I. Two basic definitions
A. STATUS ‑ a position in
a social system or group
1. Examples: student, mother, child, bus driver, professor, cousin (remember different cultures have different types of cousins)
a. Your age and sex also tend to define a status: young man, baby girl, old lady, etc.
B. ROLE ‑ a pattern of
behavior associated with a status
1. That is, role is what people in a status tend to do
2. Example: Students attend class, behave in distinctive ways in class (e.g., usually they mostly listen), and study
3. STATUS vs.
a. The role is the action part of a status
b. In practical terms, it makes little sense to separate role from status
(1) We are interested in statuses mostly because of what they do
(2) Roles are defined in terms of a status (with some minor exceptions)
(3) Thus sociologists ‑‑ including me ‑‑ often will briefly refer to a "role" or "social role" when they really mean to refer to a role‑status pair
(4) It important for the sake of understanding to be able to separate and understand the difference between the two. I will certainly expect you to be able to
(5) Note how this resembles what we did with the distinction between cultural and social systems
Illustrates an important duality, STRUCTURE vs. FUNCTION (also know as STATICS
(1) Structure – how is it put together? – vs function – what does it do?
(2) Statics is concerned with the shape and inner construction of things
(3) Dynamics is concerned with motion and activity, with the processes by which "things" do whatever it is they do
(4) Example from medicine: skeleton vs. kinetics (study of how the body moves). In medical school, one starts with anatomy classes, then moves to physiology
(5) Examples from engineering (BRIDGES and gusts of wind)
II. More definitions
A. Role expectation: expectation shared by members of a group that specifies behavior considered appropriate in a given situation for the occupant of a particular status
1. Some textbooks use this (or something similar) as a definition of role
2. Role expectations are a kind of norm
B. Role enactment – actual behavior in a role
C. Role incumbent – occupant of a particular status.
1. Should have been called “status incumbent,” but usually isn’t
D. Role partner – a status with which the role incumbent must interact
in enacting a role
1. For example, students are role partners for a teacher
E. Role set – all the roles associated with a particular status
1. For example, a college student attends classes, studies out of class, and pays tuition
a. The tuition-paying role does not occupy a lot of time, but it has important consequences
2. Note that the role set is a property of the status
Note that so far we have been working from a rather macro point of view: socially recognized positions with socially understood rules of behavior; next we introduce people
F. Status set – collection of all the statuses occupied by one
1. For example: college student, someone’s child, shoe store customer, driver, male, young adult
2. At a minimum we are almost always in a status or set of statuses defined by our age and gender
3. Some statuses we occupy at the same time (e.g., college student and male), others we occupy sequentially (e.g., college student and pedestrian)
4. The status set is very large for most people
5. The status set is a property of an individual
6. To count all the patterns of behavior a person engages in, one goes through the status set, adding up the number of roles associated with each status (e.g., adding the size of the role set)
III. The typically large status set most of us
have, along with the large role set of many of our statuses, means that we have
potentially a very CONFUSING world
A. Worse, as we will see, roles often turn out to be in conflict with each other
1. Hardly surprising, given the complexity
B. One of the marvels of the human mind is its ability to handle this complexity, most of the time with relative ease
1. Linton shoe salesman example
C. On the “bright side,” the
status set and the existence of roles provide us with important psychological
1. A large status set means we have a wide variety of connections to the world around us
a. As noted by Durkheim, connections are important psychologically
2. Roles (more precisely, role expectations) help us by making both our own behavior and the behavior of others predictable
a. Predictability is psychologically important [cf. classical conditioning]
IV. Five factors affecting role enactment
A. Role expectations
B. Situational demands
1. A particular role expectation becomes pertinent to behavior only under certain situations
2. ROTC example
C. Individual characteristics
1. (Once again we’re bringing the individual into view)
2. Skills and repertoire
3. role identity – “an idealized conception of one’s performance”
D. Intruding statuses and roles
1. Remember status and role sets
2. How you do things depends on the other things you have going on
3. Intruding roles may harm or may help role enactment
a. For example, a member of the AU board of trustees who is also a member of the state legislature may do a more effective job of representing AU to the legislature than a non-legislator. On the other hand, if that legislator has many political enemies, those enemies may make it difficult for the trustee to get resources for AU
b. Other statuses, roles, and role partners provide a network of strong and weak ties through which information and other useful resources flow
E. Role negotiation
1. While there are widely shared understandings about how role incumbents are supposed to enact their roles, once real people occupy a status and other real people occupy the status’s role partner statuses, these expectations become much more concrete and are negotiated through interaction
2. Role negotiation is everywhere
3. It never ceases
a. There is more emphasis early in a relationship, but it never stops
ROLE STRAIN SECTION
I. Def: Role strain = difficulties experienced in performing a given role
A. Though this definition describes strain associated with one role, we often also use the term to describe the sum total of difficulties a person experiences in all of his/her roles
B. We often talk about the social system and its structure and dynamics as if everything goes smoothly all the time; but things don’t. The individuals occupying the various statuses and enacting the various roles of the social system regularly encounter role strain
1. Even the best designed cars have occasional breakdowns. So, too, all social systems have times when they aren’t hitting on all 4?6?8? cylinders
2. Well designed cars are designed to be easy to maintain and repair. Social systems, too, have features that are mostly about handling times when there are problems with role enactment
a. These features ameliorate the problems of role strain
AMELIORATE - to
make better; improve.
