Role - Determinants and Characteristics of Social Role

Determinants and Characteristics of Social Role

Roles may be achieved or ascribed or they can be accidental in different situations. An achieved role is a position that a person assumes voluntarily which reflects personal skills, abilities, and effort. An ascribed role is a position assigned to individuals or groups without regard for merit but because of certain traits beyond their control, (Stark 2007), and is usually forced upon a person.

Roles can be semi-permanent ("doctor", "mother", "child"), or they can be transitory. A well-known example is the sick role as formulated by Talcott Parsons in the late 1940s. In the transitory "sick role", a person is exempted from his usual roles, but is expected to conform to transitory behavioural standards, such as following doctors' orders and trying to recover.

For many roles, individuals must meet certain conditions, biological or sociological. For instance, a boy cannot take the biological role of mother. Other roles require training or experience. For instance, in many cultures doctors must be educated and certified prior to practising medicine.

Role development can be influenced by a number of additional factors, including social, genetic predisposition, cultural or situational.

  • Societal influence: The structure of society often forms individuals into certain roles based on the social situations they choose to experience. Parents enrolling their children in certain programs at a young age increases the chance that the child will follow that role.
  • Genetic predisposition: People take on roles that come naturally to them. Those with athletic ability generally take on roles of athletes. Those with mental genius often take on roles devoted to education and knowledge. This does not mean that people must choose only one path, multiple roles can be taken on by each individual (i.e. Evelyn can be the point guard on the basketball team and the editor of her school newspaper).
  • Cultural influence: Different cultures place different values on certain roles based on their lifestyle. For instance, soccer players are regarded higher in European countries than in the United States, where soccer is less popular.
  • Situational influence: Roles can be created or altered based on the situation a person is put in outside their own influence.

Roles are also frequently interconnected in a role set, that complement of role-relationships in which persons are involved by virtue of occupying a particular social status (Merton 1957). For example, a high school football player carries the roles of student, athlete, classmate, etc.

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