Belle Lettre asks me what the word “normative” means in sociology. Norms figured heavily in my lecture on “Morals” just last week, so why not:
“Normative” has two separate senses and what is considered the primary usage differs. Commonly elsewhere but less commonly among sociologists, “normative” is most often seen to precede “theory”, “statement”, or “claim.” A normative statement is a statement about how the world ought to be, to be distinguished from a “descriptive”, “explanatory” or “positive” statement that is an intended characterization of what the world is.
More commonly in sociology, “normative” means “sustained by social norms.” Norms, in turn, are socially held ideas about appropriate conduct. “Socially held” reflects that individuals can recognize that norms have a status apart from their own personal beliefs about appropriate conduct. Speaking casually, norms are what everybody knows everybody knows about what is appropriate behavior. Norms are sometimes codified as laws with violations handed by the justice system, although there is no necessary or obvious relationship between norms and laws. Because they are ideas about appropriate conduct, norms are closely bounded up at least with informal sanctioning, which can encompass any way in which violations of norms are treated negatively and/or behavior consistent with norms is treated positively.
Deviance, as Belle Lettre’s friend notes, is often defined precisely as deviation from norms. The preference for “deviance” over, say, “crime” or “perversion,” is that one can treat behavior deviating from a norm as one matter and how exactly that deviation is interpreted by others as another.
Anyone with a different take?