Esp. to make better something that was bad
II. Why do we care about role strain?
A. Personality level
1. Individuals suffer psychological distress when they are unable to perform their roles the way they think they ought to
2. Individuals suffer distress from sanctions received for not performing as expected
3. Individuals may be frustrated when role partners do not perform as expected
B. Social system level
Social system functions less smoothly when people are not playing their parts
a. Thus important tasks may not be performed properly
2. High levels of individual distress and interpersonal frustration due to problems with role partners may threaten social integration
C. First examples of amelioration of problems due to role strain
1. In meeting the functional prerequisite of maintaining social integration, as well as insuring that important functions are taken care of, social systems usually develop mechanisms for AMELIORATING problems caused by role strain
a. We can ameliorate by eliminating the strain, minimizing the short term costs/pain of the strain, and/or minimizing the long term costs/pain of the strain
2. One source of amelioration FOR INDIVIDUALS, is that the frustrations of role strain are usually more than compensated for by the psychic [psychological] rewards of being connected to other people, of having others to rely on or who rely on us. The large status sets and varying role partners that tend to contribute to role strain reflect the integration of the individual with those around him or her. The result is liking (see the Law of Liking) and other psychologically rewarding feelings
3. One source of amelioration FOR SOCIETY is duplication or redundancy in important systems
III. Sources -- Strain may be due to ...
Lack of clarity in expectations
B. Disagreement on expectations
C. Status passage
D. Role competition / overload
E. Role conflict / sociological ambivalence
Next we talk in detail about the sources
IV. Strain due to LACK OF CLARITY IN EXPECTATIONS
A. Role expectations help us answer the question What do I do next? Sometimes, however, the expectations are so vague they don't give us much help with the question.
B. Role expectations also tell us what our role obligations are. Sometimes, the expectations may be so vague (or our understanding may be so vague), that whether we are responsible for something or if someone else is may not be clear.
1. In both situations (A & B) we have difficulty doing what we are supposed to do because we don't know what it is; there is LACK OF CLARITY IN EXPECTATIONS
Mechanisms for dealing with the problem [ameliorating it]:
1. Manuals of operation (organizations)
2. "New rules" (families, small groups)
V. Strain due to DISAGREEMENT ON EXPECTATIONS
A. Though we talk of expectations as if everyone in society has identical expectations for role incumbents, this is not true. To the extent there are disagreements, there will be difficulties, especially in roles that require coordination with role partners.
B. Who can have disagreements?
Disagreement between actors and their partners
a. This circumstance often leads to bargaining and other forms of role negotiation
b. This is a very common problem in romantic relationships. When marriage counselors and others speak of "breakdowns in communications," they often refer to the fact that partners often do not talk about their disagreements over expectations, even when both parties realize they exist
2. Disagreement among role occupants -- that is, the people playing various roles, say, professors or wives, do not agree among themselves how one ought to be a professor or wife
a. CONSEQUENCES of disagreements among role occupants:
(1) Greater variety for role partners to choose from, in those cases where role partners can choose their partner. For instance, men have a broader range of attitudes about the wife's "proper" economic role to choose from in their selection of a wife than they had years ago
(2) Greater confusion for role partners when they cannot choose their role partner. Then they are not sure what to expect from the partner.
