Which one of the following authors first used the term “folkways” to explain the social norms? | Sociology for CUET by Vikash Ranjan | Sociology Guru

Social Norms


Question: Which one of the following authors first used the term “folkways” to explain the social norms?

  1. Robert Redfield
  2. Levi-Strauss
  3. Ralph Linton 
  4. W.G. Summer

Answer: (4)

Understanding Folkways:

Folkways are a crucial concept in sociology, referring to learned behaviors and customs shared by a social group that represent a traditional mode of conduct. These are social conventions that are not necessarily considered morally significant by the members of the group. The term “folkways” was coined by the American sociologist William Graham Sumner, who played a pivotal role in elucidating the nature and function of these societal norms.

W.G. Sumner’s Contribution:

William Graham Sumner, a prominent American sociologist and professor at Yale University in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, introduced the term “folkways” as a fundamental concept in his sociological framework. Sumner’s work laid the foundation for the understanding of social norms and their role in shaping human behavior within a society.

Sumner’s definition emphasizes that folkways are social conventions lacking moral significance from the perspective of the group members. They are habitual behaviors and customary practices that emerge through repeated successful acts in addressing basic human needs. Sumner noted that these behaviors often operate at an unconscious level and become widely accepted within a social group.

Characteristics of Folkways:

Origin in Habit and Tradition:

Folkways originate from the frequent repetition of acts that prove successful in fulfilling fundamental human needs. Over time, these habits become ingrained in the social fabric and are passed down through generations.

Uniformity and Acceptance:

Folkways are characterized by uniformity and widespread acceptance within a social group. They represent shared behaviors that contribute to the cohesion and functioning of the community.

Link to Social Institutions:

Sumner observed that folkways tend to revolve around major social concerns, such as sex, leading to the formation of social institutions like the family. These norms become integral to the structure and functioning of society.

Consistency and Patterns:

Sumner believed that folkways from various areas of life tend to align and become consistent with each other, creating definite patterns within a society. This contributes to the stability and predictability of social interactions.

Transformation into Mores:

While folkways are not necessarily considered morally significant, Sumner introduced the term “mores” to describe behaviors that become ethical principles essential to the welfare of society. Mores are more coercive than folkways and may involve severe disapproval or punishment for violations.

Evolution and Change:

Sumner’s perspective on folkways and mores suggests a conservative nature. He doubted the conscious ability of society members to change these norms. However, he acknowledged that small variations introduced by individuals in their observance could contribute to some degree of change over time.

Comparison with Mores:

It’s essential to distinguish between folkways and mores within Sumner’s framework. While folkways represent customary behaviors that are not morally laden, mores are ethical principles that society deems crucial for its well-being. The breach of mores often results in severe disapproval or punishment.

Relevance in Contemporary Society:

The concept of folkways remains relevant in the study of sociology and cultural anthropology. Understanding the unwritten rules and customary behaviors within a society provides insights into social dynamics, cultural practices, and the norms that shape human interactions. In contemporary society, the distinction between folkways and mores continues to influence social expectations and consequences for behavior.

Critiques and Limitations:

While Sumner’s work on folkways has been influential, it is not without its critiques. Some scholars argue that his conservative view on the conscious change of norms overlooks the dynamic nature of societies and their capacity for intentional transformation. Additionally, the application of these concepts to diverse cultural contexts requires careful consideration of cultural relativism and the variability of norms across societies.


In conclusion, the term “folkways” was first introduced by W.G. Sumner, an American sociologist, to explain learned behaviors and social conventions within a group. Folkways represent customary practices that contribute to the cohesion and functioning of societies, with an emphasis on habit, tradition, and uniformity. Sumner’s framework also introduced the concept of mores, distinguishing between behaviors considered morally significant and those that are not. While Sumner’s work has left a lasting impact on the field of sociology, it is important to approach the study of folkways with an awareness of cultural diversity and the dynamic nature of human societies.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Question: Define the term “ethnic movement” and provide an example from India.

Answer: An ethnic movement refers to a collective effort by a group sharing common cultural, linguistic, or religious traits, seeking to assert their identity and rights; an example from India is the Khalistan Movement in Punjab.

2. Question: Identify the main objectives behind the Gorkhaland ethnic movement.

Answer: The Gorkhaland ethnic movement primarily seeks to establish a separate state for India’s Nepali-speaking population in the Darjeeling region, advocating for linguistic and cultural recognition and political autonomy.

3. Question: What was the Operation Blue Star, and which ethnic movement was it related to?
Answer: Operation Blue Star was a military action in 1984, aiming to remove Sikh militants hiding in the Golden Temple in Amritsar; it is related to the Khalistan movement, which sought a separate Sikh country.

4. Question: Mention a critical factor that triggered the emergence of ethnic movements in India, as discussed by Dipankar Gupta.
Answer: Dipankar Gupta emphasized that ethnicity is fundamentally a political process, wherein caste and religion, the key components of identity formation, are politicized by leaders for vested interests.

5. Question: What were the primary reasons for the Assam Ethnicity conflicts involving Bodo tribals and Bengali Muslim settlers?
Answer: The Assam Ethnicity conflicts primarily stemmed from issues related to immigration, land rights, and resource allocation, leading to clashes, riots, and evolving relationships among indigenous communities to address challenges.

6. Question: Briefly describe the role of the Dravidian Movement in terms of caste and societal structure.
Answer: The Dravidian Movement, led notably by E.V. Ramasamy, aimed to establish an egalitarian society, focusing on anti-Brahmanism and advocating for equal rights for backward castes, while also introducing reforms like self-respect marriages.

7. Question: Name the prominent ethnic movements in North-East India and specify one common objective.
Answer: Prominent ethnic movements in North-East India include the Nagas’ and Mizos’ struggles; a common objective was to gain autonomy and recognition for their distinct tribal identities and cultural uniqueness.

8. Question: What is the key argument of Gail Omveldt regarding traditional Indian society and multiculturalism?
Answer: Gail Omveldt opposed romanticizing traditional Indian society, arguing that hierarchy has always dominated it and dismissing the notion that multiculturalism is an intrinsic feature of Indian society as a myth.

9. Question: Briefly explain the social hierarchy factor as a contributing element to ethnic movements as suggested by Olzak.
Answer: Olzak suggests that the construction of hierarchies among ethnic communities, which often leads to the suppression of one group by another, is a key factor that can instigate social and ethnic movements.

10. Question: Identify one consequence of the unequal economic development factor within the context of ethnic movements in India.
Answer: One consequence of unequal economic development is the marginalization and underdevelopment of certain groups, leading to feelings of alienation and sometimes initiating ethnic movements as these groups strive for equality and recognition.

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