Norm Critique

Norms are written and unwritten “rules”. Many norms are positive, and represent the foundation for a well functioning society. But there are also norms that are limiting.

There is never only just one reason why degrading treatment or bullying occur.

Bullying has to do with complex processes where background and reasons can be found on multiple levels. It’s easy to focus on only the individual level, but in order to understand a situation of bullying, it’s important to include the group, organizational, and societal perspectives.

It is also imperative to have a norm critical approach, reflecting on the written and unwritten “rules” that exist at different levels.

Different Perspectives (levels)

Norms on a societal level can be hard to identify since they often are a natural part of life; in conversations between people, in news, school books, commercials, etc. Norms/values on this level have also affected us all in some way while growing up and forming our own identities.

Norms within an organization can for example be found by looking at the employees being hired, diversity, dress codes, etc. It is also about how the organization manages different processes. In a school for example, is there a systematic approach to stop and prevent bullying? To what extent are the teachers and students involved in this work?

Often groups are formed through a “we/us” and “they/them” way of thinking. This can lead to group members feeling stronger and safer, but also to negative treatment of persons who are not part of the group. Formation of a group often includes invisible rules for how the individuals should behave or look like, socioeconomic status etc.

The individual psychological factor may interact with other factors that make the degrading treatment occur; but is not an exclusive explanation. Even if the individual is expressing the degrading treatment/being subjected to it, there are underlying causes. For example past experiences, the culture/climate in the school/sports clubs, home conditions, etc…

Those who differ from the norm risk being subjected to degrading treatment.

Norms and Power

In discussions about how to decrease the limiting effect of norms we often hear that “tolerance” is the answer. That those who are fitting into the norms should learn to tolerate those who don’t. This strategy is a well meant try to help those who don’t fit into the norms, but actually manifests the norms even more. It doesn’t promote equal value, it doesn’t change the power balance.


Norm Critical Approach

The fundamental part is to be aware of and question why some things are considered “normal”, instead of focusing on “tolerating” things that are not within those norms. This is a crucial approach in order to challenge norms that are limiting and discriminating.

What are the norms at your school, your sports club, your workplace? In your community?

Take a moment to reflect about what is considered good/bad, cool/uncool, right/wrong, normal/abnormal? It could for example be about how to behave, looks, clothes, technical gadgets, where to live, what interests to have, etc.

Could these norms be perceived as limiting for someone? Could there be kids who feel bad due to these norms?

Norm critique permeates all our educations. Contact us to learn more.