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Social Roles & Social Interaction

Among the many topics related to social interaction that Macionis (Chapter 4) and Berger (Chapter 5) discuss, the importance of social roles is a compelling topic. The impression one might get at first in studying the variety of socially assigned, socially defined, and socially formed aspects of behavior is that a great anonymous social pressure weighs inevitably down on the individual. The study of the significance of role as a component of social interaction, however, reminds the reader that society consists of individuals, and even the traditions regarding values and norms of behavior that are carried forward were constructed by individuals. The implication of this is that people must somehow, always and everywhere, construct these roles. Role is defined by Macionis as "behavior expected of someone who holds a particular status" (87) and by Berger as a "typified response to a typified expectation" (95). In themselves, these definitions appear to be more of the same--the individual meeting the expectations of society. But, as Berger points out, while the power of society is very strong we do not usually find its power oppressive "because most of the time we ourselves desire just that which society expects of us" (93).

Aside from a more generalized participation in the ongoing maintenance and formulation of social norms, every individual assumes an immense variety of roles which are essential to every aspect of life. Macionis offers the example of a college professor. Such a person might take on roles as teacher, researcher, colleague, wife, mother, woman, and African American and there are very significant differences in how she functions in each of these roles. There is, of course, an important difference between the ease with which roles can be shifted. The professor can easily become a clerk in a store or an attorney. But her roles as a woman and an African American are almost impossible to alter. As Berger warns,...

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Social Roles & Social Interaction. (2000, January 01). In Retrieved 01:21, October 21, 2014, from