August 09, 2007

Role Theory

author_brad By Bradley Wright

One of my favorite theories in sociology is role theory because it explains so much of what we do and don’t do in everyday life. It even explains why students don’t have pizzas delivered in the middle of class. 

A role is a set of expectations held by others about what we are supposed to do when we are in a given social position. For example, if you’re the secretary of a student organization, you may need to take notes during meetings, contact other members regarding events, and keep track of peoples’ dues. Likewise, if you work as a server at the local Mexican restaurant, you are expected to greet customers, take their orders, refill the chips and salsa, check in with them throughout the meal to see if they need anything, and collect their money. You do these things not because of who you are, but because these are the duties of the position. In sociological language, the expectations that you will do what you are supposed to do in a role are called norms.

clip_image002Role expectations are not just behaviors but emotions and feelings as well. As a server, you greet customers with a corporate-imposed greeting such as: “Hi, I’m Taylor, and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.” (At this point, I usually ask them to go wash my car or something, but they never do…) The role of a server requires you to be cheerful an interested. Don’t really feel that way? Doesn’t matter: You need to do it anyway. Imagine in you greeted customers with an angry snarl or sat down and started telling them all your problems. If you weren’t fired right away, you would at least have a manager instructing you in how to “properly” treat customers.

Roles have remarkably detailed and complex expectations for our behavior. You could fill a thick instruction manual for all the roles we act out. Let’s take a simple situation—what students are supposed to do in a college classroom. Sounds easy, right? There are actually many, many rules that you’re supposed to follow, and if it seems easy, it’s only because you know them already.

In a classroom, you are supposed to:

· Walk into the room—not run, crawl, dance or do handsprings into it.

· Talk with other students quietly—not yell greetings to them as you might if you saw the same person in a different situation. “Hey, you &#@*!, how the &#($)@^ are you doing!” won’t cut it.

· Sit in your chair facing forward. Don’t stand; don’t sit in front, facing the class (this is reserved for the professor); don’t put your feet up on somebody else’s desk.

· Look like you’re paying attention. Even if you’re bored out of your mind and ready to collapse into a deep sleep, face the general direction of the professor and keep your eyes open. Don’t lay down on the floor, put your head on your backpack, and take a nap. (Hey, if I have to be awake for my classes, my students do too!).

· If you have to say something, you raise your hand until acknowledged by the professor. Don’t just yell out, “Hey you, I’ve got something to say.” There are even norms on how to raise your hand! Lift your hand shoulder height and keep it mostly still. Don’t wave both arms frantically.

clip_image004Over the years, I’ve had various experiences in the classroom that have indicated the power of these norms. In one class I had a student with a learning disability who would often do the “wrong” thing in the classroom. He would ask questions that were off topic. He would sometimes interrupt me during lecture with his comments. He would get really enthusiastic when talking. These behaviors didn’t bother me (professors are usually pretty happy just to have someone participate in class), but the other students were scornful of his violating classroom norms. At first they would roll their eyes and maybe snicker, but after a few weeks they would laugh out loud at him. Not the “we’re having fun” laugh, but the “you’re an idiot” laugh. He could tell what was going on, and after a few weeks, he just dropped the class.

Last semester I taught an evening class in a large lecture hall that holds 330 students. Since it was a two-and-a-half hour class, the students got hungry and usually brought food with them. One evening, a student forgot, and so at the start of class he asked if he could order a pizza. I thought it was a great idea, so I said sure. Well, about 30 minutes later, I was halfway up the stairs on one side of the classroom (I walk around a lot when I teach), and the class burst in to laughter. I looked back, and there in the front of class was this student paying a very confused Domino’s delivery person.

According to role theory, most of us are hardcore, rabid conformists. Whether it’s answering a telephone or ordering a coffee or getting married or playing softball or walking down the street or sending an e-mail or just about anything else, we conform to role expectations. They guide much of our lives, both in and out of the classroom. 

