Norm/norm criticism

A norm signifies the ‘normal’, often implicitly acceptable behaviour in a social group. It may concern the way people look or dress, or how they are supposed to act in general. Norm compliance gives a person advantages ranging from simply living a smoother everyday life to significant privileges and power. Similarly, norms imply disadvantages for non-compliers. This leads to discriminatory structures. Norm criticism is an umbrella term for methods and theories utilised to transfer the attention from those who do not comply with the norm to the actual taken-for-granted norm.

One example is so-called norm-critical pedagogy. This perspective was formulated as a contrast to tolerance pedagogy, which encouraged tolerance of deviance. From a norm-critical point of view, the starting point is rather that it is the prevailing norms and not the victims of discrimination that constitute the problem. The goal is not to create societies or social context without norms. Yet norms change in interaction with economic and material conditions in society, and they can be influenced through active change management. Examples of commonly discussed norms include the hetero-norm, the functionality norm, whiteness norms and the binary gender norm.

The concept of norm criticism gained popularity in Sweden in the early 2000s, but the norm-critical method has a longer history. Feminists, queer activists and theorists have all been important for its development, and norm criticism is currently used both within research and as methods in the educational and occupational sectors.