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There exist numerous special relations in any society, parenthood, marriage, friendships, etc. These are some examples of enormous range of social relations, which sociologists examine and on the basis which they try to understand society. For purposes of analysis and understanding, each social relation is conceived in terms of two components, namely, status and role.

Some writers consider status as social position, as the ‘socially defined location or place’, which an individual occupies in a system of interaction or society. Thus, in any interaction, none of the participants is without status. No individual can interact with another, if his/her status, as well as that of the person or persons, is not clear in a given situation.

Thus, interaction in the family poses no problems because each member knows well the status he/she and others are occupying. This knowledge allows for a smooth flow and predictable interaction. But, when we encounter a stranger, we first of all want to know his status. Until this is known, we are not clear, how we should behave towards him. Thus, it is status and knowledge of status that facilitates patterned interaction.


Sociologists make a distinction between ‘ascribed’ and ‘achieved’ statuses. Positions, which one is born into or one acquires without one’s own effort, are known as ascribed statuses, such as caste and kinship status.

Achieved statuses are, in contrast, based on and defined by what people do or acquire through their own effort. Usually, people’s occupational positions come in this category. In every few cases, it is possible to have both ascribed and achieved aspects in the same statuses, for example, a hereditary priest in an Indian village, may be rejected if he fails to learn the required scriptures.

It is important to note that every individual occupies multiple statuses. Even a young infant is a son, a grandson, a brother, a nephew, and so on. As one grows up he/she may get into even more status positions. There is, however, one key status in terms of which the individual is ultimately identified and evaluated. In modern societies, one’s occupation indicates one’s key status.



Role is the behavioural aspect of status; there can be no status without a corresponding role attached to it. Role is, thus, the dynamic aspect of status and consists of rights and duties attached

I. Rational actions are of two types:

1. Zweck rational

2. Wert rational

  1. Role repertoire. The total catalogue of social roles enacted by the individual at any given time of life
  2. Role expectation. An individual’s subjective understanding of how to enact a given role or how others ought to enact theirs.
  3. Merton has distinguished between the idea of role set and multiple roles.
  4. The concept of role was initially developed by Ralph Linton in 1936. Linton has pointed out that role is the ‘dynamic’ side of status.
  5. Each status in society is accompanied by a number of norms which define how an individual occupying a particular status is expected to act. This group of norms is known as a role.
  6. The despised deviant from a particular society or social system may be regarded as a martyr or saint by other society. Thus, deviance is not inherent in specific behaviour or attitudes but rather is a phenomenon of human interaction in a particular normative setting.
  7. Deviance may be positively sanctioned; means rewarded, or negatively sanctioned, means punishment.
  8. W.G. Sumner distinguished, enacted law from customary law. Sumner regarded enacted law as a more fully developed form of law, which no longer depends entirely on custom, and sometimes even contradicts certain customs.
  9. Behaviour to a large extent is cultural, but it is not culture.
  10. No two persons have exactly the same culture.
  11. Tonnies (1883), Max Weber (1922) and R.M. MacIver (1937) have made important contributions in developing the concept of association.
  12. Analogy means similarity or correspondence between two things or ideas.


Thus, an individual occupying the status of a father, simultaneously, has some rights over his children, as well as some responsibilities towards them.

Statuses and roles are, thus two sides of the same coin.

Role refers both to the actual behaviour of an individual occupying a particular status, as well as to a set of expectations regarding behaviour, shared by those involved in particular social relations.

Thus, in the teacher-student relationship, the teacher has an expectation as to how the student interacting with him will or should behave.


The students too in turn, have their own set of expectations. Should either of them fail to act according to other’s expectations, their relations are adversely affected. Since individuals, by and large, fulfil role expectations, society gains uniformity of behaviour.

Thus, we may say that ‘role’ is one of the basic units of analysis of social order in human societies.


Introduced by Merton in sociology, the term ‘role-set’ is used to indicate that a status may not have just a single role but a number of associated roles which fit together.