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Comments

Not everyone is so accepting of breaking those classroom norms, of course. The classic example is Sean Penn, as Spicoli, in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9A_6y_RHnRU

Might be a great clip to bring into your class. Could spark a good discussion of why Mr Hand is so upset.

It is really strange to think of all the things we do because they are norms. It feels very awkward to break these norms. People feel as if you are breaking the rules and look down on you. It's interesting that norms are taught to you and you don't even know it. I can't remember anyone telling how to appropriately raise my hand, but someone must have, otherwise how would I have learned. Role theory is a well thought out idea that links everything together.

In some case most people are in a rush when ordering something. It depends on what you want when we call to order we don't know what we want. We call to order a pizza yet we change our mind. People all love to be waited on hand and foot. More order is need when going to places such as the school libaraary. When ten people are listen to music, cell phones ringing and talking how are the one or two students to get their work done. When teachers would like the students to be more adult about their behaviors they are very childish.

I find it interesting that we speak of norms which are instilled in our lives begining with early childhood. Who declares these "norms" as the right behavior? Many people notice people who do things different and tend to remember them better because of being different.

This all leads back to the "norms." We all have a role to play in life. Yes, must figure it out on our journey through it, but as of right now were students. As students we all should know how to act because ever since we were little we have known about rules and regulations. As students we are supposed to give our teachers the up most respect and pay attention because they didn't "have" to let us in the class. And not to mention when it comes to role play outside of class. When your at home you have the role as a child to give your parents or caretake the upmost respect due to the fact they are suffering enough putting up with you and raising you.(lol)

It is hard to comment on something you do unconsiously. I mean it so intergrated in us that we often scorned others if they break with the norm. Might hear comments like: where you raise by wolves or did your mom drop you on your head etc. Alot of americans when they go over seas they eperience culture shock. This occurrs because what is normal for americans is not the norm for other societies as a whole.

I'm not one of those people who will try to make themself notice right of the bat. I like to go through steps and stay with the norms. Students help other students with norms by sticking to the norms of school.

I try to do what is "normal" so to say. I like to avoid conflict. There is a quote in my room that I think of sometimes when I want to break the rules or have some fun.

"If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun." Katharine Hepburn.

Sometimes it is a matter of just being respectful. If you break a "norm" people may consider you disrespectful.

I really don't understand the first question. I know what the words mean but I don't comprehend the context in which they are used. From my experice in college most times when someone is doing something out of the norm people look at them with disapproval rather they say something or not the simple look has to make you think twice.

I do believe most of us do conform to our roles, but only because we have to. If we don't, we could lose our job or be asked to leave the classroom or whatever the case may be. I think that maybe the only help or encouragement someone might get from another student is a disapproving look or embarrassing laughter. That would definitely encourage most people to follow classroom norms.

I think we're all conformist. Few people dare to be different and most of the time their made fun of. Students help other students to conform by voicing their ideas class and to the other students this show the others what is important in skool. :)

The things mentioned in this article just come natural to me. i never even thought about doing some of the things that were discussed in here. i like to be in the normal, quiet group. anything that would bring attention to me i try to avoid

I think we all break the norms from time to time in the classroom. We may not get permission to get out of our seats, or raise our hand to talk, or even come to class prepared. I think sometimes those things could be overlooked, but not all the time. Some order has to be stored at some point in time.

We all break the "norm" from time to time. Heck some of us break it all the time to show that we are different. But who is really to say what is normal. Some places you can burp out loud in a resturant and other places it is just completly rude and disgusting. But who is to say if its right or wrong. Which person is right? The person that believes there is a God and he built this earth or the person that says there is scientific explanation for everything on this earth. Personally I am a christian but its really neat to see what kind of responses I get from this.

I think this article is very true! Its a little scary to me to think how people look at you when you violate these social norms! America is the place where you should dare to be different, the land of the free, the land of opportunity! Yet, if you step one step out of bounds in your actions, speech, or social norms people look at you like you're an alien.

