Role Theory, Role Playing, Reflexive Role-Taking,
Role distancing is a concept from dramaturgical sociology. The act of presenting your
'self' as being removed or at a distance from the role you are being required to play.
For example, by keeping your eyes
open when asked to pray or say grace, you communicate to the group by role distancing,
that you are making no commitment to the role.
Role Distancing and Role Conflict
- Unlike a stage play, we do not define roles. We negotiate social roles.
Role Distancing: When an
individual disagrees with the expectations associated with a particular role, the
individual may try to de-emphasize the importance of that role.
Irving Goffman calls this role
distancing. For example, the actor may only play the role in a tongue and cheek fashion.
Role distancing is the act of separating oneself from the role.
Role Conflict: Some roles that
have to be played contradict other important roles. Here the individual does not know what
is expected. We call this "role conflict."
Role distancing: Differentiating
the role of the elderly from the person
Elderly participants in an extended care class at a senior citizen''s center were observed
to determine if some of them could continually distance themselves from the client role.
Although earlier research suggests that people can use role distancing techniques to
disassociate themselves successfully fromoccasionally played roles or certain aspects of a
role, it is unclear whether or how people successfully disassociate themselvescontinually
from enacted roles. Using a symbolic interactionist''s definition of role, this paper
attempts to 1) classify the circumstances which give rise to both occasional and continual
role distancing; 2) specify the conditions under which disassociation from continually
enacted roles may be successful; and 3) suggest the relevance of the data to studies on
low-status occupations, deviance, and role theory. Journal Qualitative Sociology, Issue
Volume 7, Number 3 / September, 1984 - Marnie L. Sayles, Department of Sociology,
University of Hawaii-Hilo, 96720 Hilo, Hawaii
Selection, socialization, and
mutual adaption: Resolving discrepancies between people and work
Norbert Semmer, University of Bern, Switzerland, Urs Schallberger, University of Zurich,
Extract: In Applied Psychology: An International Review, 45, 263-288. Special Issue:
"Work and Personality", edited by Nigel Nicholson (1996)
The most extreme way of role-distancing is to deny the role, for instance, when it is
stigmatized. Thus, in a recent Swiss study with people who were unemployed after
graduating from teacherīs college, Truniger (1991) found a pronounced tendency to
distance oneself from "the unemployed", to paint oneself as atypical, as
"not really unemployed" etc. and to emphasize, instead, the differences between
oneself and "the unemployed".
One the one hand, role-distancing often is a defensive strategy that may be associated
with poor well-being (Kahn, 1990; Semmer, in press). On the other hand, there are work
roles which make it difficult to distance oneself from it because high commitment and
involvement are part of their definition. Work roles with a high degree of responsibility
as well as status are a good example. You cannot be company president and keep declaring
that the things going on in this company have really nothing to do with you!