Chapter 5: Statuses, Roles, Self, and Identity
Sociology: A Canadian Perspective
A Functionalist View of Statuses and Roles
Functionalists are impressed with how societies organize themselves and persist over time, while particularly interested in
large-scale structures and social institutions like family, religion, and education.
Norms dictate the way people behave in ways that contribute to the integration of society. They are organized around
statuses and roles.
Status is the particular social position people hold.
Ascribed (born with it or by chance, i.e. ethnicity) v. achieved (by choice, i.e. CEO)
Status set is a cluster of statuses held by one individual – not fixed
Statuses are a cycle in life (enter and exit over the course of life)
Roles are the responsibilities, behaviours, and privileges connected to a person’s status or position.
When behavioural expectations attached to one role interfere with one’s ability to meet the expectations of
another role – role conflict, e.g. women finding role conflict in the role of a career woman and motherhood
Role strain is the situation where competing demands are built into a single role, causing tension and stress
Sick role offered by Talcott Parsons
o Challenged by several criticism
Explains acute physical illness but does not explain long-term chronic conditions or mental illness
Does not work in situations where treatment is unavailable
Statuses and roles emphasize social constraints. Institutions channel behaviour while predefining what it means to be a
mother, student, etc.
Symbolic Interactionism: Roles, Self, and Identity
Interactionist view is closely tied to the central ideas of symbolic interactionism. Individuals are constantly involved in
assessing things around them, defining them, making sense of them, etc.
In contrast to functionalism, symbol interactionism emphasizes how individuals interact to create and sustain social
Perspective is captured by 3 premises of symbolic interactionism by Hubert Blumer:
1. We act toward situations, people, etc. on the basis of the meanings we associate with it
2. The meaning of things arises out of interaction
3. The meanings of things are handled and modified through a process of interpretation that
individuals engage in as they deal with the things they encounter
human behaviour arises out of how social actors define the situations in which they find themselves
focuses on individuals’ interactions
statuses and roles do not determine social interaction because social interaction is organized by actors, instead
they provide a context within which human interaction happens
role can be a resource that people employ to organize and carry out their activities Two important symbolic interactionism concepts:
o Role taking is the process where we co-ordinate our actions with the actions of others.
We must look at ourselves the perspectives of other people and try to anticipate the consequences
of our own actions process fine-tunes our own response
o Role making describes the way where we do not follow rigid, predetermined scripts. The expectations of a
role provide us a rough guideline at best how we ought to act.
Role-taking and role-making are intricately linked as there cannot be one without another.
Self and identity are also main ideas of symbolic interactionism.
Society cannot exist without individuals. Self-aware individuals cannot exist without others (society).
Charles Horton Cooley captures the interdependence between individuals and society in this concept of ‘the
looking glass self’ Society is the mirror that reflects the image of who we are.
‘I’ v. ‘me’ ‘I’ is selfish, whereas ‘me’ takes the significant and generalized other into account, asking itself what
are the norms governing the situation give one’s role, the image one wants to project, other expectations, etc.
o ‘I’ may be swayed by ‘me’
Manford Kuhn states that while we are responsive to others, we also carry this core self into all our interactions.
The stability of the core self suggests the possibility of measurement.
o Developed the ‘Twenty Statements’ or ‘self-theory’ test as a way of measuring themselves
Identity is the name we give ourselves
Gregory Stone argues that ‘identity’ is not a substitute for the word ‘self’ but refers to how one sees themselves as
asocial object or who they announce themselves to be
Erving Goffman’s work with identity in his dramat