Order And Disorder: Socio-Psychological Context Of The Norm And Pathology Problem Analysis


The article sets the new scientific problem within the framework of order approach to the socio-psychological study of the phenomenon of culture. The problem lies within the necessity of studying multidirectional cultural processes under conditions of radical changes in life and work conditions in populations of different countries. On the one hand, tendencies that ensure integration with the purpose of human survival under conditions of growing threat are being strengthened. On the other hand, the processes of pathologization and degradation of culture at the personal and group level, that create and radicalize threats, are becoming stronger. In addition to the term "order", the term "disorder" is introduced to denote distress of the ethical and meaningful system of a person and group. It has been shown that the factor that influences the blurring of boundaries between the norm and pathology in the cultural sphere is pluralization of cultural standards and lifestyle standards, where there is a lack of ethical and meaningful consensus in the modern global society's culture, as well as in its national subsystems. The study substantiates the need for redefining criteria of norm and pathology based on values from the point of view of social psychology. When individuals withdraw from key values, it is seen as degradation. Among key values are the values of human life, human dignity, and moral values. The study shows theoretical and practical usage of the terms “norm” and “pathos”. Involuntary thoughts and actions are indicated as a criterion for “pathos”, as weakness of the self-control mechanism of social interaction’s participants.

Keywords: Сulture, disorder, norm, order, pathology, sotering


High-speed changes that are taking place in all spheres of human and social life have become standard. It is a fact that these changes are continuous, fast, and unpredictable. The issues of human adaptation, as well as adaptation of systems that a human builds to adapt to changing life and work conditions, to new technologies, are actualized and problematized. Search for tools that can increase manageability and predictability of the processes of change has become crucial. This topic has become a customary element of scientific and everyday discussions over the last decades. However, events of the year 2020, that caused global changes in human life, allow us to trace the slowdown of the "flow of time" and all the key processes. Of course, changes continue to take place. They have received a new direction and new content. These changes are going to happen faster and gain speed. However, people now have the chance to "take a closer look at" and understand what is going on.

Among primary questions that have to be answered are the questions regarding the "norm" and deviation from the "norm" for an individual. When such terms as "pathology" or "pathos" (disease) are used as opposing terms for "norm", the analysis of risk and threat assessment is taken to the next level, i.e. the level of responsibility for human survival and survival of the humanity. Nowadays, it has become clear that disease can result in both recovery and demise.

The problem of reviewing the criteria of "norm" and "pathology" is important not only for clinical psychologists. This problem is significant for social psychology as a whole, as well as for its applied areas, such as organizational psychology, economic psychology, family psychology, and educational psychology, legal psychology, and many others. In our study the phenomenon of organizational culture (Akanjiet al., 2020; Eddington et al., 2020; Jackson, 2020; Kim& Park, 2020; Melnik, 2020; McDougall et al., 2020) serves as the theoretical and empirical analysis focus, which is understood broadly: starting from the lowest systemic levels (culture of a business, government, and public organizations) to higher systemic levels of organized activity (regional and state culture, a culture of interstate entities). In other words, we are dealing with the socio-psychological analysis of the norm and pathology in the consciousness and behavior of members of society at all its systemic levels through the prism of cultural phenomenology and its socio-psychological mechanisms.

Problem Statement

Noel Smith believes that psychology’s prevailing idea that the world is chaotic and has regularity only at the statistical level, and it is a person who must bring consistency into it (order it), which can be traced back to James. James wrote that “A child, besieged by eyes, ears, nose, skin and internal organs at the same time, feels all of these as one huge blooming, buzzing, confusion ... ", which the child must eventually learn to “combine into a single indivisible object”. ... In other words, an individual must order the entire world around him/her" (Smith, 2003, p. 201). In the same way, by analogy, we can describe the state of a modern person (especially a young person), who is under the simultaneous influence of many external models of judgment, behavior, and response, as well as internal reactions and experiences. Postmodern "principled plurality" multiplied by the high rate of emergence and use of multiple new "ideas", "points of view", words and ways of behavior, can create the problem of blurring the boundaries of the normal and not normal in individual and social consciousness in the absence of a clear ethical coordinate system.

