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Status and Role Notes Sociological Uses

Sociology Lecture Notes Assignments


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Old 05-21-2011, 01:55 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Status and Role Notes Sociological Uses


Status and Role

The term has two sociological uses:

1. R. Linton (1936) defined status simply as a position in a social system, such as child or parent. Status refers to what a person is, whereas the closely linked notion of role refers to the behaviour expected of people in a status.

2. Status is also used as a synonym for honor or prestige, when social status denotes the relative position of a person on a publicly recognized scale or hierarchy of social worth. (See 'Social Stratification').

It is the first meaning of the term status, status as position, which we are going to refer to in the following paragraphs. Status as honour or prestige is a part of the study of social stratification.

A status is simply a rank or position that one holds in a group. One occupies the status of son or daughter, playmate, pupil, radical, militant and so on. Eventually one occupies the statuses of husband, mother bread-winner, cricket fan, and so on, one has as many statuses as there are groups of which one is a member. For analytical purposes, statuses are divided into two basic types:

Ascribed Statuses

Ascribed statuses are those which are fixed for an individual at birth. Ascribed statuses that exist in all societies include those based upon sex, age, race ethnic group and family background.

Similarly, power, prestige, privileges, and obligations always are differentially distributed in societies by the age of the participants. This has often been said about the youth culture in the U.S. because of the high value Americans attach to being young. Pre-modern China, by contrast, attached the highest value to old age and required extreme subordination of children. The perquisites and obligations accompany age change over the individual's lifetime, but the individual proceeds inexorably through these changes with no freedom of choice.

As the discussion implies, the number and rigidity of ascribed statuses vary from one society to another. Those societies in which many statuses are rigidly prescribed and relatively unchangeable are called caste societies, or at least, caste like. Among major nations, India is a caste society. In addition to the ascribed statuses already discussed, occupation and the choice of marriage partners in traditional India are strongly circumscribed by accident of birth. Such ascribed statuses stand in contrast to achieved statuses.



Achieved Statuses

Achieved statuses are those which the individual acquires during his or her lifetime as a result of the exercise of knowledge, ability, skill and/or perseverance. Occupation provides an example of status that may be either ascribed or achieved, and which serves to differentiate caste-like societies from modern ones. Societies vary in both the number of statuses that are ascribed and achieved and in the rigidity with which such definitions are held. Both ascribed and achieved statuses exist in all societies. However, an understanding of a specific society requires that the interplay among these be fully understood. For Weber class is a creation of the market situation. Class operates in society independently of any valuations. As Weber did not believe in the economic phenomena determining human ideals, he distinguishes status situation from class situation.

According to Linton, status is associated with distinctive beliefs about the expectations of those having status, as for example, the status of children. Other common bases for status are age, sex, birth, genealogy and other biological constitutional characteristics. However, status, according to Linton, is only a phenomenon, not the intrinsic characteristic of man but of social organization. What matters is not what you really are, but what people believe you to be. At times, some confuse the two terms, status and role. Status defines who a person is, as for example, he is a child or a Negro, or a doctor; whereas, role defines what such a person is expected to do, as for example, he is too young to work, he should care about parents etc.

A common method of identifying the statuses in a social system is to discover the list of status-designators, as for example, kinship status typically begins with a list of kin terms and their usage. One other characteristic feature of status, as understood today, is that any person can have more than one status. Generally, no status in any social situation encompasses one person. Also, it has to be kept in mind those statuses and persons are not only distinct concepts but also at distinct levels of analysis. Besides, in sociology it is status, rather than person, which is more useful as a tool of analysis.

Why we should treat these two terms as separate can be argued on various grounds. First, two persons having quite different characters may possess similar observable conduct if they have the same status, as for example, very acquisitive and very altruistic doctors may behave in much the same way. Secondly, two persons having the same character, very often, have different observable conduct because of having two different statuses. Thirdly, even two persons having similar characters but having two different statuses show very often different observable conduct, as for example, a docile son and a kind father.

Thus, in society, which in reality is a social system where interaction occurs between actors, status but not person in important. If we treat person as the unit of such a system we must discover a basic personality structure which is an impossible task. On the other hand, it is easy to comprehend status although it is an abstract concept. Status is the most elementary component of the social system which is equally abstract.

Interaction between two actors occurs not as persons but as two having statuses. A social position is always defined in relation to a counter position, as for example, a doctor to a patient, to a nurse, and to the hospital administrator. In other words, the basic unit of analysis for social system is not status itself but the relation of two statuses. The first writer to do considerable work in this field was Merton in 1957. According to him, there are three aspects of status. To illustrate, Mr. Pandey is a doctor must have social relations with nurses, patients, other doctors, hospital administrators, and so on, that is, a role set. If Mr. Pandey is also a husband, a father, a member of Hare-Krishna cult and a municipal councilor, it is a status set. And the process, by which Mr. Pandey became a doctor, required that he first be a medical student, then an intern and then a resident, that is, a status sequence.

Since what is known as status is related to other statuses, the interaction of statuses is a very crucial one. Stable interaction systems depend on the emergence of normative expectations. Once it emerges, such expectations are not created anew every time. Two new actors encounter each other. The idea underlying this statement is that every actor is sensitive to the attitudes others will have towards him. Every actor, therefore, tends to feel tense and upset if he is unable to define the social situation in such a way that the behaviour of the other is predictable.

A more dynamic feature of this series of social interactions is the idea that each action implies a status and each status action. Therein each actor reveals how he defines a situation by the way he behaves, and thus provides other actors with cues to their own statuses in the situation.