Disagreement among role partners
a. E.g., every customer expecting something different
b. Secretaries especially suffer from this. They do the same sort of thing for several people, but each may insist that it be done differently (e.g., how far to indent the first sentences in paragraphs, etc.)
4. Disagreement between actor and outsiders (i.e., people not involved in the role performance)
a. Many laws regulating contact between consenting adults result in -- and are the result of -- disagreements between actor-partner pairs and "society," where society often takes the form of some sanctioning agency
(1) E.g., prostitution laws, anti-homosexuality statutes (many of which make illegal some common forms of heterosexual behavior)
(2) At the group level, anti-trust laws fall into this category
These disagreements are important because outsiders can sanction
(1) Not only formally, as by law enforcement agencies, but also informally, as in what happens to your "reputation"
C. What forms can disagreements take? (There are five)
What expectations are included in a status?
EX. Does being a boyfriend mean that you have to send your girlfriend a card on Valentine's Day? (Do bears pee in the woods?)
What is the range of permitted or prohibited behavior?
EX. If we agree that being a boyfriend allows a certain amount of physical intimacy, we may still disagree about how extensive this intimacy will be allowed to be
3. Under what situations does a given expectation apply?
4. Whether an expectation is mandatory or simply preferred
a. Person A may think he has been doing Person B a favor, while B may think that A has only been doing A's job. Only when A decides not to do the favor is the disagreement likely to be found out.
5. Which expectation is to be honored first in cases of conflicting expectations?
EX. Does a doctor first handle a patient's emotional needs or first the physiological needs? (ASIDE: It has really only been in the last 50 or so years that doctors have really been able to do a whole heck of a lot physiologically. "Bedside manner" was so important in early days because it was almost all the doctor had to work with for many diseases. See The Youngest Science by Lewis Thomas.)
EXAMPLE OF TYPES OF
DISAGREEMENT, using wife and employment
1) Whether being a wife implies foregoing employment altogether
2)If part-time employment is okay, what about full time?
3)Should she work only when economically necessary?
4)Is, say, not working merely desirable or absolute (preferred vs. prescribed)
5)Do family obligations take precedence over employment obligations?
It's fun also to turn these questions around and see how they apply to the husband role
VI. Strain due to STATUS PASSAGE (2 types)
A. Short-term (not properly called status passage)--difficulties in performing a role due to sudden changes in the status/role being enacted or sudden changes in the situation
EX. A 10 year old boy is encouraged to be loud and rambunctious outdoors and may have difficulty being the quiet, calm lad he is required to be the minute he enters the house
1. We are especially likely to be tactless or to make other social blunders when we have not properly "settled into" a situation. This is especially likely to happen when we are still geared up to respond to the situation we have just been in. In effect, we have not updated our definition of the situation
a. Tact – to ignore
other people’s social blunders
(1) We are tactful partly because we know that we, too, are going to make mistakes. By doing others the favor of ignoring their mistakes, we hope they will ignore ours (following the norm of reciprocity)
b. One function of receptionists for businesspersons is to give the person time to prepare for each visitor, so these types of mistakes are minimized.
Backstage: a place that allows actors to "be themselves," to
relax and not worry about the risk of making mistakes. This is especially
important for actors who are engaged in strenuous impression management
(1) impression management: attempting to control how others perceive us and the situation
B. Long-term status passage -- the acquisition or loss of a major status
1. E.g., getting married, becoming an adult, getting a new job, having a baby
a. Many of these statuses are master or salient statuses
2. Anthropologists introduced the term in connection with studies of special ceremonies in many cultures referred to by anthropologists as "rites of passage"
Puberty rites, etc.