A wife, for example, is also a daughter, a mother, a housekeeper, a cook, a neighbour, an employer, an employee and so on. Thus, her role set involves a constellation of related roles, some of which may require drastically different types of adjustment.

It is not uncommon for people to fail to operate equally well in all items of their role set. The charming office receptionist may be a poor typist; the attentive lover may be a wretched employee; the eloquent preacher may be a poor administrator

Successful role performance often requires competence in other related behaviour. Meanwhile, one may fill several different role sets at the same time. A boy may be a son, a football player, a monitor, an orator.

This multiplicity of roles may make for some role strain but not necessarily so, and it may also increase one’s overall fulfillment and life satisfaction.

Role Behaviour

While a role is the behaviour expected of one in a particular status, role behaviour is the actual behaviour of one who plays a role.

Actual role behaviour may vary from expected behaviour for a number of reasons. One may not see the role in the same way as others see it, one’s personality characteristics affect how one feels about the role, and not all persons filling a role are equally committed to it as it may conflict with other roles.

All these factors combine in such a way that no two individuals play a given role in exactly the same way. Not all soldiers are brave, not all priests are saintly, and not all professors are scholarly.

There is enough diversity in role behaviour to give variety to human life. Yet there is enough uniformity and predictability in role behaviour to carry on an orderly social behaviour.


Role-taking or taking the role of the other, means that ego responds by placing oneself mentally or imaginatively in the role of the other person in order to regulate one’s own behaviour, not necessarily in the direction of conformity in view of alters’ expectation.

This concept comes very close to those of the looking glass self and generalized other. An example of role-taking would be a boy who is facing an interview for his selection into an M.B. A course.

He would behave in a manner quite different from that in a normal situation i.e. he would be taking up a different role to regulate his behaviour.

Thus the initiation of a piece of behaviour by one actor and the reactions to it by other actors, i.e. interaction, can be discussed by the sociologists in terms of such role-taking.

Interaction conceived in role terms is, therefore, essentially social in Max Weber’s sense, since the actors are adjusting their behaviour in terms of their conceptions of their own roles those of others.

Apart from being an essential property of adult interaction, role-taking also underlies the socialization process, the learning of social roles. The idea of role-taking is fundamental, for example, to the work of the social psychologist George Herbert Mead. Mead’s discussion centers on the relation between role and the social self, more particularly on how the child becomes a social being by playing roles and taking the roles of other figures.

A crucial stage for Mead in the development of the child’s social self is that between the nature of role-taking at the earlier ‘play’ stage and that at the later ‘game’ stage. In the former the younger child takes the roles of other figures-teacher, mother, policeman and so on, and acts these other roles individually.

In the latter the older child can place himself in the roles of a number of other positions simultaneously. For example in playing a team game it is through being able to imagine the roles of all the other players that he is able to play the game. Underlying Mead’s discussion of role-taking is an idea similar to Piaget’s notion of egocentricity in the young child.

R. Turner has given a further analytical refinement to the concept of role-taking where he distinguishes between role-taking in which we actually adopt the standpoint of the other person’s role (Mead’s play stage) and that where we do not identify in this way.

Secondly, reflexive role-taking, where we place ourselves in the other’s role in order to see how we appear to the other person, is distinguished from non-reflexive role-taking where we are not concerned with this evaluation of our self and role by the other person.


Role-conflict refers to the contradictory demands within a role or competing demands of two different roles. Thus, role conflict may be experienced by the ego at two levels, firstly within his own body of roles, as for example, the employed wife finds that the demands of her job may conflict with household duties; the married students must reconcile student role demands with duties as husband or wife; the police officer must sometimes chose between duty and arresting a friend, and secondly between his own roles and those of other actors. Examples of second kind of role conflict would be a military chaplain preaching a gospel of love and sustaining men in their readiness to kill, a role conflict which many chaplains find disturbing.

Role conflict can be managed by “rationalization”, in which the situation is redefined in the minds of the actor that the person is aware of no conflict; by “compartmentalization”, which enables one to operate within a single role at a time; and by “adjudication”, in which a third party makes the decision.

