Expressive Law, Social Norms, and Social Groups

22 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2016 Last revised: 10 Jan 2017

Date Written: March 18, 2016


To understand how law works outside of sanctions or direct coercion, we must first appreciate that law does not generally influence individual behavior in a vacuum, devoid of social context. Instead, the way in which people interact with law is usually mediated by group life. In contrast to the instrumental view that assumes law operates on autonomous individuals by providing a set of incentives, the social groups view holds that a person’s attitude and behavior regarding any given demand of law are generally products of the interaction of law, social influence, and motivational goals that are shaped by that person’s commitments to specific in-groups. Law can work expressively, not so much by shaping independent individual attitudes as by shaping group values and norms, which in turn influence individual attitudes. In short, the way in which people interact with law is mediated by group life.

Keywords: norms, psychology, attitudes, expressive law, deterrence, legitimacy

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Nadler, Janice, Expressive Law, Social Norms, and Social Groups (March 18, 2016). Law and Social Inquiry, Forthcoming, Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 16-02, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 16-06, Available at SSRN: or

Janice Nadler (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - School of Law

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-3228 (Phone)
312-503-2035 (Fax)

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611

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