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Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize the sociological concept of role, and how it is related to social structure.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. Welcome to Sociological Studies. Thank you for joining me. In this lesson, we're going to talk about roles and how roles differ from statuses. An easy way to keep these things separated in your mind is that the statuses are occupied positions. Occupied positions that we fill empty positions in the social structure, such as teacher, doctor, father. We fill these things. We occupy them, inhabit them.

Whereas, roles then are duties, functions that correspond to each of the statuses that we occupy. Statuses are occupied and roles are performed. Roles are the behaviors, duties, and responsibilities expected of particular status. So to make this clear, let's take a look at one of my statuses-- teacher. As a teacher, I have multiple roles at the same time that flow from this status.

I have to prepare for these lectures. I can't come up here like an idiot and just spout off. I have to know what I'm talking about when I lecture so preparation and lecturing are two roles of the teacher. In addition to these two roles, I have to have a good office demeanor with my coworkers here in the office. I have to be nice to everybody. There's a certain level of congeniality expected at the office that I have to make sure that I bring every day. So this is another role of this status.

So you see that every status has roles that go with it. Mother has a bunch of roles. Wife as a bunch of roles. Father, son, brother, doctor, lawyer, et cetera, et cetera. Our lives are organized around this stuff. I challenge you to make a list of all the statuses that you occupy and then what roles you think you have to perform by virtue of occupying that status. And you'll see that basically all of your time gets filled up with fulfilling of roles, duties, things like that in response to the statuses that you have.

Anytime you're basically not sleeping, you're caring about these roles in response to the statuses that you have in life. And because so much of our time is spent doing the duties and roles of our statuses, this can cause a lot of conflict in our lives. Have you ever felt that you don't have time for yourself or even to be a person, that you're wanted everywhere for something, by someone all of the time. You might be feeling what we call role conflict then, which is conflict among our various roles from different statuses.

It's really tough being a mother, a worker, a student, a daughter, a wife or a girlfriend all at the same time. These are many different statuses and they each have a nested set of all these different little roles and to balance them all the time is really, really difficult. So this is role conflict. It's a very familiar adult feeling.

Just yesterday, I was stressed out about being here, preparing, doing all my teacher roles, and then I had to go work another job in the evening as well. So basically all day long, I'm working doing these roles, and then I've got my dad calling me, probably about nothing important, but yet he called me two or three times. And I'm thinking to myself, Dad, I just don't have time to deal with this right now.

I was feeling like look, I don't want to be a son right now. I don't have time for all these roles of being a son. I basically just told them, look, I'll talk to you on the weekend. I'm not going to be able to talk to you until then. Because that's what I had to do. I had to separate everything to keep from feeling role conflict. I couldn't take it. This is a very familiar feeling which I'm sure you experience weekly.

Similarly, we can even deal with stress from one single status. We call that role strain, which is stress and tension that results from roles of just a single status like our job. That's often a very stressful status because the roles demand a lot of us. This is role strain.

And finally, we have this concept called role exit, which role exit is whenever you go through a transition in life or you leave something behind and start something new. It's transitions that we make that disengage from old roles and start something new. A religious person that becomes an atheist. Or a married person who becomes divorced. An alcoholic who becomes sober. Basically anytime we become an "ex" in life, that's an example of a role exit.

Often though, the old roles form habits and they stay with us. What about if you're an alcoholic and you become sober? If you want to stay on the wagon, you can't really go hang out at all the old places you used to hang out at, hang out with all your old beer buddies and things like that. Although you might want to because you're used to fulfilling those roles. So these roles stay with us. It's often a complicated process whenever you have to become an "ex" and engage in role exit.

Well, thank you for joining me. I hope you enjoyed this discussion of roles. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know
Role Conflict

The feeling of conflict and stress when faced with juggling multiple role sets from multiple statuses.

Role Exit

A transition where a person disengages from old roles in order to start something new, becoming an "ex."

Role Set

All of the multiple roles associated with a particular status.

Role Strain

Stress and tension resulting from the roles of a single status like a job status.


The behaviors, duties, and responsibilities expected of particular statuses.