Let us turn to Peter Kozlowski’s views. He was very precise in describing the problem of culture’s pluralization (Kozlowski, 1997) and pointed out that “pluralism is not a positive answer to the question regarding the meaning of culture, because it does not view it as a serious question” (Kozlowski, 1997. p. 198). The same can be said about the meaning of person’s life and the meaning of his/her activity. Kozlowski compares it to a children’s game. When children are asked what kind of game they would like to play, they answer that they are ready to play any game there is (Kozlowski, 1997, p. 198). However, the time of our life is limited, it cannot be repeated or replayed, that is why it is important that we and our life should be taken seriously, while pluralism does not take us seriously. It is in this cultural situation, when “everything is possible” and “everything is normal”, that the principle of plurality extends to the concept of the norm (“everyone has their own norm”), that the process of pathologization of social thinking, social interaction, and social behavior begins. On the one hand, Peter Kozlowski says that there are different cultures, cultural systems with different systems of the norm. The system of norms of the cultural way of life of one group does not exclude another, "tolerable orders of life" (as in the case of a multi-confessional society). But, on the other hand, the German philosopher introduces the concept of “pathological variety of cultural development” (Kozlowski 1997, p. 61). For example, he characterizes the culture of hackers and focuses on the pathologization of human consciousness through its "technicalization", which excludes a purely human ethical component from interaction and, therefore, excludes awareness of choice and responsibility for it: “Transfer of technical communication with the computer to human relations leads to dangerous illusions of power ... ” (Kozlowski, 1997, p. 61). Today we see the fruits of this pathologization of consciousness and psyche, as exemplified by adolescents who do not realize and do not feel the difference between "cyber murder" and the real one.

The notion of "normality" for Peter Kozlowski is essential "for maintaining the reasonable balance between firm prescriptions and moralizing about a certain life pattern, as well as between equally active and equally benevolent explanations of all lifestyles and their interpretations" (Kozlowski 1997, p. 201). Yet again, the German philosopher distinguishes between a "normal" sample of culture and a "different" sample of culture, without putting the sign of equality between them. Culture has no right to neglect the irreversibility of human life. Therefore, it must be demanding on us and provide quality samples of the forms of life, work, and traditions. "A recognized culture must ensure the development of the concept of “normality” and, thereby, obtain legitimacy and voluntary consent of the members of society,” this is how Kozlowski sums up his arguments (1997, p. 202).

Therefore, the research problem can be formulated as pluralization of cultural space in the situation of absence of the ethical consensus, which leads to the pathologization of culture and people as subjects of social interaction.

How can this problem be studied within the framework of social psychology? Peter Kozlowski’s ideas and his essential postmodernism are part of the methodological basis of the order studies of organizational culture. They substantiate a number of theoretical provisions of the order approach. In particular, we are referring to the use of the concept of "norm"/"psychotherapeutic health" in sotering as an integral part of the order model of organizational culture. It is sotering that pays great attention to dysfunctions of organizational culture as a specific system level of culture as a whole; it links these dysfunctions with the ethical and psychological state of the organization’s leader and management team members.

Let us briefly describe some of the provisions of the order approach to the socio-psychological study of culture (Aksenovskaya, 2007). Within the order approach, culture is viewed as an ethically determined order, which is generated in the process of social interaction and guided by the ethical meanings of the interactions’ participants. Cognitivist interpretation of ethics places an emphasis on its function of sorting information according to the criterion "right-wrong", "good-bad", "good - evil" and, thus, implicitly uses the concept of the norm. Socio-psychological content of the phenomenon of culture includes the level represented by the meaningful system and singles out the ethical-meaningful subsystem within it. The latter has two levels: the level of basic ethical meanings (life-death, cooperation - struggle, improvement - deterioration, responsibility - irresponsibility) and the level of functional ethical meanings (caring for people, caring for outcomes of work, and caring for meaning). All the parameters listed above have been transferred into diagnostic techniques and can be measured.

