Our community ! Understanding communities ! Dysfunctional communities
Characteristics of a community ! Characteristics of an institution
Building better communitiesAn alternative model ! Cartoons

Social roles Vs Community roles Vs Identity



Social Roles

A social role or a community role


Role: (Top)
Is not exclusive to how we see ourselves or each other. A role can describe anybody or anything that we associate with or have any interaction with.

We learn strategies (a set of behaviors) that we find useful in coping with our personal feelings and day to day situations. These strategies can be described as the person's role (or function) within the activity that the person is participating in. We learn these strategies through our relationships with others in society. In the family, at school, recreation or work all involve strategies. A lawyer, for example, learns a set of strategies in defending someone in court. A person learns set of strategies in teaching a class or being a father. A general learns strategies in defeating the enemy. A person with an intellectual disability learns social skills, life skills, employment/recreational skills and other positive behaviors that provide a valued role for the person (friend, painter, gardener, musician etc.). These strategies are often used in various similar situations, or mixed and matched in new situations, where the person has no existing sets of strategies. We generally have 2 or more sets of strategies that are used in different activities and situations, however, a person may apply one strategy to all activities and situations that may arise. Labels are also a way to describe these roles, where a person is characterised by a set of strategies or behaviors.

Social Roles: (Top)
Social roles are how we see ourselves and others in society. They are often about a particular characteristic (age, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, occupation, disability or even ability) rather than the person. A Muslim, for example, is often treated different because of his/her religion and culture. If the Muslim also had a particular disability or disadvantage, that person would have less chance of becoming a valued member in society. The same can be said for an aboriginal, a bikie or drugie, or possibily even a bank manager or used car salesman.

The term "Role" (also known as a social role or social function) is also used to describe the activity, the setting and the various interactions of the members within the activity and the setting, where these interactions are consistent and can be defined and measured (in the sense of comparison with other consistent interactions), and have a particular function within the activity and the setting.
These roles are determined by the society, community, club, team or group that we are participating in, in that there are a set of expectations and behaviours associated with the role within the activity. (Note: I have avoided the term "behaviors", as a behavior describes a person's actions and reactions, rather than the various intercourses that happen between members, and their relationships with each other, within the activity and the setting.)

Our role in a particular activity is often predetermined by the type of activity, the setting and the other members of the activity. In a classroom, for example, (1): the type of activity is structured towards learning and the gaining of skills and knowledge in applying the learning, (2): the setting is separated (restricted to members that fulfil a set of criteria etc) and (3): the roles of the members are Teacher (imparts the knowledge) - Students (learns the knowledge). In order for a person to have a valued role within the activity and setting, the person must be able to satisfy the criteria associated with the activity and setting. Introducing other roles into the classroom (social system) may create some problems.

A particular role (or Label) is also placed on a person or group of people by a society, community, club, team or group as a way to justify or legitimise a policy or treatment of the person or group. This happens all the time where a particular behaviour or characteristic of the person or group does not fit into the normal behaviours or characteristics of the society, community, club, team or group. These policies or treatments often become institutionalised into the society, community, club, team or group.

Buildings also have different roles or functions within society. The role of the building describes the various ways buildings are used, and the various interactions that happen within the building. The function of the building is determined by these interactions and how they relate to the members. The most obvious of this is a "Function center" that is designed to be used for different functions. A concert hall has a particular role and function within society. Communities, hospitals, classrooms, groups/teams and even a knife can have a different role and function according to the user and others within the activity and the setting.

A social role or a community role: (Top)
While the term Role is useful in describing our relationships with each other, I feel that there has been some confusion in the practical application of the term in service delivery and outcomes. Are we applying an Implicit (Social) role to a specific activity and setting within a community? Are we applying an Explicit (Community) role to a social setting?

Roles are neither positive or negative. The value that is placed on the role is determined by the expectations and behaviours associated with the role within the activity, within society. At a shop, for example, there are a number of roles of the people in the shop. Two of those roles are 1) sales person and (2) customer. If a customer can not behave accordingly (the Implicit social role), or has some characteristic that does not fit into to the expectations of the sales person the customer may not be treated with dignity or respect. Alternatively, the customer may be a good friend, brother, father or someone well known to the sales person (an Explicit community role), the customer will be treated with dignity or respect.

