Analyzing a Norm

Ellickson-style Norm Analysis — How to Proceed

Identify a general topic and learn something about it. Observe if you can. Read about it. Become ethnographically familiar with the phenomena under investigation. Note that this does not, in general, involve reading a lot of sociology about the topic!

Write up a short rough draft on background & description of topic ( not more than 5 pages)

Next we need to zero in on an aspect of the thing that will be intersting and amenable to the type of analysis we are trying to do. Essentially, we are attempting to "test" Ellickson's hypothesis that close-knit groups evolve welfare maximizing norms to govern everyday affairs. This means we need to select an aspect of the thing we are looking at that will permit us to

assess the relative costs and benefits to groups members of the various rules and control techniques that COULD govern the behavior in question
be able to observe or otherwise know something about group relations, styles of interaction, etc. among the population/community we are talking about
actually identify some potential conflict or disagreement or grievance — in other words, there has to be some social control action possible
Next we need to identify opportunities for conflict and analyze these using game theoretic tools in the style Ellickson does.

Then we are going to have to describe the community. Networks, interaction, frequency. And then the actual behaviors, norms, use of third parties, rules, etc. What really happens? Does this group appear to use social norms to govern this behavior? If so, are they "welfare maximizing"? If not, why not? Is this a counterexample to Ellickson's hypothesis or does it offer an opportunity to enrich the theory by showing conditions that cause outcome of hypothesis not to hold?

In Order Without Law, Robert Ellickson offers an elegant sociological-economic model of when and what kind of informal control mechanisms—norms—emerge in social groups. His analysis provides a template that can be applied to other areas (he offers examples as various as whaling, beekeeping, and landlords).
This option is especially apt for PLEA students and for sociologists who want to develop the sort of interdisciplinary sense that's critical for success in contemporary social science.

Project: Essentially this — pick a behavior that is embedded in a community of some sort and do an Ellicksonian analysis (follow the model of his later application chapters). You will begin by providing substantive background on the phenomenon in question: numbers, history, practices, lingo, distributions. Then identify the dimensions of potential conflict – what are the different interests at stake? What does this look like in a game theoretical framework? And what does the community look like? Are there networks, frequent or repeated interaction? Opportunities for gossip and reputation? What actually happens? What patterns do we see? Are third parties called in to resolve disputes? Are there legal rules? Do people know them? Do they cite them? All of this adds up to your being about to test Ellickson's hypothesis that tight knit groups manage to come up with welfare maximizing norms to govern their work-a-day affairs.



Some Suggested Topics

Dog walking Curbing one's dog.
Work rates in the factory or the classroom (how do folks know to not work too hard and make their classmates look bad?)
Offensive language (both foul language and "insensitive" language) Racist/Sexist/Xist jokes
Flushing toilets, washing hands, etc. Shared bathroom behavior Locker room behavior
Paying for public TV/radio
Snow shoveling, yard and garden maintenance
Noise (apartments, restaurants, beaches, camping)
Chat rooms and list serves (netiquette)
Queues, Cutting in line
FaceBook etiquette
Museum content, censorship, community standards, etc.
Online Privacy (how to control companies from stealing your personal information)
Stealing friend's boy/girlfriends, Sexual overtures in presence of rivals?
Yielding while driving
Gift giving (especially around hospitality (e.g., taking a bottle of wine when you go to dinner))
Splitting checks when you go out with a group
Carry-on baggage on airplanes
Parking etiquette (e.g., how long can you wait for an opening space with traffic piling up behind you?)
Public disciplining of children
Taking food at buffet
Borrowing and lending
Witnessing crime, reporting things, etc
Private sexual behavior
Cell phone etiquette
Eating habits Patron-server rel'ship, dress code, tipping, other behavior in restaurants
Public transportation etiquette
Classroom dynamics
Talking in cinema
Smell control in public gatherings
Fences and property lines
Being a political non-conformist
Self presentation clothing/hair Social graces Body language Public demeanor in general Appropriate attire
Punctuality and responsibility about absence at work
Notification and "Letting people know" Gossiping. Too much information.