Social theorists have long agreed that social norms assume an essential role in structuring social interactions; norms tell us what we ought to do in all aspects of social life. Examples of social norms include the rules that one ought not to cheat or steal, rules of etiquette, and even the rules of sports and games. In contrast to the norms of morality, the content of social norms might well be irrational or morally odious: social norms that mandate the subordinating treatment of women are a common and widespread example. Social norms are ‘artificial’ in the sense that they are created and sustained- albeit often without intention or design- by the societies of which they are norms. They exist and derive their action-guiding force in virtue of being accepted by a significant portion of members of that society.

That legal norms are a type of social norm is a view widely shared across disciplines. It marks one of the most significant areas of common ground between legal positivists and socio-legal scholars. In this presentation, I draw on scholarship from social ontology, jurisprudence and socio-legal studies to investigate this presumption. I argue that laws are not necessarily social norms. In particular, I observe that in rare cases, laws and legal systems may lack the kind of widespread acceptance that is essential to the existence (validity) of social norms. My aim is to explore what the discrepancies between legal norms and social norms might tell us about the nature of law and its normative force.

Alice currently pursues an ESRC-funded DPhil project at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, in which she explores the development of information privacy laws in Germany and the UK. She joined the Law Faculty after graduating with a Starred First Class degree from Cambridge University, where she studied for a BA in Politics, Psychology and Sociology. Alice also holds qualifying law degrees from King’s College London and the Humboldt University in Berlin (LLB Law with German Law and Erstes Juristisches Staatsexamen). 

Alice is Lecturer in European Union Law at St Hilda's College and Tutor in Political Sociology at Harris Manchester College.