status passage creates role strain because the role expectations of the status
are complex and because some of the expectations may be difficult or otherwise
require practice to master
a. You probably won’t do as well on your first day on the job as you will later
4. LONG-TERM STATUS PASSAGE IS EASED BY:
Early tolerance by partners
(1) We expect beginners to screw up
(1) We often give explicit instructions or hints to beginners about things we would expect experienced role incumbents to know how to do already
(2) People who take someone new under their wing for extended coaching are sometimes referred to as mentors
(a) Many people have argued in recent years that one of the reasons women have had difficult times rising through the ranks of many big corporations is that getting ahead was so complicated that a mentor (or mentors) was required but that people who were capable of being mentors tended to choose men to take under their wing
(b) Mentors can become sponsors, that is, someone who assures others of your competence
The fact that most status passages are steps up in esteem
(1) That is, we feel better about ourselves because our new status is usually a better status than our old status
(2) This is mostly important because it helps us handle the psychological frustration of the role strain
(3) This works the opposite way when the status transition is a step down (e.g., a divorce or losing your job), when it makes the frustration even more distressing. Rather than ameliorating the strain and its consequences, it exacerbates them
VII. Strain due to
ROLE COMPETITION (ROLE OVERLOAD)
A. This is strain that occurs when your roles demand more resources than you have available
1. Time is the most commonly over-demanded resource
1. competition between partners
a. E.g., everyone wants his/her pound of flesh (secretaries)
competition between roles
a. Family vs job is perhaps the most ubiquitous, especially for married adults
VIII. Strain due to ROLE CONFLICT (also known as SOCIOLOGICAL AMBIVALENCE)
Ambivalence (NOTE: term coined in German by a psychologist who was ambivalent
1. def. -- simultaneous conflicting feelings (Webster). A simultaneous desire to perform two or more mutually incompatible acts (Backman).
2. PSYCHOLOGICAL AMBIVALENCE -- being pulled in incompatible directions on the basis of personal preferences
EX: I'd love to go, but I'd hate to spend the money
EX: Children's love-hate -- Dear Daddy, I hate you. Love, Jr.
3. SOCIOLOGICAL AMBIVALENCE -- "Incompatible normative expections of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors assigned to a status or to set of statuses in a society" (Merton)
a. That is, being pulled in incompatible directions on the basis of role expectations
EX: I'd love to join you, but I have to pick up the kids
b. We also call sociological ambivalence ROLE CONFLICT
c. Psych vs soc ambivalence is another example of the individual vs collective duality
B. Six types of role conflict (from Merton Sociological Ambivalence, pp. 8 - 12)
Conflict within an individual's status set
a. E.g., judge and friend; employer and relative
Conflict within the role set
EX: teaching and research for professors
EX: encouragement and evaluation roles for teachers
Conflict of the multi-cultural
a. Refers to problems of people who have been raised in or otherwise learned the rules of two or more different cultures -- when the rules are not the same, which do you follow?
EX: I used to sing in a Catholic choir, though I was raised in a Protestant church. I always had this great fear that I was going to screw up the Lord's Prayer, which has a little section in the middle for just the priest in the Catholic mass but not in the Protestant services
b. Where this becomes more commonly problematic is when an actor has learned the rules and patterns of thought and behavior of different subcultures and those subcultures have conflicting expectations
(1) One reason teenagers so often hate to be with their parents when the teenagers are with their friends is because the way the friends expect the teen to behave and what the parents expect are not the same
(2) If you aspire to be like members of some reference group that is not the same as your group of residence (the people you live with or around), responding to the reference group may get you in trouble with the people around you
4. Cultural conflict, i.e., between cultural values
a. This is conflict within the cultural system
EX: Get ahead, but don't cheat.
5. Conflict between aspirations and opportunity (i.e., no chance to do what you have been taught you ought to)
This is conflict between the cultural system and the social system
1. Q. Which changes faster, the cultural system or the social system? A. Usually the social system changes faster.
b. The cultural system provides us with motivations to achieve certain ends and may even tell us how to go about achieving them (e.g., get a good education, study hard, be a good boy/girl, etc.)
c. We actually achieve things in the social system, the system of actual interactions
Sometimes the social system closes off opportunities, e.g., on the basis of
race or family income or, in days of yore, on whether you had noble blood.
(1) In those cases there will be frustration
This idea was used in a theory of the origins of juvenile delinquency that was
very influential for many years
(1) Delinquents aspire to wealth but recognize that legitimate avenues are blocked to them. They then reject the legitimate means to their objectives, opting instead for criminal means
6. Conflict inherent within the role itself
a. Sometimes there seem to be contradictions built into the role itself
EX: writing a research paper -- you can always make it better, so it should never be finished (because you want it to be as good as possible). On the other hand, a paper that is never finished is no better than no paper at all. When to declare a paper (or essay question) finished is often a difficult problem, partly because of the conflict built into the role.
