Abstract: James Coleman “The Emergence of Norms”

Coleman says, norms are “directed at certain actions”, which he calls focal actions. Focal actions are actions which a person other than the actor “assumes partial control”. There are two forms of norms- proscriptive, which discourage or proscribe the focal action, and prescriptive, which encourage or prescribe. The first give the actor negative feedback to inhibit the action and the second positive to encourage the action (Coleman, 262). There is always an actor(s) whose actions are the “focal actions” and they are the “target actors”; there are also actors who benefit from observance of the norm, and they are “potential sanctioners”, holders of the norm.

Sanctioners assume right to partial control and are given this right by those actors. Coleman gives the example, “Children are to be seen and not heard”, children are the target actors, and adults are beneficiaries and “sanctioners” of the norm. A sanction can be negative or positive, inhibiting a negative and inducing a positive (Coleman, 263). Focal actions can be arbitrary or not- as adopted as “correct” conventional norm. Essential norms are norms in which the target’s interests are in opposition of observation and the holder’s interests are in action favoring observance. Coleman states, “actions that have externalities generate interests in the action among those actors who experience externalities (Coleman, 264).

Externalities can cause positive and negative experience– benefit and harm. The social problem is then, how to limit actions that have negative externalities and encourage actions that have positive externalities, and to what extent. Externalities are influenced by exchange of individualistic interest. Interests in externalities= “a demand for a norm on the part of experiencing those externalities” (Coleman, 264). (DSwint)