A Concept Paper
Introducing Role Theory
Role theory is a sociological framework that has been used to explain sets of relational patterns between people across varying contexts. It seeks to explain one of the most important characteristics of human social behavior – the fact that how people act, behave and speak are not separate, unique, disconnected but rather, are reflective of certain patterns and arrangements that depend on the social context and the actors in these contexts (Mangus, 1957; Biddle, 1986). To illustrate, within the context of an intimate relationship such as marriage, violence between partners can be tied to the particular patterns and arrangements of acting, behaving and speaking between partners – such as earning money, rearing children, taking care of the home and initiating sexual relations. Although several versions of the theory have been explicated by scholars, there appears to be agreement that role theory is mainly about three interrelated concepts: (1) patterned and characteristic social behaviors, (2) parts or identities as assumed by social participants, and (3) scripts or expectations for behavior that are understood and followed by actors in a particular social context (Biddle, 1986). For instance, adopting a role theory perspective to understanding intimate partner violence necessitates looking at the patterned and characteristic social behaviors of intimate partners in a relationship, the parts or identities that each partner plays in the relationship, and the scripts or expectations that are interpreted and adhered to by the partners in a particular relational context, specifically in situations of violent encounters. Furthermore, the theory also allows for an understanding of the relationships among the individual, collective and structural levels of society (Turner, 2001), as it deals with the organization and connection of social behavior between the
References: Biddle, B. J. (1986). Recent developments in role theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 12, 67-92. Brookes, K., Davidson, P. M., Daly, J., & Halcomb, E. J. (2007). Role theory: A framework to investigate the community nurse role in contemporary health care systems. Contemporary Nurse: A Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession, 25 (1-2), 146-155. Callero, P.L. (1994). From role-playing to role-using: Understanding role as resource. Social Psychology Quarterly, 57 (3), 228-243. Ellington, J. E. & Marshall, L. L. (1997). Gender role perceptions of women in abusive relationships. Sex Roles, 36 (5/6), 349-369. Fox, G. L. & Murry, V. M. (2000). Gender and families: Feminist perspectives and family research. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1160-1172. Lynch, K. D. (2007). Modeling role enactment: Linking role theory and social cognition. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 37 (4), 379-399. Mangus, A. R. (1957). Role theory and marriage counseling. Social Forces, 35 (3), 200-209. Mihalic, S. W. & Elliot, D. (1997). A social learning theory model of violence. Journal of Family Violence, 12 (1), 21-47. Stryker, S. (2001). Traditional symbolic interactionism, role theory and structural symbolic interactionism: The Road to Identity Theory. In J. H. Turner (ed.), Handbook of Sociological Theory (pp. 211-230). Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York. Thomas, E.J. & Biddle, B.J. (1966). Basic concepts for the variables of role phenomena. In B.J. Biddle & E.J. Thomas (Eds.), Role theory: concepts and research (pp. 51-65). New York: John Wiley & Sons. Turner, R.H. (2001). Role theory. In J. H. Turner (ed.), Handbook of Sociological Theory (pp. 233-254). Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York.