Is it possible to conform to a social norm of non-conformity?

The discussion group this week attacked the topic of conformity. Here are two issues which generated much debate.

1) Obviously if there was only one person in the universe, they couldn’t be conformist because there would be nothing to conform to. But what exactly is it that we conform to? Culture? Authority? Social norms? Parental expectations? All of these?

2) Conformity seems to be in opposition to creativity, innovation, change, and progress. One question that kept popping up was whether it was possible to conform to these ideals. For example, scientists arguably value unconventional thinking. A scientist is expected to come up with new ideas and challenge existing theories. Are they conforming to the dominant practises of their group? Is it possible to conform to a social norm of non-conformity?


15 responses to “Is it possible to conform to a social norm of non-conformity?

  1. #2…Wow. What a great question!

  2. an answer to question 2:
    It’s pretty cyclical… possibly it depends on who you ask and how they personally see it. I think it’s arbritrary… whether you conform to non-conformism or not conform to non-conformity by conforming is pretty, well, confusing and I can’t see it being useful.

  3. Hi Rosie,

    I’m a little confused as to what point you are trying to make. Are you saying that the question itself is flawed in some way?

  4. i think she is trying to say that by being a “non-conformist” you could be seen as comforming to a way of thinking as there is more than one non-conformist in the world.

    she then make a point that you can be anti non-conformity by comforming….

    yes… confuseing

    to Question 1. i think we are able to conform to anything that was created in and by a social environment. so, culture, law, cult of personality etc.

    i was origionaly going to say you can conform to something made by an idea. but then i thought that a chair was technicaly made from an idea…. and you cant conform to a chair. not that i can see anyway.

  5. David –
    In response to you question, I mean to say it’s not useful to spend ages chasing round in circles about classing an opinion as cornforming to non-conformism, or if that’s even possible. Either way, you still hold the same perspective, no matter what arbitrary name you give to it, be it cornformist or not. Does that make sense?

  6. Agreed – it’s an issue of semantics without any actual real-world implication. It’s possible to seek to follow others in finding unconventional ideas, but whether it would be accurate to term that ‘conforming to non-conformism’ is basically moot. If we really wanted to continue using the terminology, then in the context of the example I’d say it’s possible to conform on an ideological level — by valuing unconventional thinking — to non-conformism on a practical level — by thinking unconventionally about scientific ideas.

  7. You are who you are and you think what you think. If it happens to fall in agreement with some group, it just does. One who opposes the group is usually the one invoking the ‘conformist’ term with a negative association to it. It’s a cheap and lazy shot at dismissing your beliefs without actually having to form an argument based on reasoning. The terms conforming and non-conforming are weak in my opinion and needn’t be given consideration they don’t deserve.

  8. While I see where you’re coming from… no man is an island. “Conformism” as a label used to dismiss agreement as intellectual laziness is bunk, sure, but I don’t think it’s an inherently useless concept. Things to which people conform needn’t be beliefs or reasoned conclusions, after all — one can conform to arbitrary social norms.

  9. Everybody is constantly pressured to conform from the moment they are conceived.

    Every aspect of our culture pressures us to conform. Especially ALL of our media.

    Plus the work of James Franklin who is an ultra-conformist, although he likes to pretend other-wise.

  10. As are his fellow right-thinking friends at Quadrant and Encounter Books—the publisher of his new book.

  11. How impossible! How can a person conform to something, that i it very context denotes the idea.

  12. I don’t think you can conform to non-conformity.
    A non-conformist (a) may have the same ideologies as another non-conformist (b) would, but the approach taken towards formulating the ideologies by non-conformist (a) would have been done uniquely and independent of the methods used by non-conformist (b).
    In it’s most basic definition non-conformity is the ability the question things and think in you’re own way, the conclusion may be identical to the conclusion another non-conformist might have, but the path taken to get it would vary from person to person.
    A non-conformist will only conform to one person and that to him/herself.

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