Variable: Formal Norms

Formal norms are the formal rules governing behaviour in a society, and can include mandatory and voluntary policies. These include federal, state, county, and municipal/town/village laws, by-laws, and codes. Formal norms act, therefore, at and between a range of scales. There is temporal and spatial variance in the creation and implementation of formal norms - both social and political processes.

Formal norms are more serious than informal norms, and are institutionalized; they usually are codified in laws that not only prohibit certain actions but proscribe punishments for breaking such norms (Wrong 1994). Misdemeanor and felony laws are examples.

Because formal norms literally govern the behaviour of societies, they are critical to understanding the function of any human ecosystem. Measures of formal norms include inventories (e.g. of rules pertaining to a particular type of behaviour at different scales), and counts and patterns of compliance and enforcement. In addition, the proportion of rules governing particular behaviour can indicate the relative importance of the subject of the rules within a given population or place.

Formal norms often govern patterns of resource extraction and use, and therefore clearly influence biophysical resources. In addition, formal rules govern our behaviour relative to one another (e.g. murder and theft are illegal in most places, public execution in many).

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