1.2.3 Cultural approaches to normality
What is normal in terms of the simple act of waiting for a bus? In the UK it is expected that people will organise themselves into a queue, so those who have waited the longest can board the bus first. However, this is not true of all cultures. Yet, if someone from a culture that does not queue were waiting for a bus in Manchester and did not wait her turn, she would be chastised for it. So, another approach might be to define as ‘abnormal’ any behaviour that contravenes social norms, values or expectations.
Using a cultural approach, what is defined as ‘abnormal’ will depend on expectations and standards of the society, and thus on political and economic as well as social factors. The criteria used may differ between societies, over time within the same society, and between groups within the same society.
One thing to consider is whether a ‘deficit’ or ‘abnormality’ is defined as such by context. For example ‘deficits’ in one area may be linked to ‘abnormal’ strengths in another. We shall consider this in more detail in relation to dyslexia later in the course. Another issue is whether what is considered ‘normal’ should then also be considered as ‘natural’. Human behaviour is complex and is determined by interactions between a variety of influences, internal and external. Consequently, the idea that some behaviours are ‘natural’ because they are determined in some part by our physiology, is not a satisfactory justification on its own for considering them ‘normal’.