Now a days, more and more people are breaking the rules and going outside of the norm. In a way, yes, if you think of it really in depth, there are traits of conformist in all of us. But only to a certain extent. I think we do this for the small, unimportant things. However, when it comes to bigger things, we stand our ground. For the most part, most of us do stick to the norms in the classroom.

I do agree with the article in a sense. Maybe we are conformist not on purpose just instinct. I mean certain norms are driven into our heads since birth its hard to think outside of that. As a result the norms almost make us up as a person without us knowing. Students keep it going by observing each other and acting accordingly. Common sense tells us that usually when something is accepted a group an individual might feel that is the right thing to do.

I do believe that most of us are in fact hardcore rabid conformists. We make sure that we play our roles properly so that we are not looked at funny or laughed at for the wrong reasons, or fired from our jobs. Other students help to encourage other students by praticipating properly when it comes to norms. It's sort of like a "go with the flow" thing.

I dont like to be noticed right off the bat either I like to take it slow and learn the environment that im in first.

In most of my classes, yes I did stick to the norms. In one of my classes, because I didn't respect the teacher, I acted out in a way that was out of the norm. I talked loudly, was disrespectful, but only when she acted out of the norm, and was disrespectful first. Most people would like to think that they are hardcore conformists. Most don't realize that in a way, they are not conformists because they are going to do whatever they want, however they want, and whenever they want. Everybody, at one point in time, steps out of the box. To most students, majority rules. If most of the students in the class are quiet and respectful, everybody will conform with that and act the same. If the class is disrespectful and rude, chances are that everyone else is going to act the same. To be truthful, I try to stick to the norms; but when I want to shock or disrupt people, I love to act out. I can't stand to be quiet, or to be in a quiet-type setting. So, I guess I really can't stand to conform to the norms.

In a way I do but at the same time all of us are different. If you dont do what is expected of you to do your peers my put you down and that will make you not do it again. Peers have a lot of inflience in what you do so if its something that is not normal you will get bullied in a way. But if it something that people like even through its different they will start to do it.

I believe we’re currently experiencing an interesting time in our nation’s history. We can now see a subtle transformation from a nation that clings tightly to their idea of cultural norms, and conformity to one with more tolerance and unity.

We as people do conform to as the article states, "hardcore, rabid conformists". We all so exactly what we think is right. Following rules in a classroom keeps people from acting out. For example, we are taught from kindergarten how to not talk when others are, raise your hand, walk in a straight line etc.

Yes, I do beleive that most of us stick to the role of rabid comformists. They are encouraged by students that have been taught the norms and meaning of there actions.

Being a student I completely agree with the normal behavior that has to be defended in classrooms, particularly if it's midterms or final exams and you have to pay attention. But then again there are also things that have to be factored in with this topic. Like where you are or what type of people you are around because you could do other things that are normal to some and just disgusting and rude to others.

It is amazing how we conform to social norms, and do not even realize that we do. Many either do things out of respect, some act based on observation around them (o well they are/aren't doing that so maybe I should/shouldn't-pending on the circumstances) or rebellion. Most norms are taught to us through right and wrong. I think that most people are rabid conformists, not only to not loose our jobs, but to be friendly, be respectful of others, and because of our social norms, or the fact that they were taught one thing and may get into trouble. Students help other students to follow norms by waiting turn to talk, ask questions, usually raise hand to indicate that they do have something to say or ask, turn off cell phones so as not to be interrupted or not only their time, but other students and the teacher as well. Also, I think in the middle of class or testing that it is very disrespectful for a cell phone to go off, or people who may not take something as serious as others be snickering and talking to friends while your trying to concentrate and take notes in class, and for me it also breaks my concentration.

