Deviating from the social norm

Part I. Reflections on power of norms for social change

A multi-part series of insights inspired from a conversation with Verena Dolobella on the Power of norms for social change hosted with the New Zealand behavioural science community. In the first part, we unpack the themes of conformity and deviation from the norm to create the enabling conditions for social change.

The Asch experiment. The widely known concept of social norms can quite simply be described as the unwritten rules of human behaviour. A comical demonstration of this is observed in the Candid Camera experiment on conformity conducted by social psychologist Solomon Asch. In this classic 1962 episode titled “Face the rear”, an unsuspecting participant enters into an elevator where actors enter the elevator and all face the opposite direction. Time after time, participants conform with the actors’ behaviours and adapt to the norm that is set in this social environment.

The documentary. The electrifying, multifaceted Brazilian documentary - “Espero tua (Re)volta”, titled “Your Turn” in English, features storytelling from the perspective of students who demanded better quality public education. Their voices first gained impetus when they protested against a rise in transport fares which would disproportionately impact the low income families. Then, when a school in São Paulo shut down due to austerity measures, these students made a plan to occupy the school to get their voices amplified. In the face of budget reductions in public education, many other schools quickly followed suit and this new norm of occupying schools cascaded to over 200 schools in the country.

Check out 0:50 for a jaw dropping scene featuring the voices of the UNE (National Union of Students)


The gender equality campaign. The footage of the documentary starts from the year 2013, which was a very different time in Brazil. The country had elected its first woman as president, the main student leaders were women and #fightlikeagirl was adopted as the hashtag for the school occupation movement. This was the foundation for a new campaign to emerge from Brazil - the building blocks of the gender equality campaign. This campaign created behaviour change which started on social media, then was picked up by the mass media, followed by transformation in public opinion and led to changes in government legislature.

Bottom line - The conditions for social change emerges by deviating from the social norm and amplifying the voices of people under the new normal.

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