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normative order

normative order Any system of rules and shared expectations governing a particular social situation. The concept occurs most frequently in functionalist theory, especially the normative functionalism of writers such as Talcott Parsons, where the various elements of the normative order (notably shared value-commitments but also obligations of membership and sentiments of loyalty) operate to secure social order. The centrality of the societal normative order to Parsonsian accounts of social stability is evident in his claim that ‘societal order requires clear and definite integration in the sense, on the one hand, of normative coherence and, on the other, of societal “harmony” and “coordination”. Moreover, normatively-defined obligations must on the whole be accepted while conversely, collectivities must have normative sanction in performing their functions and promoting their legitimate interests. Thus, normative order at the societal level contains a “solution” to the problem posed by Hobbes—of preventing human relations from degenerating into a “war of all against all”’ (The System of Modern Societies, 1971). This is probably as concise a statement of the organizing principle of Parsons's sociological theory as occurs anywhere in his voluminous writings. See also CONSENSUS; HOBBES, THOMAS.

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