Role expectation

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Role expectations describe social expectations of the behavior of people in social interaction - more precisely: "certain behaviors that one expects from the bearer of a (social) position". The sociological term role expectations was first used in 1958 by Ralf Dahrendorf . He introduced it as part of his elaboration of role theory - the concept of homo sociologicus . In his sociological theory of action, Dahrendorf starts from norm-oriented acting individuals; He thus ties in with the structural-functionalist role theory largely shaped by the American sociologist Talcott Parsons . Dahrendorf's considerations were subject to multiple criticism and were later revised and "modernized" to a certain extent by Uwe Schimank , among others .

Social role mother: woman as a loving, caring mother who gives attention to her child and while doing household chores.

Definitions of terms

Social position

According to Dahrendorf, role expectations are “certain behaviors that one expects from a person with a (social) position”. He describes a (social) position as: "[...] every place in a field of social relationships [...]". Examples of social positions according to this definition would be: the position of the mother / father in relation to her / his children, the position of the wife / husband in relation to her / his spouse, the position of the teacher in the Relationship with her / his students, their parents and the principal. From this list it can already be seen that a person usually takes on several social positions (e.g. mother, wife and teacher), which usually puts him in a social relationship with several people or groups of people - the reference groups (e.g. . B .: as a teacher to the students, their parents and the director).

Social role and role expectations

There is a social role associated with every social position. This consists of the socially expected behavior towards the holder of the social position, which Dahrendorf describes as role expectations.

Affinity groups

Role expectations are determined by society independently of the individual actor . Specifically, this happens through those people and groups of people with whom the individual enters into a social relationship as the holder of a social position. These are called reference groups .

Binding nature of role expectations

Role expectations are not all equally binding. Their degree of binding force can be recognized by the type of sanctions associated with their failure to comply. The more (strongly) negative sanctions (e.g. legal punishment, contempt, disapproval) are associated with the non-observance of a role expectation, the more binding it is, and the more likely the holder of a social position will comply with it. Thus - especially negative - role expectations offer the possibility of predicting the behavior of an individual expectation expectation . If compliance with a role expectation is primarily associated with positive social sanctions (e.g. awarding medals, awarding prestige and recognition), these are perceived as less binding, since, according to Dahrendorf, an individual can do without positive sanctions. Role expectations serve as an orientation aid for the holder of a social position: the more negatively sanctioned role expectations belong to a social role , the higher their social and individual importance is usually assessed.

Types of role expectations

Dahrendorf has characterized different types of role expectations according to their degree of commitment: must expectations, should expectations and can expectations. His definition of these "expectation types" was slightly modified by Schimank.

Must expectations are the duties of a role bearer at Dahrendorf . They are all legally and therefore binding. Failure to comply does not result in any negative social sanction, but legal punishment . Schimank also describes must-have expectations that are “highly binding” expectations, which, however, do not have to be legally fixed. According to both authors, compliance with mandatory expectations never results in positive sanctions, since compliance with them is (almost) absolutely binding.

Target expectations , according to Dahrendorf, are duties of a role bearer, which are not necessarily legally defined, but describe the "harder core" of duties. If they are not met, there is certainly a risk of negative social sanctions . Target expectations are usually felt by the holder of a social position to be almost as binding as must-have expectations. The negative social sanctions associated with their non-compliance are often perceived by the affected individual as just as bad as a legal punishment. Dahrendorf cites the behavioral guidelines of parties and organizations as an example of target expectations . Schimank emphasizes that expected expectations are perceived as less binding than must expectations. In his view, compliance requires certain skills that not everyone has. As an example of a target expectation, the author cites the requirement for a teacher to convey the material to the students in an understandable way. According to both authors, permanent adherence to target expectations is positively sanctioned.

When Can expectations Dahrendorf refers to the expectation of the owner of a social position to do something that goes beyond what is necessary. Can-do expectations are thus the weakest form of role expectations. You do not necessarily have to comply with them, but according to Dahrendorf, in many areas of society there is no "advancement" possible without observing them. (e.g .: at work , parties , organizations , educational institutions, etc.) Schimank, on the other hand, strongly emphasizes the aspect of voluntariness when following can- do expectations. According to both authors, compliance with can-do expectations is (almost) only associated with positive sanctions.

Criticism of Dahrendorf's role theory

Dahrendorf's deterministic view of the freedom of the individual has been criticized on various occasions: an actor could very well decide freely to a certain extent in which way he would like to fill a certain position and thus also change the expectations of his role ( see also role distance , concept of “role-making” at Schimank). Schimank's “revision” of Dahrendorf's model of action, the Homo sociologicus , takes this criticism into account by allowing the individual more freedom of action in fulfilling role expectations .


  • Dahrendorf, Ralf (2006 [1958]): Homo sociologicus. An attempt at the history, meaning and critique of the category of social role. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, 16th edition. ISBN 978-3-531-31122-7
  • Schimank, Uwe (2007): Action and structures. Introduction to actor-theoretical sociology, in: Hurrelmann, Klaus (Ed.): Grundlagentexte Soziologie, Weinheim / Munich: Juventa Verlag, 3rd edition. ISBN 978-3-7799-1487-7

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Dahrendorf (2006): 35
  2. ^ Dahrendorf, Ralf: 2006 [1958]: Homo sociologicus. An attempt at the history, meaning and critique of the category of social role. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.
  3. cf. Schimank (2007): 44.
  4. Schimank, Uwe (2007): Action and Structures. Introduction to actor-theoretical sociology, in: Hurrelmann, Klaus (Ed.): Grundlagentexte Soziologie, Weinheim / Munich: Juventa Verlag, 3rd edition.
  5. ^ Dahrendorf (2006): 35.
  6. ^ Dahrendorf (2006): 34.
  7. cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 34 f.
  8. cf. Schimank (2007): 47; and cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 35ff.
  9. cf. Schimank (2007): 48.
  10. See ibid: 47 f.
  11. Cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 41ff.
  12. See Schimank (2007): 48.
  13. Cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 41.
  14. cf. Schimank (2007): 48.
  15. cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 42 ff.
  16. cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 42.
  17. cf. Schimank (2007): 47 f.
  18. cf. ibid (2007): 48, & cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 42.
  19. cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 43.
  20. cf. Schimank (2007): 48.
  21. cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 43, and cf. Schimank (2007): 48.
  22. cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 44.
  23. cf. Schimank (2007): 48.
  24. cf. ibid. (2007): 48, and cf. Dahrendorf (2006): 43.
  25. cf. Schimank (2007): 55 ff.
  26. Schimank, Uwe (2007): Action and Structures. Introduction to actor-theoretical sociology, in: Hurrelmann, Klaus (Ed.): Grundlagentexte Soziologie, Weinheim / Munich: Juventa Verlag, 3rd edition.