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Classifying Social Norms


Ann E. Carlson


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


THE JURISDYNAMICS OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: CHANGE AND THE PRAGMATIC VOICE IN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW, Jim Chen, ed., Fall 2003

Abstract:     
In this book chapter, I develop a typology of social problems at which social norms management and research might be directed. Much of the recent legal literature on law and social norms speaks of social norms generically and fail to distinguish among types of social problems. Yet a focus on different categories of social problems helps clarify important questions. How and when, for example, do social norms emerge to solve a social problem? What role can and should governments play in developing social norms as a regulatory tool? How should courts treat independently developed social norms? I suggest that the answers to these questions vary depending on at least two important characteristics: group size and the strength of economic or other interest among group members in resolving a social problem. I identify four types of social problems relevant to the development and management of social norms: "large-number, large-payoff" social problems, of which smoking and seat belt use are examples; "large-number small-payoff" collective action problems, which often involve the management of commons resources and include carpooling, recycling and blood donation; "small-group, large-payoff" problems, including Robert Ellickson's famous cattle ranchers; and a subset of small-group, large payoff problems involving commons resources, most thoroughly studied by Elinor Ostrom. Within some of these categories - small-number, large-payoff problems, for example - norms may arise internally to help resolve group problems and government may play little role in either facilitating or enforcing those norms. For other categories - large-number, large-payoff problems in particular - governments may seek to shape new norms to overcome bad behavior (or even bad norms) (drunk driving and smoking illustrate the point). The classifications, then, focus analysis on questions that may be of special import to one category of problem yet of little importance to another. By cataloguing and organizing social problems and the role social norms may play in resolving them the book chapter is meant to sharpen analysis, discussion, and debate about each particular group of problems.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 36

Keywords: Social norms, environmental law

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Date posted: November 14, 2003  

Suggested Citation

Carlson, Ann E., Classifying Social Norms. THE JURISDYNAMICS OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: CHANGE AND THE PRAGMATIC VOICE IN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW, Jim Chen, ed., Fall 2003. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=466002 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.466002

Contact Information

Ann E. Carlson (Contact Author)
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
310-206-9496 (Phone)
310-206-1234 (Fax)
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