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- any relatively standardized social position, involving specific rights and obligations which an individual is expected or encouraged to perform, e.g. parental role.
- ‘the dynamic aspect of STATUS’, where 'status’ refers to the position and ‘role’ to its performance (R. Linton, 1936); it is more usual, however, for the term ‘role’ to apply to both position and performance, with 'status’ also being used as an alternative term for position. Roles may be specific or diffuse, ascribed or achieved - see PATTERN VARIABLES. In SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM the term ‘role’ is used differently. In this perspective social identities and social action are analysed as the outcome of taking the role of the other’, rather than from adopting ready-made roles. Role-playing, a form of social training where people take part in group exercises in which they act out a range of social roles, has a similar basis. The expectation is that acting out social roles, including those with which one initially lacks sympathy, will bring greater social understanding.
The earlier, symbolic interactionist approach to ‘role’, associated with G. H. MEAD, contrasts with that of functionalism, in that for Mead ‘role-taking’ is mainly of interest as an essential process in the development of the SELF. Both adults and children establish conceptions of self by imagining themselves in others’ positions (see also LOOKING-GLASS SELF), but there is no conception of fixed roles in the way central to functionalism, and the continually ‘renegotiated’ character of social action is emphasized.
(1) A personage in a drama or screenplay and the corresponding character embodied by an actor in a stage production, film, or radio play. A role may be comic, tragic, dramatic, or tragicomic, and principal or secondary. A walk-on is a role without spoken lines or one with lines amounting to two or three sentences. An incidental role is one occurring in a single episode of a production, for example, the Horn Player in Gorky’s Egor Bulychov and the Others. In the musical theater a role is the same as a part.
(2) The lines assigned to one of the characters in a play or film.