CHAPTER 5 STATUSES, ROLES, SELF AND IDENTITY
***A Functionalist View of Statuses and Roles
As a macro theoretical perspective, functionalism focuses on large-scale phenomena or even
entire societies. Functionalists are impressed with how societies organize themselves and
persist over time.
The analogy is often made to society as a living organism in which each part contributes to
the survival of the whole by serving its own unique function but also by working with other
Functionalists maintain that if an aspect of social life fails to contribute to a society’s stability
or survival, it will not be passed on.
In response to the question of why people behave in ways that contribute to the integration
of society, the functionalist’s answer focuses on norms—that is, on sets of socially derived
expectations about appropriate behavior in particular settings. The most important of these
norms are learned in childhood during socialization.
Norms in turn are organized around statuses and roles. Status refers to particular social
positions that people hold. Roles consist of the responsibilities, behaviors, and privileges that
are connected to the position the person occupies. Roles are the action element of status.
Ascribed and achieved statuses.
Ascribed statuses: One way of acquiring a status is to be born into it or having it imposed on
you by nature or by chance; neither earned nor chosen
The cluster of statuses held by any given individual at one time is called a status set.
Roles are often organized in such a way that the rights attached to one are linked with the
responsibilities attached to another. Sociologists refer to this pattern as the reciprocity of
Role conflict: expectations attached to one role interfere or conflict with one’s ability to meet
the expectations of another role
Role strain: a situation in which competing demands are built into a single role, causing
tension and stress. Unless some balance or happy medium is found, role strain will result
---The Sick Role
Giving individuals who are sick a break from their normal roles and routines so that they can
recuperate seems only sensible, but this strategy can present yet another threat to the social
Talcott Parsons: the sick role represents a way to deal with the threat of social members
being sick and not able to play their roles while at the same time minimizing the disruption
that sickness and the temptation to claim illness generates for the social order
Sick roles have rights and responsibilities: right to claim sick and responsibility to get better
Although people have a measure of choice over at least some of the statuses they hold and
whether or not to act out institutional roles, they have little choice as to how to act them out
The patterns of interaction have a reality independent of the persons who enact them.
***Symbolic Interactionism: Roles, Self, and Identity
George Herbert Mean and Herbert Blumer: symbolic interactionism is concerned with how social actors make sense of their worlds
From a symbolic interactionist perspective, individuals are constantly and actively involved in
assessing and reassessing things around them, defining them, making sense of them, and
working out how they are going to act in relation to them.
In contrast to the functionalist approach, which portrays individuals actors as buffeted by
social forces outside them—including role expectations—symbolic interactionism
emphasizes how individuals interact to create, sustain, and transform social relationships
People respond to the meaning a situation has for them rather than to the objective features
of the situation.
When a definition of the situation is lacking or unclear, we focus on establishing one that is
satisfactory and can help guide the ongoing interaction (Ex. Telling a politically insensitive
joke; stop suddenly on hwy)
Statuses and roles, for the interactionist, do not determine social interaction, since this is
organized and managed by actors themselves. Rather, they provide a fluid and malleable
context within which human interaction unfolds.
From a symbolic interactionist perspective, a role can be thought of as a resource that
persons employ to organize and carry around a repertoire of roles and determine which of
them to use.
Roles are best viewed as a perspective from which behavior is constructed or a platform
from which one acts. Far from being locked into particular role configurations or structures,
we have the capacity to use roles
A process by which we co-ordinate or align our actions with those of others
Put ourselves in others’ roles and looking at ourselves from the point of view of others
Not everyone who performs the role of student does so in precisely the same way. The
expectation attached to any given role provide us with a rough guideline at best as to how
we ought to act
Role-taking and role-making are intricately linked. The construction of a role is impossible
without an ability to view oneself from the vantage point of another
As with all objects, the meaning we attach to ourselves is not fixed but constantly changing
as we interact with others
The self is not a ‘solid, given entity that moves form one situation to another. It is rather a
process, continuously created and recreated in each social situation that one enters’.
We acquire our sense of self by imagining how we appear to others
Cooley: interdependence between individuals and society
Mead: the ‘me’ takes the significant and generalized other into account, asking itself what
norms govern the situation, given one’s role, the image one wants to project, others’
expectations, and how one wants to be seen. The ‘me’ does not dictate our actions. It is the
‘response of the organism to the attitudes of others’.
Manfod Kuhn: ‘core self’, a stable set of meanings that one attaches to oneself. ---Identity (The names we give ourselves)
Gregory Stone: how one casts one’s self as a social object, who one tells the self one is, and
what one ‘announces’ to others one is.
Goffman: dramaturgical approach; through a process called impression management, actors
try to shape how others will define them
Goffman distinguishes between role and role performance. Role refers to a person’s conduct
if he or she did only what the norms attached to the particular position directed. By contrast,
role performance reflects the actual behavior of an individual while acting out the role.
Front-stage and back-stage
---Identity Work (How individuals present themselves and construct others)
We project our identities using appearance, behaviors, talk and props of various kinds.
Medical students: the students used props, costumes, and language to demonstrate to their
audiences that they possessed the special knowledge and trustworthiness demanded of
Sociologists looked at how we use our bodies to communicate to others who we are.
Atkinson: men’s surgery; ‘crisis of masculinity’, or uncertainty about what it means to be a
man in the face of gender equity movements, ideologies of political correctness, and
attitudes of misandry (male-bashing)
New research suggests that the way men experience their bodies is pivotal to their
Studies show that identity work continues in earnest, and perhaps whit even greater urgency,
among the sick and dying and, after death, on their behalf by those who are left behind
---Social versus Personal Identities
There can be a disjuncture between the roles we play (social identity) and who we
understand ourselves to b