Although the interaction of statuses is normally satisfactory, at times, confusion might arise because of status ambiguity. If, however, an actor has more than one status, the attitudes of any two statuses may be either compatible or incompatible with their demands on the person. If two statuses that are activated in the same situation are incompatible it would be difficult for each status occupant to know how to interact with the other, because it will be difficult for him to know which status is the basis of their interaction. Such ambiguities are a source of strain and discomfort and people either get out of such situations or wish that they be changed.

The term social role is borrowed by social scientists originally from the Greek Drama. The word person comes from the Latin word persona, which originally meant a mask. Greek actors wore masks when they performed in their drama. This leads us directly to the definition of the concept of social role. A social role is a set of social norms that govern a person's behaviour in a group and determine his relationships with other group members. Put somewhat differently a role is the expected pattern of behavior associated with a given social status. Status and role are reciprocal aspects of the same phenomenon. Status, or position, is the static aspect that fixes the individual's position in a group; role is the dynamic behavioral aspect that defines how the person who occupies the status should behave in different situations.

Individuals in a society behave according to certain standard patterns of behaviour or roles. These standard patterns of behaviour are determined by the social position or the status which the individual occupies in society because it is these social positions which lay down norms by indicating which individual should observe which norms. In other words, status refers to a collection of norms; and each society classifies its members into a more or less elaborate system of statuses. Each of the statuses involves a role, set of behaviour or action-patterns that people belonging to a given status are expected to perform. One plays as many roles as he has statuses. A given man may both concurrently and sequentially enact the roles of husband, father bread-winner, and football fan and so on. Social roles may be linked to blue-prints for behaviour that are handed to the individual, hypothetically, when he becomes a member of a group. As such these constitute the group's expectations concerning how one would behave. Thus, whereas the status of a person tells us what he is, his role will tell us what he does as a member of a status group.

Despite this fundamental difference between the two, statuses and roles are very closely interlinked. There are no roles without statuses and no statuses without roles. Indeed, there are some exceptions. Though all statuses imply some role or roles, it is not always possible to infer people's statuses from what they do, as for example, two persons, who bear the title of knighthood and thus holding same social positions, might be performing completely different roles. Also, many statuses are wholly or partly defined with reference to roles which their occupants are expected to perform. Example policemen, poets, etc.

The importance of role was recognized from 1936 when Linton presented the first systematic statement identifying role as a segment of culture. He also held the view that role was related to social status. Much work has been done after Linton in the form of experimental study. Many studies have shown that lack of clarity and consensus in role conceptions is a contributory factor in reducing organizational effectiveness and morale.

Since the concept is being extensively used, some differences appear in its usage. Some writers treat role and actual behavior of an individual to be one and the same. Most of the writers treat role as expected behavior and role behavior as an enactment. Another interpretation is that role is a specific behavior or conditioned response. Finally, some treat role as a part to be learnt and played.

Despite these differences, all sociologists agree to the following characteristics of role. It is believed that when roles are stabilized, the role structure persists regardless of changes in the actors. In some families when the parents become disorganized and become childish, a child suddenly blossoms into responsibility and helps to supply the family leadership. As the roles get stabilized, an individual adopts a given role; and if he fails to fulfill the role expectation, he will be regarded as a violator of the terms of interaction.

The above functioning of the role is determined, to some extent, by the organizational setting which supplies both direction and constraint to the working of the as for said processes. If the role structure is incorporated in an organizational setting, the latter's goals tend to become the crucial criteria for role differentiation, legitimacy of expectation, and judgments of adequacy.

Secondly, depending on the level of integration with the organizational setting, roles get linked with statuses in the organization.

Thirdly, depending on the extent to which the roles are incorporated with an organizational setting, each tends to develop a pattern of adaptation to incorporate other roles. A teacher in a public school must incorporate within his role pattern, his role adaptations to pupils, parents, other teachers and the principal. Merton describes several mechanisms that are employed to minimize conflict in the role-set.

Fourthly, when roles are incorporated with the organisational setting they persist as tradition and formalization. Finally, the place of role is determined by society itself; for, society is based on accommodation among many organizations. Society introduces multiple organisational references for roles, and multiplies roles for the actor. A view from society's perspective shows that roles in different contexts tend to become merged. One example is our tendency to speak of male and female roles of heroic and unheroic roles while seeking meaning and order in simple human interactions. Viewed from the perspective of society, differentiation of roles gets linked with social values. If the societies and the individuals' assigned roles are consistent with each other the roles tend to get merged with social values. A glaring example is our tendency to use age, sex and occupation as qualifying criteria for the allocation of other roles.

In the end we have to say that it is actor who faces the strain; for, the dynamic hinges on his management of the several roles in his repertoire. This may come about through failure of role cues, gross lack of consensus and so forth. This situation results in an individual adopting his own repertoire of role relationship as a framework for his own behaviour, and as a perspective for the interpretation of the behaviour of others. When the individual forms a self-conception by selective identification of certain roles as his own to be held in his repertoire, the individual is said to develop a sense of personal prestige, which is likely to be reflected in his bearing, his self-assurance and other aspects of his interpersonal relations.

In general, the concept of role is crucial in all sociological analyses which attempt to link the functioning of the social orders with the characteristics and behaviour of the individuals who belong to that order. A study of roles provides a comprehensive pattern of social behaviour and attitudes. It constitutes a strategy for coping with a recurrent type of situation. It is socially identified as an entity. It can be played recognizably by different individuals, and it supplies a major basis for identifying and placing persons in a society.

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