling an argument or dispute usually exclude physical violence and manslaughter. The array of rules and regulations dealing with transport and behaviour on the highway are concerned with protecting life and limb.

Many sociologists are of the view that shared norms and values are essential for the operation’ of human society. Man’s instincts are not enough; his behaviour must be guided and regulated by norms. Unless norms are shared, members of society would be unable to cooperate or even comprehend the behaviour of others.

Similar arguments apply to values. Without shared values, members of society would be unlikely to cooperate and work together. With differing or conflicting values they would often be pulling in different directions’ and pursuing incompatible goals. Disorder and disruption may well result. Thus an ordered and stable society requires shared norms and values.

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