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Changing Violent Norms

July 14, 2009

Sociologists study values and norms because they believe norms form a base for shared behavior. In other words, if most people think they should behave a particular way in a specific circumstance, then that behavior becomes both predictable and common in society. Common behavior allows for the development of social organization and stabilizes society—that is, if the norms producing these behavior are constructive. But what happens if underlying norms and values of common behavior are not productive? What happens if these norms or values are destructive or even promote violence?

This is a hypothesis that many sociologists use, in part, to explain why some people are violent. Norms are taught to us—we are not born with them. Thus, these sociologists hold that some people are taught to be violent—in other words, the use of violence forms a “base norm” for some groups of people. But if destructive norms are some of the underlying factors that create and maintain violence in some areas—why can’t we just teach people different norms?

Andy Coghlan of “Science and Society” reported that a new program based on changing values and norms has apparently reduced the firearm shootings and killings in areas of Chicago and Baltimore between 41% and 73%! Retaliation murders, those committed by people in response to another act, dropped in some area by 100%! The tactics for this program, dubbed CeaseFire, includes teaching people that solving problems with violence is “uncool” or makes the person look “stupid”. The violent actor loses respect on the street.

Below is a short recording of a counselor talking to young people in a violence intervention group sponsored by CeaseFire called “Project Change”. This is an eight-week program of life-skills training, part of which is teaching alternative problem solving methods and negotiation techniques.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, select a topic below and respond to it:

1. Explain how the CeaseFire program can be used to illustrate the practical application of sociology.

2. Do you think this program would work in your community? Why or why not?

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