Shakespeare’s classic description of the world as a stage emphasises the changes in role and status which come with age. These are important and inescapable, but others, such as those accompanying various occupations, are equally significant. Status is usually defined as the rank or position of a person in a group, or of a group in relation to other groups. Role is the behaviour expected of one who holds a particular status. Each person may hold a number of statuses and be expected to fill roles appropriate to them. In a sense, status and role are two aspects of the same phenomenon. A status is a set of privileges and duties; a role is the acting out of this set of duties and privileges.

Status is simply defined as a position in the 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. In other words, status is a position and role is a manner in which that position is supposed to be filled.

Each position has both a status that is socially given and a role or pattern of behaviour connected with this status that is socially expected. The execution of role expectations is role performance. Status and role two sides of a single coin, namely, a social position, a complex of rights and duties, and the actual behaviour expressing them.

There are two processes by which the status of a person in society is formed. These are the process of ascription and the process of achievement. ‘

Ascribed Status:

The status which a child receives at the time he is ushered into the process of socialization is his ascribed status since he has in no way contributed toward obtaining it. The status is ascribed to him when society knows least about the potentials of the child. Society has its own rules to inscribe status to different people. Generally, three factors are important in being ascribed a status in society age, sex and kinship.


All societies prescribe different attitudes and roles to men and to women. These differences are sought to be justified in terms of physiological differences between the two sexes. Women in most societies are given roles to suit their biological make up. The roles of child-rearing, cooking, housekeeping are assigned to women due to her status as a biologically weak being.


Age is also an important factor used by all societies for role assignment. Generally, a society recognizes at least four age periods; infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The older persons seek to hold their power because they have a kind of superiority-a superiority developed by the ascription of status on the basis of age and seniority.


Generally, the society ascribes status to a child on the basis of his relations to his parents. The ascription of citizenship, religious affectation and caste/community membership is in most cases a matter of identification with parents.

Achieved Status

No society depends solely upon ascribed status. It provides for an orderly and legitimate change of status according to the individual’s manifestation of talent and effort. If the society does not allow its members to change their status according to their talents and efforts, it will drive exceptional persons into illicit channels. In order to make use of their capacities for common serial ends the society must institutionalize the achievement of status.

Generally, primitive societies put greater emphasis on ascribed status. In civilized societies there is an emphasis on achieved status. Rapid social change has given rise to many statuses which cannot be filled by ascription. Individual initiative and accomplishment are parameters of achieved status. Competitive selection processes are examples of such achievement orientation of social statuses.

Achieved status has two elements-individual choice and competition. Just as each person occupies a number of ascribed statuses (male, young, Hindu), assigned without regard to individual ability or preference, and so one occupies a number of achieved statuses which are secured through one’s own ability, performance and possibly good or ill fortune.

In traditional societies most statuses are ascribed, with occupation and general social standing determined at birth. Industrialised societies have a greater range of occupations, require greater mobility of labour, and allow greater scope to change status through individual effort. Achieved status requires people to make choices, not only of occupation but also friends, organizations, schools, places of residence.

Ascribed and achieved statuses are basically different; yet they interact with each other and may overlap. General social standing in the community is partly ascribed, reflecting the status of one’s parents, and partly achieved through one’s own accomplishments.

Status Inconsistency and Status Crystallisation

In multi-dimensional systems of stratification, individuals may occupy inconsistent statuses. For example, individuals with a high level a high level of educational attainment, which provides high social status along one stratification dimension, may be employed in occupations that are poorly paid and carry low prestige, indicating low status along other dimensions.

G. Lenski coined the term ‘status inconsistency’ along with ‘status crystallisation’ which denotes consistency between an individual’s various statuses. He cites four important statuses: income, occupational prestige, education and ethnicity. Inconsistency is believed to promote resentment among individuals, who may, therefore either favour social change designed to alter the system of stratification or attempt to crystallize their own statuses by changing their own personal situations by raising their occupational level.

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