Homo sociologicus

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The homo sociologicus (lat. = Sociological man) is one of Ralf Dahrendorf designed actor model of sociology , in which man is seen as a conditional by the Company beings must be the norms, values and expectations bend.


The homo sociologicus describes a person who is assigned different social roles in his everyday life , which in turn are associated with different norms , values ​​and thus social expectations that he has to bow to. These roles can be in an inter- or intra- role conflict , whereby the homo sociologicus will always submit to the role in which the pressure from norms, values ​​and expectations is greatest. A distinction is made between must, should and can expectations. Since expectations originate from society and the individual has no influence on them, he cannot escape them. This can even go so far that the individual internalizes norms and thereby penalizes himself negatively in the event of non-compliance or positively in the event of compliance (examples of this are the feeling of shame and pride). Expectations, norms and values, however, rarely originate from the society as a whole in which the homo sociologicus lives, but mostly from smaller groups that are relevant to the respective role. As a result, everyone is subject to an individual mix of norms and expectations that determine their actions. The theory of the homo sociologicus has therefore often had to put up with the reproach of denying people their free will.

Must, should and can expectations

Must expectation

A must expectation is an expectation that must be met in every case. Such social expectations are often regulated by law and a violation is accordingly punished not only with social sanctions , but also with legal penalties. Examples of violations of must-have expectations are theft or murder.

Target expectation

Should expectations exert hardly any weaker pressure on homo sociologicus than must expectations, but if violated are only punished with social sanctions. Target expectations are, for example, quiet behavior in a library or appearing on time at the workplace.

Can expectation

Can-do expectations usually have no negative consequences if they are not met. Exceptional engagement or general altruistic behavior falls under this area. Since can-do expectations are not expected from the outset, it is only noticed when they are fulfilled and thereby provoke positive reactions such as affection or appreciation.

The homo sociologicus in other areas

The homo sociologicus also raises a problem for Philosophical Anthropology : the question of the contradiction between the influenced by others roll action on the one hand and the autonomy ( free will ) of the individual on the other. It is about the paradox between necessity and freedom of the human will, which has not only been considered since the 19th century (there e.g. by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , Karl Marx and Ferdinand Tönnies ) . To put it in a nutshell: What remains when one subtracts the homo sociologicus from people 'in themselves' ? “ The man without qualities ” (after Robert Musil )? But since no one can live without roles and is therefore always exposed to expectations and sanctions, Dahrendorf coined the much-quoted and differently interpreted ironic formula about the annoying fact of society .

Concept history

The term comes from Ralf Dahrendorf , who originally designed it in 1958 as part of a commemorative publication for the 65th birthday of the philosopher Josef König . An essay on homo sociologicus then appeared in two parts in issues 2 and 3 of the 10th volume of the Cologne journal for sociology and social psychology . In 1959 Westdeutsche Verlag published this article as a stand-alone book entitled Homo Sociologicus: An Attempt on the History, Meaning and Criticism of the Category of Social Role . The 17th edition of the work was last published in 2010 by VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften .

With this paper, Dahrendorf proposed a highly regarded analytical instrument to German sociology, who was still completely unfamiliar with the role issue in 1958 . An intensive professional discussion (for example by Friedrich Tenbruck , Erhard Wiehn , Dieter Claessens ) followed. Its success collided with interpretations based on Karl Marx (" character mask ") and was therefore criticized by the Marxist side after 1967 ( Frigga Haug ). In 1971, Uta Gerhardt concluded this discussion with her post-doctoral thesis, Role Analysis as Critical Sociology, so effectively that the German "role" discourse, in spite of occasionally considerable contributions ( Gottfried Eisermann ), practically disappeared by the turn of the millennium and has only been revived since then.


  • Dieter Claessens : role and power. 1968
  • Rose Laub Coser : Role Distance. In: American Journal of Sociology. Volume 72, 1966
  • Ralf Dahrendorf : Homo Sociologicus. An attempt at the history, meaning and criticism of the social role . VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, 17th edition 2010. books.google Preview
  • Uta Gerhardt : Role Analysis as Critical Sociology. 1971
  • Frigga Haug : Critique of the role theory. 1972
  • Hans Joas : The current situation of the sociological role theory. 3rd edition 1978
  • Robert K. Merton : The Role Set: Problems of Sociological Theory. In: Heinz Hartmann (ed.): Modern American Sociology. 1967
  • Heinrich Popitz : The concept of the social role as an element of sociological theory. 1967
  • Johann August Schülein: role theory revisited. In: social world. Volume 40, 1989, p. 481 ff. Books.google
  • Friedrich H. Tenbruck : To the German reception of the role theory. In: Cologne journal for sociology and social psychology. Volume 13, 1961
  • Günter Wiswede : role theory. 1977

See also


  1. cf. Dahrendorf 2010: 40 ff.