EX: anytime a doctor does an operation to make someone better, he exposes he patient to the danger will not be better. Often the patient acquires new medical problems in the process of getting rid of the old problem. So should the doctor operate?
SYSTEM FEATURES LEADING TO REDUCTION OR RESOLUTION OF ROLE STRAIN
a. This list augments features previously mentioned, such as manuals of operation, coaching, and so on
b. First recall why we care about role strain and its reduction or resolution. Then look at the features below
Social hierarchy of obligations
1. Def -- a widely shared priority list of obligations.
a. That is, a list of which of the things an actor is supposed to do are considered by a group's members to be more important than which other things the actor may be supposed to do
Excuses are commonly phrased in terms of the social hierarchy of obligations
EX: I would like to go out with you guys for a drink, but I have to pick up my kid at the child care center.
Translated, this means, I would like to fulfill my role expectations as a friend, but I also have role expectations as a father that intrude on the friend expectations, and we would all agree that of the particular expectations that are in conflict in this situation (hang out with friends vs. take care of child), the more important one is the expectation associated with my status/role as father.
Not to be confused with the personal hierarchy of obligations
a. This is simply the individual's own private priority ranking of obligations
b. It may disagree with the social hierarchy of obligations
1. Which hierarchy will people follow most often?
a. Sociologists' prediction is that most of the time people follow the social hierarchy of obligations
c. Once again we see the tension between the individual and the collective
1. In social systems we often find some people have more power than other people (e.g., bosses vs. workers)
2. Those with power often solve the problems of those less powerful people who can't make up their minds about what to do next by forcing them to do what the powerful person wants them to do
a. That is, the powerful can impose a course of action on an actor, thus relieving the actor of the problem of deciding for himself
Temporal and spatial segregation of expectations (spatial refers to location)
1. Temporally we carve up the day into parts when certain expectations take priority and parts when other expectations take priority
a. For most people, the most important example of this is the part of the day that is their working hours versus the part of the day when they are not on the job. On the job you dress and act one way; off the job,even if you drop by where you work for a visit, you may dress and act another
2. Spatially we allow one set of priorities to operate when we are in one location and another to operate when we are somewhere else
a. E.g., if I visit you at your house, you become the host and do "host-like" things. Businessmen (and politicians) are often very sensitive to this and try to control where conferences, sales meetings, etc. will be held
3. Time and place are both very important to our definitions of situations
4. Modern American work patterns emphasize differences between work and leisure behavior because most of us work in special locations at special times, which makes it easy to tell when we are expected to be working and when we are not
Norms preventing holding conflicting statuses
EX: anti-nepotism rules (nepotism=giving preference to relatives, especially in hiring)
1. What kind of sociological ambivalence does this resolve? How does it resolve it? (These are important questions to ask about all of these mechanisms)
Special protections from sanctions
a. That is, if you do some roles the way you are supposed to, you are likely to get in some trouble. These protections help shield the role incumbent from getting in trouble
b. 4 types
Insulation from observability (protection of
EX: Priests are not allowed to reveal what went on in confession. Ditto doctors and lawyers conferences with clients. Journalists would like to see such protections extended to their use of sources of information.
Special tolerance, especially when the actor's conflicts and overloads are
clear due to high visibility
EX: Politicians (we know they can't make us happy all of the time)
EX: Someone with 100 hours of work to do in one 40 hour week
(a) NOTE: sometimes actors can take advantage of this tolerance to use their personal hierarchy of obligations to decide what to do next, since people don't really expect immediate or perfect service
(3) Protection from reprisal
(a) EX: union stewards, ombudsmen. Their job is to be a pain in the butt to the bosses. If they did not have some protections, they would be fired, like any other pain in the butt. In professional sports, stewards do often get cut or traded, since these protections are not written into their contracts
(b) EX: insurance for members of boards of directors
(4) Protective patterns of behavior, especially to protect group members from sanctions from the outside
This is often some variation of group solidarity
(1) Politicians and businessmen often consider this an important aspect of being a "team player" (e.g., the Nixon White House staff)
EX: for many years it was very difficult to win a medical malpractice suit, because doctors would not testify against one another
EX: formal professional associations (e.g., Bar Associations, Medical Societies) try to protect practioners (and the profession) by demanding exclusive rights to define and sanction bad professional practice
Chief sources for
P. F. Secord and C. W. Backman, Social Psychology. 2nd ed.
Robert King Merton,