A Functionalist View of Statuses and Roles
Functionalists emphasize the importance of how norms integrate people into society.
Norms are organized around statuses and roles.
Status and Roles:
Status refers to positions that people hold. (i.e. a hockey player, a restaurant server, a student, a
teacher, a mother).
Roles refer to responsibilities that people hold based upon the positions they assume.
While a status is something we occupy, a role is something that we play.
A status describes what one is, while a role is something that one does.
Statuses are ascribed or achieved.
An ascribed status is one that someone is born into or imposed by nature.
An achieved status is one that is earned, or chosen during the life course.
People hold many statuses simultaneously. For example, one may be a father, worker, and
jogger at the same time.
A cluster of statuses is called a status set.
Status sets are not fixed as they are often reconfigured.
Role conflict: This occurs when the demands of one role are at odds with another. For example, many
women experience role conflict with being mothers and holding careers.
Role strain refers to a situation when competing demands are built into one single role causing
tension and stress. For example, lawyers are expected to serve their clients well and mentor
younger lawyers. At times, the goals of helping clients and helping younger lawyers are at odds.
Sources of role strain:
• Inadequate Socialization: not knowing the rules.
• Role conflict: Roles make incompatible demands, so that conformity to one role means
violation of another role.
• Role competition: Roles compete for an individual's energy and time.
Strategies for Reducing Role Strain:
• Compartmentalization of roles (E.g., spatially isolated spaces pertain to different roles)
• Established opportunities to relinquish a role (E.g., parental leave from work)
• Established hierarchies (E.g., prestige of universities causes families to give concessions to
• Power differences between roles (E.g., in conflicts, principals support teachers, not students)
Talcott Parsons (1951) talked about ‘the sick role’.
• The sick role is organized around two rights and responsibilities.
• People who are sick are excused from their social responsibilities.
• At the same time, they are expected to find their situation undesirable. They must want
to get better.
1 The Conflict Perspective:
• W. Peter Archibald focuses on Marx’s concept of alienation from others
• Relationships between non-equals are alienated. Alienation from others are characterized by:
• Indifference or separation
• When we approach others it is for egoistic purposes
• When we interact with others we are more controlled than in control
• When we approach others it is with feelings of dissatisfaction and hostility
Feature of Alienation:
People of different classes, statuses, and power tend to avoid each other (e.g., 19th
century zoning ordinances)
People in privileged positions fear losing face if subordinates do not show deference, or
if they themselves fail to project an impression of superiority.
People in subordinate positions fear that they might reveal information that can be used
Classes interact on a role-specific basis, rather than on a personal basis.
o This increases the predictability of interactions
Upper-class people emphasize formality, which helps maintain status quo.
Lower-class people believe that formality guarantees acceptance of their behaviour by
o Higher-class, higher-status, and higher-power individuals are more likely to initiate
activity and influence others. (e.g., Goffman, boss and the elevator man)
o Hostility underlies much of the interaction between non-equals. (e.g., Lieberman's study
of workplace attitudes)
Pro-management and pro-union attitudes of workers shift with their promotion
and demotion, as predicted by feelings generalization.
Symbolic Interactionist view on Identity:
• Symbolic interactionists are interested in how social actors make sense of their worlds.
• Identity is the way in which we see ourselves (announcement) and how others see us
(placement). e.g., female, adolescent, friend, athlete, etc.
Role enactment (role-playing) can be viewed structurally or interactionally.
Roles and identities are complementary and intertwined.
Every role carries with it a corresponding identity (e.g., university student).
In order to play roles, we need to know the identities of other actors, as well as our own.
o The importance of role expectations can be understood through their reactions to
deviance. (Harold Garfinkel's experiment: How students’ behaved as lodgers towards
Dominant groups more likely to use personal identities; oppressed groups more likely to use
Identities are established by the announcement of ourselves and by the placement by others
(e.g., incomplete placement of adopted children—lack of placement in terms of physical
similarity to family members)
2 Identity Troubles: Embarrassment
• Caused by dissonance between announced identity is not supported leading to unsatisfactory
• Bodily accidents (Indicates an immature or careless person)
• Insufficient support for identity announcement (e.g., a student announces that she has
'aced' a test, then receives a lower grade)
• Mistaken identity placement (announcement is adequate, but of distraction or
inadequate attention) (e.g., forgetting a person's name while introducing them to
Defensive Practices: Remedial work to prevent or remedy damage to identity
Avoidance: prevention of identity damage (e.g., avoid discussion of a damaging topic)
Disclaimers and Accounts:
o Disclaimers: excuses and justifications before the act when face-saving is expected to
o Accounts: excuses and justifications that follow embarrassing acts
o Disclaimers and accounts may occur in the universe of discourse (verbal) or in the
universe of appearance (non-verbal
o Verbal disclaimers:
'I may be wrong, but . . .'
'Sin license': arguing that there is a good reason to break a rule
o Verbal accounts: statements to explain unanticipated or untoward behaviour
Excuses: admission that an act is bad and denial of responsibility (coercion,
Justifications: accept responsibility, but deny negative implications (cheating
doesn't hurt anybody, victims deserve what they get, etc.)
Being considerate of the others to protect them, as well as the communal assembly:
o Gaffes by one person disrupt the interactional tone of the assembly.
o Studied non-observance: (Studious inattention to small lapses (e.g., the Emperor's
Overlapping of Role and Identity
Evident in concepts of:
o Role distance: playing a role in such a way that others place one at a distance from
the announced role
o Role embracement: playing a role in such a way that one is seen fully in terms of the
role, and to confirm one's acceptance of it
o Role exit: disengagement from a role that is central to one's self-identity (the “ex”)
Phases of role exit (Ebaugh):
Anticipatory socialization to a new reference group
Accommodating the new identity to the old one
3 Groups and Organizations:
Sets of People:
• Aggregates with shared characteristics
• E.g., age, gender
• Have no social structure (no