Yet even if a norm may fulfill important social functions such as welfare maximization or the elimination of externalities, it cannot be explained solely or mainly on the basis of the functions it performs.The simplistic functionalist perspective has been rejected on several accounts since, even if a given norm can be conceived as a means to achieve some social goal, this is usually not the reason why it emerged in the first place (Elster 1989).Social norms, the customary rules that govern behavior in groups and societies, have been extensively studied in the social sciences.Anthropologists have described how social norms function in different cultures (Geertz 1973), sociologists have focused on their social functions and how they motivate people to act (Durkheim 1950; Parsons 1937, Parsons and Shils 1951; Coleman 1990; Hechter and Opp 2001), and economists have explored how adherence to norms influences market behavior (Akerlof 1976; Young 1998).


With a few exceptions, the social science literature conceives of norms as exogenous variables.

Since norms are mainly seen as constraining behavior, some of the important differences between moral, social and legal norms, as well as differences between norms and conventions, have been blurred.

Much attention instead has been paid to the conditions under which norms will be obeyed.

Like a grammar, a system of norms specifies what is acceptable and what is not in a society or group.

And analogously to a grammar, it is not the product of human design and planning.

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