Sociology Index


Role Theory, Role Playing, Role Strain, Role Distancing, Role Convergence

Role-taking occurs where an individual looks at their own role performance from the perspective of another person. In taking the view point of another, they are able to see themselves as an object, as if from the outside.

When we ask: ‘Am I talking too much?’, or ‘Am I being responsible?’ we are engaging in reflexive role-taking. We are using outside standards, or the point of view of another, to look at ourselves.

Role-Taking, Role Standpoint, and Reference-Group Behavior - In order to clarify the meaning and usefulness of the concept of role-taking, some major types of role-taking behavior are differentiated and their relations to the concepts of "empathy" and "reference group" are explored.

Role-taking may or may not include adoption of the standpoint of the other as one's own and may or may not be reflexive. Coincidence of certain reference-group meanings with types of role-taking and possibilities for enhancing the usefulness of the reference-group concept are discussed. - Ralph H. Turner

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg believed children needed to be in an environment that allowed for open and public discussion of day-to-day conflicts and problems to develop their moral reasoning ability.

Kohlberg refers to changes occurring through role-taking opportunities, opportunities to consider others' viewpoints. As children interact, they learn how viewpoints differ. As children discuss their problems and work out their differences, they develop their conceptions of what is fair and just.

Social role-taking theory and role-taking theory of hypnotism
Role-taking theory of hypnotism was Theodore Sarbin argued that hypnotic responses were motivated attempts to fulfill the socially constructed roles of hypnotic subjects leading to the misconception that hypnotic subjects are simply "faking".
But then, Theodore Sarbin emphasised the difference between faking, in which there is little subjective identification with the role in question, and role-taking, where the subject not only acts externally in accord with the role but also subjectively identifies with it, acting, thinking, and feeling hypnotised. Theodore Sarbin also drew analogies between role-taking in hypnosis and role-taking in other areas such as method acting, mental illness, and shamanic possession.

The innovating self: exploring self among a group of technological innovators 
Abstract: Paper explores the relevance of the concept of self in the process of independent technological innovation. In-depth interviews were conducted with technological innovators from start-up firms in IT, biotech and advanced services concerning the subjective and social forms of engagement in the innovation process. Emerging factors in the interview data revealed aspects pertaining to the innovator’s reflexive self-conception, innovator ego-involvement in the venture, forms of commitment and control, personal and social stakes. It is argued that the self-concept allows the innovator to come into view as a social and subjective being who is involved in reflexive activities such as dynamic role-taking, “is” vs “ought” reflections and social negotiations. - Tomas Hellstr�m, Christina Hellstr�m, Henrik Berglund

Role Taking and Emotions - DIANA SCULLY, Virginia Commonwealth University 
This article is an attempt to bridge the gap between feminist structural explanation for rape and the social psychological mechanisms that make it possible for some men in patriarchal societies to feel neutral about sexual violence toward women. The concept of role taking is used to analyze the perceptions of self and victim held by 79 convicted rapists. Men who defined their behavior during sexual encounters as rape saw themselves from the perspective of their victim through reflexive role taking, had inferred their victims' experience through synesic role taking, and used this awareness to further their plan of action. Men who did not define their behavior as rape did neither reflexive nor synesic role taking and appeared incapable of understanding the meaning of sexual violence to women. The majority of both groups did not experience role-taking emotions, that is, guilt, shame, or empathy, which symbolic interactionists posit are the mediators of self-control.

Social Control and the Self-Reflexive Emotions
Susan Shott (1997) wrote one of the early classics announcing the importance of emotions for sociological theory. The original intent in George Herbert Mead’s formulation of role taking was to overcome the reified separation of a self-contained individual and society. When we overdo this separation, society is seen as basically forcing the person into conventions that are contrary to his/her spontaneous needs. Granted, this can happen, but it is not inherently a part of the relationship. Rousseau and Sigmund Freud are well known thinkers guilty of this over-done contrast. But does Mead's remedy via his purely cognitive theory of role taking really accomplish this goal? The purely cognitive version ignores the fact that many con-artists and socio-paths, even serial killers, seem quite gifted at using their role taking abilities to take advantage of people and flatter, or otherwise manipulate them to their own anti-social ends. Much of role taking has to do with controlling peoples’ positive responses to us. People learn not to ask the boss what he wants done, but to know what it is and do it. Role taking is manipulative even if it is just a normal response to the inequalities of power. Manipulation is inherent in role taking and can be perfectly normal. We all need such control. So, seen as a purely cognitive process, role taking is a means to the person’s own ends and these ends can cover the gamut from just trying to gain necessary acceptance of those with higher rank to the purely anti-social manipulations of socio-paths. Shott demonstrates how role taking generally leads to behavior that maintains the social order and mutually supportive actions by bringing in the emotional aspects of self-awareness. She suggests that there are two types of emotions connected with role taking. 

Reflexive Social Control Mechanisms
One type is directed toward ourselves; it involves how we feel about us. Role taking, as we have seen, is not only reflexive, but anticipatory. Farberman sees these self-reflexive emotions as taxes we pay in the currency of our own self-feelings for membership in the social group (See Hochschield, 1979).

The Self-Reflective Emotions as Necessary for Social Theory
Our original discussion of role taking was essentially cognitive. Without taking emotions into account there would be no reason why self-control would accomplish significant social control. Role taking could be used to con and deceive as well as to accommodate. The ends are ours and can be anything for good or bad. Role taking does not necessarily mean empathy! This is a good example of why social theory needed to become sensitive to emotion. Mead originally meant to formulate a theory wherein self-control was at one and the same time social control. For this to happen we need the role taking emotions directed to the self and others. This adds the necessary refinement that the original theory needed.