Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Laurie Krieger (The Manoff Group, Inc.)
Health promotion programs, both in the U.S. and globally, have increasingly employed the construct of social norms in efforts to change health risk behaviors. Doing so is often cited as a welcome step away from the individual focus of past health promotion programs. However, the rush to use this approach obscures multiple assumptions and problems. In this paper, the issue is considered from an anthropological perspective, and includes: 1) A brief summary review of the norms construct and its use in multiple disciplines as well as for social/behavioral change programs in public health; 2) a critique focused on problems of decontextualization in current usage and the need to consider social norms as culturally embedded, with a description of the multiple domains implicated in such a consideration; and 3) recommendations to increase the validity of the construct for health-related social/behavior change efforts. The paper includes critical commentary on specific health promotion programs that have used social norms as a key change mechanism -- including those addressing violence against children, family planning/modern contraceptive use, adolescent binge drinking, and others.