Identify and describe the various types of social role situations.

Identify and describe the various types of social role situations.

 5.4 There are three major situations that complicate our ability to perform roles: role conflict, role strain and role exit.


Identify and describe the various types of social role situations.


Social Roles It is helpful to review the concept of social role.  Goffman uses the metaphor of a part in a play, so that when we step into a role we know that we are expected to follow a script.  We are not expected to perform roles robotically, in fact in most social situations strict adherence to the norms of a role would be a bit upsetting to the people we interact with.  We are expected to customize our performance in some way, even if it is only in the tone of our voice or through body language that reflects something of our unique personality. Of course there are situations; especially formal situations such as some jobs in which we are expected keep our behavior very close to the established script.  Those of us who have dealt with telephone sales reps and customer service persons know that this behavior can be somewhat frustrating. It is also true that in some cultures it is essential that the customary forms of behavior must be followed exactly in specific circumstances.  Even in the less formal culture of  United States, there are still situations in which our behavior must be very close to the formal requirements of the role. Most situations are more casual, meaning that we can stray from the ideal behavior without risking serious sanctions.A role is the set of norms that accompany the status we are currently holding.  We move from one role to another, from home to work, from work to home; from parent to child, from friend to boss or employee.  We change our behavior with each role change according to the norms we’ve learned through socialization.  If we make a mistake it is noticed, but generally we have some freedom to “be ourselves” and make the role our own while we occupy it as long as we play our part well enough that others know which role we are playing.

YouTube has a clip titled ‘The Perfect Dinner’ which has two clips from the movie American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, I am not requiring this clip because it contains strong language, but if you watch it notice that the family is doing a very poor job of playing the roles associated with the institution of family even though they are trying to play them perfectly.

Role Conflict Role conflicts are very easy to understand because almost everyone runs into the situation at some time or another when one of their roles makes a demand on them that makes it impossible for them to fill the requirements of another role.  Every working parent may have to eventually make a choice between taking care of a sick child and going to work:  birthday parties or weddings may fall on the same days as important meetings at work or an equally important event on the other side of the family… just think about how difficult holiday dinners can be when we may have to join the celebration with both sides of the family.  These are role conflicts.
Role Strain Role strain happens when we have two responsibilities in the same role that just can’t happen together.  Many jobs are filled with role strain.  A cashier may have to keep the line moving, be friendly with customers, keep the cash accurate, offer to sign people up for credit cards and inform customers of their savings, look for stolen goods and keep their station clean among other job duties. This is role strain.  All that is required for role strain to occur is that a single role make demands on a person that are either very difficult to fill in the required time or are impossible to complete in the required time. 
Role Exit We move through statuses in a pattern that more or less conforms to the life course that our culture sets out for us.  The culture places strong expectations on us about the statuses we hold whether they are achieved or ascribed.  There comes a day when we must go to kindergarten, college, start a job or retire.  Most of us come to a time when we choose to become enter a relationship, marry, become parents or when regardless of our choosing we end a relationship, see children leave home, depart from our employment or move to a new area.  When we leave our statuses we exit the roles associated with them. Usually we prepare for the event (anticipatory socialization) but whether we are ready or not we all come to a time when we must “move on”. Leaving a role is difficult.  The old behaviors must be shed, they won’t serve us well in our new status, they may interfere with how well we perform in our new role. Most of us have heard of “the empty nest syndrome” in which parents have to readjust to a life without children.  Retirement also leaves us feeling at a loss, even when we prepare. In this song “The Watch” the singer compares his retirement to the scrapping of a ship.  Unfortunately the last verses of the song is missing from the video below.  The lyric is

The Watch by Stan Rogers

They dragged her down, dead, from Tobermory,
Too cheap to spare her one last head of steam,
Deep in diesel fumes embraced,
Rust and soot upon the face of one who was so clean.
They brought me here to watch her in the boneyard,
Just two old wrecks to spend the night alone.
It’s the dark inside this evil place.
Clouds on the moon hide her disgrace;
This whiskey hides my own.
It’s the last watch on the Midland,
The last watch alone,
One last night to love her,
The last night she’s whole.
My guess is that we were young together.
Like her’s, my strength was young and hard as steel.
And like her too, I knew my ground;



I scarcely felt the years go round
In answer to the wheel.
But then they quenched the fire beneath the boiler,
Gave me a watch and showed me out the door.
At sixty-four, you’re still the best;
One year more, and then you’re less
Than dust upon the floor.
So here’s to useless superannuation
And us old relics of the days of steam.
In the morning, Lord, I would prefer
When men with torches come for her,
Let angels come for me.



It is depressing to compare retirement to death, but all role exit is a departure.  Some are more devastating than others, and sometimes a role exit, hard as it may be, is an open door to a better status and more comfortable roles.

Key Terms  
Define Role conflict
  Role strain
  Role exit
Evaluation  Quiz 5.4
Additional resources  
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