Essay on the Causes of Conformity

2. Insulation:

Role conflict and conflict in the norms that apply to the same actor may contri­bute to deviance. But some built-in-arrangements may serve to reduce normative conflict and thereby contribute to conformity.

(i) One such arrangement is that the norms that might conflict are pre­vented from doing so by applying to different times and places,

(ii) Another kind of insulation is that a given actor carries out the activities of his various roles with, or face-to-face with different role- sets. For example, a bank manager may learn music through his own sub-ordinate during non- official working hours accepting him as his own teacher. He may give rewards and show respect to his sub-ordinate in this regard. But during the working hours the sub-ordinate will have to accept his inferior status and obey the commands of the manager.

Thus, even though the individuals remain the same in both the contexts their roles and role-expectations differ markedly. The clarity with regard to the role-expectations helps to reduce uncertainty and conflict and support conformity.

3. Hierarchy of Norms:

Norms that apply to the same actor are found to be in the form of a hierarchy. It means the norms are ranked in order of precedence. Hence if role-expectations conflict with one another the actor has grounds for making a choice.

The hierarchy of norms as well as their time and place aspect is part of culture. For example, a soldier may be put to such a conflicting situation in which either he will have to attend to the needs of the ailing mother who is on the deathbed or rush to the battle-ground to attend to the urgent call of the army.

The hierarchy of values and norms of his society help the soldier to take the appropriate decision. It is through socialisation the hierarchical aspects of the norms are learnt. If the different aspects of a cultural system are properly integrated and if socialisation helps the individual to understand this integration he will have no difficulty in following the expected forms of behaviour. The integration of the cultural system serves as a guide for the individual behaviour.

4. Social Control:

Various formal as well as informal means of social control help the socialised actor to imagine and anticipate what would happen to him if he violated the norms. Thus sanctions lead the conformity even though they are not actually applied.

5. Ideology:

People’s conformity to group norms depends to some extent upon the ideas and ideology that they hold. The norms partly express broader values that are more purely and precisely emphasised in ideology. Ideology strengthens faith in the existing system. Ideology adds to the norms themselves a kind of an “intellectual” support. Hence it helps to motivate people to conform to its norms.

6. Vested Interest:

Conformity to social norms does not always depend upon idealistic mo­tives alone. Sometimes, due to vested interest or self-interest also people conform to them. Norms define rights as well as obligations. They protect our rights also. Some of the rights protect the exclusion of other members.

Those who enjoy such advantages are likely to be satisfied, with the norms that protect them. Hence they support these norms with a greater sense of conviction than the disadvantaged persons. Property rights are a good example in this regard.

The term ‘vested interest’ is used here in a neutral sense. Hence it may represent one’s genuine interests or purely selfish interests. Thus landlord’s rents are vested interests for they are legitimate. Illicit liquor makers support prohibition laws with a vested interest that it would help them to make money.

Other Causes:

Robert Bierstedt gives four causes for the question—’Wry we conform to the norms’. They may­be briefly discussed here.

1. Indoctrination:

We conform to the norms simply because we have been indoctrinated to do so. Indoctrination refers to the process of injecting into the personality of the child the group norms. We are taught, for example, to take our bath at certain times, to wash our clothes, to respect our elders, to avoid vulgarity, to walk on the1 right side of the road, and so on.

The norms are indoctri­nated through the process of socialisation. As a result, they become a part and parcel of the person­ality of the individual. Conformity to the norms becomes very natural because of indoctrination.

2. Habituation:

We conform, to the worms because we become habituated to them. What is customary is likely to become in many cases habitual. Some of the norms are indoctrinated in the beginning, but they become habitual practices afterwards. We are taught to wash our hands and mouth after the meal but after a while it becomes a matter of habit.

Repetition makes a practice a habit and most of the folkways come to be rooted in the individual in this way. When one is habitu­ated to a practice, one observes it automatically, without thinking or putting forth deliberate at­tempts. Habituation reinforces the norms and guarantees the regularity of conformity.

3. Utility:

We appreciate the unity of norms and hence we conform to them. Norms help us to interact with others with much comfort and ease. For example (i) we are asked to sell the tickets of a drama show for which only a limited number of seats are available. Then we prefer to sell them to those who come first to purchase them. We justify our action with an expression “first come first served” (ii) Similarly we recognise that the flow of traffic at busy intersections is smoother and less dangerous when signal lights are installed. Thus, we stop at red light and start at green one. We find it reasonable to obey the traffic rule for it has the slogan “the life you save may be your own”. In many social situations we realised the utility of the norms to which we conform.

4. Group Identification:

We conform to the norms of our own social groups rather than to those of groups to which we do not belong. We thus conform to the norms because conformity is a means of group identification. By conformity to the norms we express our identification with the groups.

Sometimes, we even conform to some irrational folkways because they are our own and they identify us with our own society and our own social groups. For example, a particular student tries to bring home prepared lunch to the college to eat during the lunch interval (even though it is very difficult for him to bring it because of particular domestic situation) just to be in the company of his fellow-members of the ‘clique’.

In some situations we may try to conform to the norms of the group to which we would like to belong and to identify ourselves. Such groups are called by Merton ‘reference groups’.

For ex­ample, a medical student or a law graduate may begin to observe and to conform to the norms of doctors or lawyers. Even in this case group identification is significant.