The concept of «norm» is more actively used in sotering, as it has been noted before. One of the components of the soteriological circle model, which describes the structure of psychological components that are significant for managerial activity, is the “power” component, which includes the so-called “Lao-scale”, which helps to distinguish between the state of the norm (“psychotherapeutic health”) and deviation from the norm ("psychotherapeutic ill health") is the leader of the organization.

It should be noted that within sotering, which uses the ancient concept of self-care as its ideological basis, we view the so-called “third” practice of self-care, which is based on the application of the “pathos” criterion, in the training practice. The essence of this practice is to match the degrees of development of bodily and mental diseases and control the stages of development of the disease in order to prevent its transition to the next stage of development. There are five such stages (Latin: proclivitas, pathos, nosema, arrhostema, kakia) (Foucault, 1998, р. 62). Ancient authors identified the criterion for defining "pathos", i.e. involuntariness. If a condition is not controlled by a person and emerges against his/her will (like an increase in body temperature or anger), then this is "pathos", a disease. This idea seems to be very useful in the training soteriological practice and is implemented through the use of a system of exercises that allow a) to develop ethical foundations of the life and activities of the leader, b) to increase the level of awareness of the connection of one’s states with the decisions made and one’s ethical program.

Order models listed above and diagnostic tools related to them allow solving the assessment problems and, mainly, self-assessment of the psychological state of a leader on the soteriological scale "death - salvation", emphasizing the importance of the psychological state of the leader for a successful solution of tasks the organization is faced with. They also allow assessing the state of culture of the organization itself and the level of its psychological potential. All possibilities of using the concept of a norm in the work on diagnostics and change of organizational culture indicate the applied, traditional nature of work in the "norm — pathology" field.

At the same time, at the theoretical and methodological level of order research, we started developing a conceptual scale, which makes it possible to combine studies of the whole class of social and psychological phenomena and processes, i.e. starting from organizational and up to criminal processes, which can be studied together with legal psychologists). The development of this topic allows us to approach criteria substantiation for norm and pathology in social reality from new perspectives. Under modern conditions of revision of the criteria for assessing the normal - not normal (ethically correct/incorrect), the new coordinate system/assessment scale will make it possible, to theoretically substantiate the assessment criteria, as well as to analyze, explain and interpret human actions at personal and group levels in different spheres of activity. Specifically, we are talking about "completing the building" of complex socio-psychological normative space of culture (order as an ethically determined order) with the space of its possible degradations (disorder as a state of disorder of the ethical-meaningful subsystems of a person and a group).

The concept of the disorder has long been used by foreign psychologists. The APA concise dictionary of psychology defines the disorder as a group of symptoms involving abnormal behaviors or physiological conditions, persistent or intense distress, or disruption of physiological functioning (АРА, 2009, p. 143).

Mental disorder is a disorder characterized by psychological symptoms, abnormal behaviors, impaired functioning, or any combination of these. Such disorders may cause clinically significant distress and impairment in a variety of domains of functioning and may be due to organic, social, genetic, chemical, or psychological factors (АРА, p. 292).

In our case, we distance ourselves from the clinical context of the concept of "disorder" (lack of order) and use it as an etymologically correct opposition to the concept of "order" (order). Thus, the focus of the research is on the socio-psychological aspects of order as an ethically determined order of culture, as well as the processes and mechanisms of its transformation, rebirth, degradation into pathological (according to Kozlowsky, 1997) states, the criteria of which are a violation of two universal values (the value of human life and dignity) and involuntariness as the inability to consciously and responsibly regulate one's social thinking and social behaviour (among the possible reasons, we point out ignorance, lack of one's own life principles, weak will, and proneness to external influences, presence of misanthropic beliefs, "technicalization” of consciousness and lack of sensitivity, etc.).

Research Questions

The major research questions that have been posed are as follows:

a) Is it possible to state that socio-cultural and socio-psychological pathology exist?

b) If there is socio-psychological pathology, are its followers capable of presenting the real threat to human life (physical, social, economic, psychological, and spiritual)?

c) Is it possible to design the criteria-based set for evaluation of socio-cultural and socio-psychological norm and pathology within the framework of order research methodology, which is used for studying ethical and meaningful subsystems and meaningful systems of culture, specifically those based on the “order-disorder” scale?

