There exist numerous social 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 is the ‘socially defined location or place’, which an individual occupies in a system of interaction or society. Thus, in any interaction, none of the participant 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, 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 very 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.