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habitual group pattern of behavior that is transmitted from one generation to another and is not biologically determined. Since societies are perpetually changing, no matter how slowly, all customs are basically impermanent. If short-lived, they are more properly called fashions. Customs form the core of human cultureculture,
in anthropology, the integrated system of socially acquired values, beliefs, and rules of conduct which delimit the range of accepted behaviors in any given society. Cultural differences distinguish societies from one another.
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 and are stronger and more persistent in preindustrial societies than in industrial ones, in rural than in urban areas. When formalized in the social or religious sphere it leads to ethicsethics,
in philosophy, the study and evaluation of human conduct in the light of moral principles. Moral principles may be viewed either as the standard of conduct that individuals have constructed for themselves or as the body of obligations and duties that a particular society
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, and when enforced in the sphere of rights and duties, custom leads to lawlaw,
rules of conduct of any organized society, however simple or small, that are enforced by threat of punishment if they are violated. Modern law has a wide sweep and regulates many branches of conduct.
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. See folkwaysfolkways,
term coined by William Graham Sumner in his treatise Folkways (1906) to denote those group habits that are common to a society or culture and are usually called customs.
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; moresmores
, concept developed by William Graham Sumner to designate those folkways that if violated, result in extreme punishment. The term comes from the Latin mos (customs), and although mores are fewer in number than folkways, they are more coercive.
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any established pattern(s) of behaviour within a community or society. As in everyday usage, the term refers to regularized social practices, or accepted rules of behaviour, which are informally regulated, and which mark off one cultural group from another. At another level, customary forms of action may be distinguished from ‘rational’forms of action (see TYPES OF SOCIAL ACTION), e.g. as with TRADITIONAL ACTION, in which there is little consideration of alternative courses of action.



an inherited pattern of behavior that recurs in a given society or social group and is habitual for the members of that society or group. The term “custom” is frequently identified with the terms “tradition” and “ritual.” Traditions, however, embrace a much larger range of phenomena, intrinsic to all spheres of social behavior and all cultures, while custom is limited to a particular society or area of social behavior. Ritual is only a variety of custom, symbolizing particular social relations, while custom may also be a means of practical utilization and transformation of various objects. Custom served as the principal regulator of relations among people in precapitalist societies. This fact was related to the settled and immobile nature of social life and the weak development of intercultural relations.

Custom serves as a means of acquainting individuals with a particular social and cultural experience, transmitting that experience from generation to generation, regulating the behavior of individuals, maintaining intragroup solidarity, and sanctifying various objects and social relationships. Both real and imaginary objects (gods and so forth) may be sanctified. Production skills, religious rituals, and civil holidays can all function as customs.

With the development of the state and of law, a whole body of customs was sanctioned by the ruling class and included in a system of legal norms (customary law); as a result, the observance of custom was ensured by the state. The power of custom was on the whole undermined with the development of capitalism, the expansion of relations between different cultures, and the secularization of public life. The dynamism of contemporary life, the development of industry and the means of mass communication, and urbanization all intensify this process, bringing social institutions to the fore as regulators of social activity. Custom is preserved in its purest form in everyday life, in mores, and in civic rituals.

The role of customs is determined chiefly by the system of social relations of which the customs are a part; in this connection, customs are divided into the progressive and the reactionary, or obsolete.

In the USSR and other socialist countries, a struggle is waged against obsolete customs. New civic rituals and customs are established, which contribute to the development of socialist social relations.


Engels, F. “Proiskhozhdenie sem’i, chastnoi sobstvennosti i gosudarstva.” Marx, K. and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21.
Tarde, G. Zakony podrazhaniia. St. Petersburg, 1892. (Translated from French.)
Gofman, A. B., and V. P. Levkovich. “Obychai kak forma sotsial’noi reguliatsii.” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1973, no. 1.
Sumner, W. Folkways. London, 1958.



a. a practice which by long-established usage has come to have the force of law
b. such practices collectively (esp in the phrase custom and practice)
2. habitual patronage, esp of a shop or business
3. the customers of a shop or business collectively
4. (in feudal Europe) a tribute paid by a vassal to his lord
References in classic literature ?
We looked upon every trumpery little custom and habit which had obtained in the School as though it had been a law of the Medes and Persians, and regarded the infringement or variation of it as a sort of sacrilege.
For there are no such bigoted holders by established forms and customs, be they never so foolish or meaningless, as English school-boys--at least, as the school-boys of our generation.
A customs officer was laid low, and two sailors wounded; Dantes was one of the latter, a ball having touched him in the left shoulder.
For the English knew little of the Highlanders and their customs.
Its language hath it devised for itself in laws and customs.
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A directory of North American custom rubber services begins on page 37.