Folkways in Sociology: Definition, Patterns & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Folkways…
  • 1:00 Distinguishing Folkways
  • 2:35 Examples of Folkways
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Anskat
Explore the essential element of culture known as folkways. In this lesson, you'll learn about this type of social norm and the patterns associated with folkways. Then you can test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of Folkways in Sociology

How do you greet someone when you first meet him? Often, greetings include some form of 'Hello' and 'How are you?' Perhaps you shake the person's hand and smile when you introduce yourself. You probably expect similar behaviors from the other person. You can be confident that the person you're meeting will reciprocate in a similar manner because these behaviors are folkways.

Folkways are the customs or conventions of daily life. They are a type of social norm -- expectations for how we act. In sociology, folkways are generally discussed in contrast to mores because they are both types of social norms, though they vary in the degree to which they are enforced. Folkways are mildly enforced social expectations, while mores are strictly held beliefs about behaviors. Mores dictate right and wrong, while folkways distinguish between proper and rude behavior.

Distinguishing Folkways

Let's return to that example of meeting someone. What if the person you're meeting doesn't respond the way you'd expect? Perhaps he will refuse to shake your hand, get your name wrong, or interrupt you. You may think he is rude or come away from the interaction with a bad impression of the person. He is breaking the rules of social interaction - in other words, he is violating your culture's folkways. For the most part, our reactions to such violations are mild. We may come away from the person with a bad impression, but we will not be calling the police to report his behavior. This is where folkways differ from mores. While both fall under the umbrella of 'social norms,' violations of mores are met with severe punishments from society. The reactions to violation of social norms, including folkways and mores, are called sanctions.

It is important to note that different cultures have different social norms. What may be considered normal in the United States may be considered unusual elsewhere. For example, many American tourists are confused by the bartering that goes on in other cultures. In the United States, our customs dictate that the price listed at a store or market is non-negotiable, but in other cultures, bartering is the norm.

Folkways also vary given the specific context. If a man walks onto a public bus with no shirt on, he'll receive quite a few stares or dirty looks, but this same behavior on the beach is considered normal. Talking on the phone in a public park is not unusual at all, but in a church, speaking on the phone would be considered very rude.

Examples of Folkways

There are almost an unlimited number of examples of folkways. Here are some common examples:

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