Dialectics of norms in modernization

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The frequently lamented weakening of social and law norms in modern societies is examined. After some concern about norm erosion in classical sociology, empirical social research on mass communication, industry, the military, and urban life soothed earlier concerns. Yet criminological evidence on late modern and rapidly modernizing societies, qualitative research in the sociology of culture, and quantitative life-course research attest to a weakening of normative standards during the second half of the twentieth century. Their findings are propelled by communitarian discourses. However, long-term historical research and some studies in the sociology of law demonstrate the growing strength of norms that regulate interpersonal violence. Contradictory evidence thus suggests replacing one-dimensional and unidirectional ideas about the impact of modernization on the strength of legal and social norms by a dialectic understanding. A set of hypotheses is developed, based on diverse literatures on organizations and the economy, culture and the life course, political and social movements, and crime and the law. The hypotheses concern the dialectic consequences for the strength of norms, of the growing size of social units, growing participation in labor markets, transition of economic forms, formal rationalization of law, and the shift from a noninterventionist state to an interventionist welfare state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-305
Number of pages29
JournalSociological Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2002


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