Conformity in Daily Life
Whether a conscious decision or not, individuals regularly conform to these conventions in daily life. These daily conformities mold what is a common, yet remains a vital component of functionalism, conflict theory, interactionism, and social exchange. Functionalism is the theory that all aspects of a society serve a function and are necessary for the survival of that society. Educational organizations, specialized trades, government departments, and even homeowners associations are just a handful of countless institutions that form societies. Each institution has different specialties and responsibilities that provide an important function towards the overall clockwork of society. Similarly to the balance found in natural symbiosis or food chains, the removal or overpowering of one component would have far reaching effects across all institutions.
According to functionalist theory, the importance of conformity is exemplified by the value of its opposite- deviance. EmileDurkheim, the architect of modern sociology, viewed deviance as having 3 very important roles:
- “it clarifies norms and increases conformity”
- “it strengthens social bonds among people reacting to the deviants”
- “it can help lead to positive social change” (M Libraries 2018).
Although the positives of deviation seem to contradict the value of conformity, they actually just the means to provide a new and better conformity. In other words, the end goal of deviation isn’t continual change, but rather seeking out something better for society to conform to. An example of this is the retailer Walmart. When Walmart came onto the retail prominence, the market was saturated by smaller retailers that had established a market of higher prices. Walmart was considered a market deviant as it offered comparatively lowed prices than its competition. Although many businesses couldn’t compete and went under, the other only survived through similarly matching the reduced prices on goods. The result of this, Walmart contributed to 12% of the United States’ economic productivity gains in the 1990s (Semmens 2005). This deviation has led to a more an economically beneficial norm of lower prices for consumers.
Conformity in Business
Now, businesses that don’t conform to the new lower priced market on common goods, can no longer compete. Although conformity is often viewed with negative connotations and rebellion viewed with positive connotations, in reality rebellion and deviance are just a means to achieve something better to conform to or as a reinforcement of the value of current conformities. Conflict Theory is the belief that, because of limited resources, people belonging to differing hierarchal classes within a society are in an endless competition over power and position. Marx ‘s primary example of this was the factory. Moving down the hierarchal ladder, at the top is the owner of the factory. The owner of the factory and his family retain the majority of the wealth and resources produced from the factory despite being the smallest and having the lightest labor.
Further down the ladder is the manager of the factory. The manager is a middle class that below the owner but above the ground labor. A managerial position is attainable by the lower labor, but positions are limited and, like the owner, tend to favor incumbents and nepotism. The lowest level belongs to the largest group of the work force- the ground labor. This work force supplies the majority of the work necessary for the functioning of the factory yet receives the least power and wealth. Conflict theory holds that these, as well as many other classes in between, are in constant conflict over who deserves the wealth. The lower classes hold the majority of citizens and therefore, through revolutions, seek to lessen the disparity between themselves and the upper class. Generally, this entails each class making consolidations to increase their stature which is usually how new classes are formed. According to conflict theory, conformity is the backbone that holds society together despite being in a constant struggle.
Wealth and power are perhaps the two of the most desired attributes of all mankind, yet so few have obtained it. In almost every society the vast majority of its citizens belong to the middle to lower classes. Despite greatly outnumbering those in power, class revolutions take many years to become realized or are often not established at all. Although this is seemingly unproductive, it is actually better for the society as a whole. Societies flourish the most at times of the highest conformity and peace. A perfect example of this is post war America in the 1950’s. From 1940 to 1950, the U.S. economy jumped from 200,000 million to 300,000 million in just 10 years this coincided with what is considered the U.S.’s greatest time of conformity (Welling 2018). On the contrary, throughout history some of the greatest empires were weakened to their fall from dissent and revolutions. This is all due in large part to Marx’s key point that there is a limited amount of resources.
With limited resources, it is impossible for an entire society to belong to the upper nor middle class. Ironically though, as societies conform and flourish they begin to increase their resource input and therefore increase the amount of people able to move up in the hierarchy as proven again by 1950’s America (Welling 2018). Symbolic Interactionism is the perspective that through social communication and personal experiences, individuals create a perspective of the world around themselves by means of symbols. There are three main aspects to social interactionism: 1. Individuals confront situations and objects on the basis of previous experiences they’ve had with the situation or object 2. The way individuals view object and situations are greatly influenced by social interactions and the views of others 3. These views and symbols can evolve and change as more and more experience with them is faced. At its roots, symbolic interactionism is the view that perception is dependent upon experience and social interactions rather than invariable facts.
Conformity is the means by which individuals can most efficiently create symbolic meanings for the world around them. In this world there are experiences, situations, and objects without number. For the average individuals though, their confrontations with these countless things are very limited. A person living in the western hemisphere has probably never come face to face with an uncaged lion. A native to the Caribbean who hasn’t left the islands probably has never experienced snow. People living in impoverished nations haven’t ever experienced the sensation of amusement parks. An individual’s lack of experiences creates reliance upon the experiences of others to formulate a symbolic meaning to these various events. In modern day society the prominence of social media, film, and the internet have allowed people to formulate more and more perceptions than ever before. The majority of these representations are based upon the opinions of the masses. This creates a massive practice of conformity that extends beyond even one society.
An example would be a child in Brazil views an American tv show where the children in the show are disgusted by Broccoli. Having never eaten broccoli before, the child begins to view broccoli as a symbol of gross food whose consumption is more punishment than reward. Later in life, upon first tasting Broccoli the child believes it to be disgusting not because of a physiological disposition, but because he has trained himself to associate broccoli with a bad taste in an act of conformity. Conformity is a common and essential part to the harmony of almost very sociological perspective. It is ingrained in mankind extending beyond a learned behavior and found more within human’s very innate nature. In reviewing these perspectives, it is evident that these theories exist due in large part to several natural psychological tendencies of humans. It seems as well that human’s desire to conform is one of these key components that have created what we see in societies throughout history and modern day.
- Anonymous. (2018). Explaining Deviance | Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World. (2018). Retrieved from http://open.lib.umn.edu/sociology/chapter/7-2- explaining-deviance/
- conformity | Definition of conformity in English by Oxford Dictionaries. (2018). Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/conformity
- Semmens, J. (2005). Wal-Mart Is Good for the Economy. Retrieved from https://fee.org/articles/wal-mart-is-good-for-the-economy/
- Welling, G. (2018). The Postwar Economy: 1945-1960 < Postwar America < History 1994 < American History From Revolution To Reconstruction and beyond. Retrieved from http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/outlines/history-1994/postwar-america/the-postwar- economy-1945-1960.php