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the theoretical study is to thematize the problem of norm and pathology in socio-cultural interaction based on the concept of culture pathologization as its pluralization without relying on ethical consensus, as well as theoretical substantiation of the possibility of using the “order-disorder” scale for the socio-psychological study of all types of social interaction and culture in general.

Research Methods

The following research methods were used: analysis and synthesis, system analysis, systematization of scientific ideas.


The study has shown that:

1) Socio-cultural and socio-psychological pathology exists at the individual, group, as well as state-level (e.g. slavery, fascism). Scientific sources describe legalized systematic violence, lack of consideration for human life and dignity (“biopolitics” phenomena (Foucault, 1996), “bare life” (Agamben, 2011), “precariatization” of working population (Standing, 2014), “technical development” of consciousness (Kozlowski, 1997). The empirical facts that are available for observation are evidenced by everyday information in the media pertaining to the results of young people’s criminalization, distorted understanding about the “normal” and the “not normal” that lead to drama and tragedy. Evidence can also be found in the published results of the empirical socio-psychological studies (Romanova &Moiseeva, 2020). The socio-psychological pathologization mechanism of a human being as a subject of social interaction is the impairment of the ethical and meaningful system of personality and group any individual is a member of. Ethical and meaningful system disorder ("disorder") is expressed through the blurring of boundaries between the "normal" and the "not normal" in social interaction and social thinking. One of the major factors of this process is total pluralization of the sphere of human relations, human values, norms, and standards, which is supported by social culture. Pathologization occurs as a consequence of a lack of ethical consensus, i.e. social agreement regarding the criteria of the "good" and the "bad" in the key areas of life activity.

2) Carriers of socio-cultural and socio-psychological pathology are capable of creating a real threat to human life (i.e. physical, social, economic, psychological, and spiritual) and they do create it. Lack of cultural and legal barriers makes causing irreparable harm to a human being in the modern world “possible”. This results in the situation of permanent high risks of existence for both individuals and groups/peoples.

3) Within the framework of order methodology of studying ethical and meaningful subsystems of culture, there is an opportunity of designing the criteria-based set for evaluation of socio-cultural and socio-psychological norms and pathology. To do this, the concept of "order" as ethically-determined socio-psychological order must be supplemented with its binary opposition, i.e. "disorder", which is perceived as impairment or lack of maturity of an ethical-meaningful sphere of personality and group. The "order-disorder" scale can be used to evaluate norm and pathology in social interaction through designing the two-factor model and developing diagnostic techniques.


Answering the question of what the person does is right or wrong has always been important. Such questions are of enormous importance during extreme periods of time, which are unexpected, unusual, and can result in unknown consequences. Changes that we are witnessing promote a search for new standing points, new coordinates for evaluation of our own actions or inaction, as well as actions of people around us. Traditionally, universal values and ethical imperatives have served as such reference points. However, today within public discussions people have launched the process of "re-evaluation of values", they are testing both "old" and "new" principles and rules. The same phenomenon causes completely different reactions: from "this is not normal" to "this is the norm for our time." That is why the burning question is how to determine whether a person has gone beyond normal or not? Where should you stop, and where, on the contrary, should you continue to explore and face the unknown?

The solution to this problem lies within the development of the new criteria of norm and pathology (among other things, in the sphere of social interaction) and is not likely to be found any time soon. However, professional efforts, as well as the reflection regarding value-based substantiations for carrying out this research, are necessary.


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Personality, norm, pathology, behavior, uncertanity, COVID-19

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Aksenovskaya, L. (2021). Order And Disorder: Socio-Psychological Context Of The Norm And Pathology Problem Analysis. In M. Ovchinnikov, I. Trushina, E. Zabelina, & S. Kurnosova (Eds.), Personality in Norm and in Pathology, vol 112. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 329-336). European Publisher. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2021.06.04.38