I believe that most of us tend to be hardcore, rabid conformists. However, there are some people who are excpetions to the rule. There are always those people who want to break boundaries. In a classroom there are people who follow the norms like, staying in your seat, raising a hand to speak, or being on time to class. These norm followers encourage others to follow the norms by letting them know the a disturbance of the social order of the class will not be tolerated. I could just imagine what would have happened to me if i would have interuppted some of the people I went to high school with on a constant basis.

i believe that we stay in our certain roles in the class room cause there are norms that tell us we have to!!

I am a college student and I believe normal behavior is the best way to be in a class room. If we dint have this normal behavior everything would be all out of order. Peolpe have there own opinion on things what I do may be normal for me but may be disrespectful or rude to someone else

Yes I do believe that most of us are hardcore rabid conformists! We are definitely a people who compare ourselves with others. We are constantly seeing if we measure up to what others are expecting of us. This feeds into our self-esteem and worth as an individual; though it is not always for our best interest.

I think most of us do tend to be hardcore, rabid conformists because we try to fit with what's right. Students help encourage other students to follow norms in the classroom by leading by example like: raising your hand, talking quietly, and look like we're paying attention.

I think that a lot of us are hardcore, rabid conformists because that is how we have our set of norms (a lot of people doing the same thing makes it a norm), but I also think that a lot of us are not conformists because we strive to be more than just normal. Some try to be the furthest thing from normal, an individual. And that goes against the norms.
In a classroom, if someone were to go against a norm, others may laugh at them, say something to them, or just give them a disapproving look. In all of those, the person knows they have done something not "normal" and they either change or don't.

I would have to agree with the article because, we have tendacys to act like other people or most things we do we've done from birth. some people are so simple until it's hard for them not to act normal.

I agree with the with the article that most people are hardcore, rabid conformists. I believe that it starts from early childhood and on. Somethings we do not even pay attention unless it is brought to our attention.

I pretty much agree with the viewpoint of this article. We are all pretty much rabid conformists. We encourage the classroom norms by accepting people for behaving the correct way and we frown upon people when they act any other way. Sometimes we laugh and make rude comments although we really shouldn't, but chances are that person that violated the social norm isn't as likely to do it again.

I beleive that unless you were brought up in a liberal, non conformist family, you'll be somewhat conforming to the role your expected to perform. We are taught that our role in the class room is not to speak out of turn, raise our hand, and not talk during tests. Teachers, as well as other students warn us of the consequences associated with breaking that role, which in turn keeps us in line.

For the most part I try to follow the norms. Besides the fact that I'm a loudmouth that likes to voice my opinion, I follow most classroom norms. The ones that I don't follow, I really couldn't care less about.

students help other stuedents by reminding them if they get to loud or if they talk without permission thay it is not right and would remind them that they would get in trouble. Yes, i do believe we are rabid comformist

Most people are conformists. In general no one really like to go against the grain. no one wants to be know as an outcast or not part of the majority. Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere. So most people will conform ,especially if they are in a large group and their belief goes against the majority.Students help to encourage other students to follow the norms because no one wants to be singled out. Sometimes students will attack someon who is not going along with the norms. Students want to be accepted by their peers so they generally conform to the group.

The norm or etiquette is something almost everyone decides to stay between the lines, at first. Most individuals become a little more out of the norm once they have become more comfortable with the people around them and the environment they are in. Once that comfort level is increased, one might run, skip, or do back handsprings into a classroom. I think it all boils down to comfort.

Yes, I think most people are conformists because I have maybe one time seen something in class or life at all that I did not expect was going to happen. I tell other students in class to be quiet if they are distracting me or if they talk when the teacher is talking.

I like to think that everyday is different; however, after reading this article I realized just how similar each day was. I enjoyed your examples of people who broke the norm. It was interesting to hear people's reactions. I feel that people going outside their role can be very enjoyable or detrimental. When people test the norms it can make everyday a little different and keep people on their toes. It makes life just a little more exciting than the normal day. However, when a person does not fulfill his or her role it can affect a group. For example, in my school's student government, if a person does not do his or her assigned job then it can hurt student government or the school body.

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