This article explains the meaning of role in sociology, its definition, its characteristics, the types of role, and also the relationship between Status and Role.

Meaning of Role in sociology

When people occupy social positions, their behavior is determined mainly by what is expected of that position rather than by their own individual characteristics. Roles are bundles of socially defined attributes and expectations associated with social positions.

A role is an expected behavior associated with a specific status. Ralph Linton has referred to the role as a dynamic aspect of status; a role is the totality of all the cultural patterns associated with a particular status. Any given role within the individuals who occupy the status, as well as the general membership composition of the group. But if the performance of a role deviates very much from the expected behavior will negatively sanction.

Definitions of Role in Sociology

According to Lundberg, “A social role is a pattern of behavior expected of an individual in a certain group of situations.”

As per Ogburn and Nlmkoff, they defined role as “Role is a set of socially expected and approved behavior patterns consisting of both duties and privileges, associated with a particular position in a group.”

Linton has different ways to define roles. According to him, the role is “The term social role is used to designate the sum total of the cultural pattern associated with a particular status. Thus, it includes attitudes, values, and behavior ascribed by the society to any and all the persons occupying this status… in so far as it represents overt behavior and the role has a dynamic aspect of the status; what the individual has to do in order to validate the occupation of the status.”

Characteristics of the Role in Sociology

The characteristics of role in sociology are as follows:

  1. Action aspects of the status

The role is in fact the action aspect of status. It involves various types of actions that a person has to perform in accordance with the expectation of society. The role is the sum-total of the patterns of the action that are performed for the fulfillment of the expectations of other members of society. These actions are dependent not on the individual will but on the social sanction.

  1. Changing the concept of role

Social roles as already stated are in accordance with the social values, ideas, patterns, etc. these ideas, values, and object change and so the concepts of the role also change. The role which is justified at a particular time may not be justified at some other time. For example, marriage by a young woman to a man of her choice may be justifiable today but 20 years earlier it was not justified.

  1. Limited field of operation

Every role has a limited area of operation and the role has to be confined within that. For example, an officer has a role to play in the office but when he reaches his family, that role ceases. If the officer continues to perform that role in his family also, he shall not be able to carry on his work outside the limited field.

  1. Roles are not performed 100% for the fulfillment of the expectations

It is not possible for anyone to perform his role fully in accordance with the expectation of society. For example, one may not be able to perform his role to the full satisfaction of the children. He is not a machine. In fact, the role is the generalized form of action. The actual performance of the role may slightly different from the generalized form.

  1. The difference in the importance of the role

From the social-cultural point of view, all roles are not equally important. Some of the roles are important while others are less. The roles that are most important are called key roles while the roles that are of general importance are called general roles.

Types of Role in Sociology

There are various types of roles. Below are the types of role in sociology.

  1. Role Set

Sometimes there is more than one role associated with the status which is known as role set. For example, a field supervisor working in the social sector is supposed to conduct awareness sessions in the community, baseline survey, focus group discussion, attend training sessions and formulate a new strategy for preventing the particular problem of the society. All mentioned duties required of an individual for the status if filed officers are role set.

  1. Role conflicts

Individual play many roles in society. Sometimes he countered the dilemmas due to his different social roles. In actual practice, we find that there are doubt and disagreement as to what behavior is expected in a given role and sometimes an individual resents the role assigned to him and fails to live up to the expectation. Consequently, there is much conflict and group tension.

An individual has to play different roles in different groups. His role as the head of the family may come into conflict with his role as a doctor. He may at times be asked to sacrifice his obligation towards the family in the interest of his professional.

In addition, there are role conflicts involving two or more individuals who are authorized to perform the same or highly similar functions in the same situation, as when the state government and the central government authorities disagree on who has the jurisdiction to maintain peace in a particular case. The role of two or more individuals may be conflicts because their functions are not consistent with their status. For example, the cook in a restaurant, who has a higher status, receives orders from the waiter who has a low status.

Causes of Role Conflicts

  1. Culture heterogeneity and complexity of the social system.
  2. Different roles of an individual in different groups.
  3. The personality of confusion over the appropriateness of a case.
  4. When two or more people are authorized to perform the same functions.
  5. When the function is below the status of the individual.
  6. The difference in the expected behaviors from the person assigned a role.
  7. Differences in the perception of one’s duties and responsibilities.
  1. Role Strain

When a status requires a lot of responsibilities, which stresses the individual out is known as role strain. Role strain comes largely from the failure of many processes, so as to leave unclear, incomplete, and contradictory elements in a role. This may come about through failure of role cues, gross lack of role consensus, and so forth.

  1. Role Distance

It refers to the detachment of the performer from the role he or she performs. This makes an important distinction between the existence of expectation concerning the role perform and an individual’s commitment to the role.

  1. Role Discontinuity

Role discontinuity refers to a lack of congruity between the expectations associated with social roles taken on consequently by an individual. The changes from the courtship to marriage role and the occupational role to the retirement role are examples of situations involving a degree of role discontinuity.

  1. Role Insulation

Role insulation is a state of the relative isolation of the occupants of the role that results from the tendency of persons occupying a given role (particularly occupational role), to have more informal social interaction with each other than with persons occupying other roles.

The relationship between Status and Role in Sociology

StatusRole
Status is determined by socio-cultural valuesThe role is determined by socio-cultural values
Status is determined in relation to other members of society.The role is also determined in relation to the roles of society. Also, the situation of the society and other members of society influences the role of an individual.
Status is almost similar and the same in all societies. The status of a father in every society is more or less the same.In respect of similarities and sameness of the status, the roles are express in different forms.
Status can be properly understood in the background of social aspirations and ambitions.The role can also be understood in the background of the social aspiration and the ambitions and requirements of society.
Status represents only a part of the entire social set up to which the individual member belongs. He has different statuses.Different statuses carry out different roles. It means that different individuals perform different roles.
According to the status and the roles the whole society is divided into different groups. Each group according to status is called a particular group. Those belonging to one status/group have a similarity outlook.Although, there may be a similarity of outlook among the members of a particular status/group. But it is not necessary that it may express itself in the same manner. Different persons discharge their roles in a different manner.
The cultural or the social backgrounds to which a person belongs attaches a value which is also known as the prestige.The role is discharged in relation to the prestige of status or the value attached.
Status as already stated is determined by socio-cultural values and is influenced and justified by them.It is necessary that all the persons discharge the roles attached to their status properly. For example, the status of a father shall be justified and correct in all the societies but it is necessary that all the fathers may discharge their functions and roles properly.
Members of different status/groups are divided into various categories and rank may be vertically or horizontally. For example, a society that divides itself into different castes creates vertical hierarchical groups and the difference that exists between various brothers in the family is an example of horizontal differentiation.It is not necessary that the roles may also be differentiated or divided into hierarchical order according to the division of society into groups.
It is not possible for the members of a family to achieve or ascribe status in the natural or traditional manner. In other words, purely ascribed or achieved statuses are lacking. Different statuses have elements of both these types.Roles are discharged according to statuses. Therefore, they have all the elements of status.

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