role theory on the ‘everyday sociology’ blog

I just read an entry on the ‘Everyday Sociology’ blog sponsored by Norton Publishing. The entry is about role theory, and touches on: expectations, social status and behaviors. I like the idea of trying to blog about this (and other) sociological concepts in a simple way that invites readers to think about a particular concept.

Role theory clearly has links with Social Role Valorization (SRV).

I assume the blog is intended for university/college students, given its link with Norton. It’s a blog entry, and so is fairly basic. One of the things which SRV could add to this basic description is the insight about image and competency enhancement as avenues toward acquiring and holding onto societally valued roles.

From the blog post: “According to role theory, most of us are hardcore, rabid conformists.” While I think I understand the point being made, I would not describe role theory that way. It makes it sound far too mechanistic, as opposed to a theory that can predict and describe.

The blog includes an example centered on the role of university student. If you have a moment, read this example and analyze it from an SRV perspective, particularly taking into account the reality of societal devaluation and heightened vulnerability, as well as the part that others (including family, friends, service workers, teachers, etc.) can play in helping someone to fill a societally valued role. If you were the professor, what are some of the SRV strategies that you might use, in the scenario described in the blog post, to help each student in that classroom to fill the role of ‘university student’? Remember that SRV teaches about role complementarity, such as the necessary link between roles of husband and wife, employee and employer, neighbor and neighbor, student and teacher. How can we take advantage of that natural dynamic in ways which are consistent with the culturally valued analog?


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  1. Written by Raymond Lemay
    on August 2, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Wright, the blog’s author, is describing the “functionalist” view of role theory. The sociologist Talcott Parsons (referenced by Wolfensberger in the Intro to SRV) is closely associated to this view; it was once an influential school of sociology but today it is largely ignored. Symbolic Interactionism (another sociological current – George Herbert Mead) allows for a more dynamic view of human interactions that is more in keeping with the complexity we tend to experience. Though social roles are identifiable because of a certain amount of consistency in how they are enacted in a society, there is nonetheless a remarkably broad spectrum of behaviors and attitudes that are associated to given roles, and roles evolve and change overtime. Just think of how the parental role is enacted today versus 20 or 30 years ago. Alice Eagly in her research has documented how gender roles have changed over the past few decades and so on. In any event, both schools of thought provide good frameworks for understanding role theory, though a synthesis of both, I find, is particularly interesting.

    Like Wright, I find role theory provides a very satisfying (comprehensive) understanding of human identity and interactions, and like Marc Tumeinski, I think that SRV’s use of role theory provides a useful basis for understanding and intervention. It is hard to imagine ourselves in a role-less situation, except possibly as we sleep, and even then our dreams tend to cast us in a variety of role situations.

    Raymond Lemay

  2. Written by Social Role Valorization » role theory on...
    on August 9, 2013 at 9:10 am

    […] I just read this entry on the 'Everyday Sociology' blog sponsored by Norton Publishing. The entry is about role theory, and touches on: expectations, social status and behaviors. I like the idea of trying to blog about this (and …  […]

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