Chapter 2 - Influences Subchapter: Societal forces

Wrap up

Social norms

Two illustrated characters at their work desks next to a water cooler and a clock.


  • Social norms are the unwritten rules of behaviour and belief in our social groups.
  • Social norms influence almost all aspects of our behaviour—including consent.
  • Norms are enforced by members of the group, through social sanctions.
  • Social norms aren’t perfect; some social norms are fundamentally disrespectful.
  • We should try to recognise and respond to disrespectful social norms.


Social institutions

  • A social institution is any stable structure with roles and hierarchy that fulfils the needs of the wider society.
  • We grow up in social institutions. We live, learn and work in social institutions.
  • Social institutions teach us how to behave and how to interact with others.
  • The influence of social institutions is usually good, but it’s possible for the people inside institutions to abuse their power or reinforce disrespectful norms.
  • We need to appreciate our institutions, but also challenge them when necessary.



  • Laws are like the guardrails of our behaviour.
  • Laws are like social norms but with a state sanction.
  • Generally speaking, in complex societies social norms become encoded as laws to enforce them.
  • Most laws that affect our relationships relate to consent, because in many cases consent is the difference between an act being acceptable or unacceptable.
  • Laws require consent for many shared personal actions.
  • Laws also try to protect people (like children) who can’t give informed consent.
  • There are lots of reasons why we would follow a law.
  • At the same time, if a law seems wrong or unjust, people might decide to push back on it.


Cultural values

  • Cultural values are shared beliefs and judgements about our behaviour. If you think something is good or important, you value it.
  • There is no definitive list of Australian values, but there are some trends: most Australians hold self-expression values but we are evenly split over traditional and secular-rational values.
  • Different groups can hold different values, and we can find ourselves in groups with group values that conflict with our personal values.
  • Values affect our relationships because they inform what we want from other people, and what we think is acceptable behaviour.
  • It’s worth looking at the values you’ve inherited from the groups you belong to, and asking yourself if they align with your personal values.


Human rights

  • The Field Model is rooted in the concept of universal human rights to freedom and dignity.
  • Human rights didn’t come out of nowhere, they have been defined in different ways by different people at different points in history.
  • Our modern conception of human rights comes from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created after World War II.
  • We might agree on human rights, but it doesn’t mean we always do a good job of respecting them.
  • The Field Model can help you navigate tricky relationship decisions in a way that respects human rights.


Generalisations and stereotypes

  • We often have general beliefs about groups of people.
  • Generalisations are a kind of mental shortcut based on our prior experiences.
  • If your generalisation lines up with reality, it’s valid. If it doesn’t reflect reality, it’s invalid.
  • Generalisations should be flexible and change as we gather new experiences.
  • Stereotypes are different.
  • Stereotypes are representations that we inherit from our culture, and they tend to be rigid and used to limit or control specific populations.
  • Positive stereotypes are just as bad as negative stereotypes.
  • It’s good to try and identify and challenge our own generalisations and stereotypes.