The value of a persons role is purely subjective when applied to different settings and activities in different communities. We all have different roles depending on what we are doing, where we are doing it and who we are doing it with, and therefore the person's role takes on different meanings within each community that the person is participating in. Roles are like the clothes we wear. Each activity requires a different outfit (both literally and figuratively). The example of actors in a play also shows us that roles are learned behaviours. We all are conditioned to behave a certain way (we learn our lines from the moment of birth) according to the activity, setting and the expectations of others within the activity and setting i.e.: we don't wear our bathers to a formal dinner etc. It could also be argued that communities have become conditioned in behaving a certain way when looking after devalued people (in the historical sense, as well as in society today) (See Removing the barriers to community participation and inclusion). All members are expected to behave according to their role within the setting. If a person’s role is to be submissive, then, when the person takes on a more active role, the person may be punished.

Social Role Valorisation (SRV) (which itself evolved from the concept of Normalisation (N)) is probably the most influential social paradigm used to provide a better life for people with disability. The idea of N (where all members of society have the same right to a the same way of life as others within that society) has been around for a long time. It has only been in the last 10 to 20 years that we have had the incentives, skills and resources to provide for a more humanistic approach to meeting needs of disadvantaged people in society. SRV is about social roles. Society tends to group people into different classifications or groups according to a particular characteristic of a person that stands out. Regardless of the person's individual differences, society generally assigns a particular role to all people that share that characteristic. This role describes the person's behaviours, and how we should associate with the person. Roles are also a way to visualise the person and what we may expect from the person. Some social roles are positive. Hero, friend, supporter, defender of the faith, aussie battler, statesman etc. all create a positive image of the person. Accordingly they are treated with respect and considerstion as valued members of society. Whether they are good people or not, is not as important as their social role. Other social roles are negative. Druggie, criminal, nigger, deviant, sick, dole bludger, alcoholic etc. all create a negative picture or impression of the person, and as a result, the person will be negitavely valued, and treated differently to others, regardless of any other positive characteristics the person may have. SRV shows us that disadvantaged people were devalued by society, and that by changing the way they are seen (their role), we change our behaviours and expectations, and add value to their lives by giving them the opportunity to participate in valued relationships and activities.

SRV says (loose interpretation), that by arranging (changing or adapting) physical and social conditions of society at any level, so that devalued people are included, in such a way that their role is positively valued by all members of society, devalued people have a greater opportunity to receive the good things in life. (Joe Osburn: An Overview of Social Role Valorization Theory)

The implications of the above has meant that:
... institutions are bad evil places
... devalued people are institutionalised and our goal is to de-institutionalise them
... the principles of SRV can be automatically applied to any activity or setting so that devalued people are positively valued
... people who have a valued role in society automatically become members of the community in which they are placed
... devalued people are automatically empowered

Another way to think of the above is: "By arranging (changing or adapting) physical and social conditions of all groups, clubs, organisations and communities within society, where ALL members are positively valued, and have positively valued roles, in such a way that all members of the groups, clubs, organisations and communities within society receive the good things in life.

When we change the perspective from Society to Community we have a better idea of what we are trying to achieve. Community is all about valued relationships, about careing and shareing, about being with others we love. SRV is all about providing those valued relationships and support networks to disadvantaged people who have been disenfranchised by society for various reasons. Valued relationships transcend roles. Without others to share our feelings with, life becomes meaningless. It does not matter how much money or possessions we have, if we have no one to share it with, life becomes meaningless. SRV is all about
Building values and relationships in communities. These communities may be a part of an organisation or service provider, a family or club, or work, or school. By providing valued roles for ALL members of each community that the person wishes to participate in and is most appropriate for the person, the person is more likely to have valued relationships within those communities.

Identity: (Top)
Using the term "Identity" enables us to understand the person, as well as the various roles the person has within each community that he/she is participating in. It is immediately obvious what we are referring to i.e.: the person and not the role of the person. The concept of identity (as apposed to social identity or role identity - MASK, ROLE, AND IDENTITY; THE SEARCH FOR THE INNER PERSON) describes who they are, their feelings, their hopes and desires, their interests, the essence of the person as well as the characteristics of the person. By looking at a person in terms of his/her identity, we can see that the persons role is only a part of the person. If a person's identity is positively valued (by the mother, brother, school mates etc) then sometimes, the role of the person is of little importance.

I remember a saying "You can’t judge a book by its cover. You have to read it.” We all have preconceptions about others and often we never really know the person, no matter how often we read the book. These preconceptions come from others, a characteristic that the person may have, and our own feelings at the time, first impressions or any number of other reasons. Sometimes there is a negative chemistry that means that we may never feel comfortable in the others company. But at least, by looking past the person’s role or particular characteristic we have a better chance of understanding the person for who he/she is.

When providing the most appropriate care for people with high support needs ...
1) The community is not where the person is living, but where the person participates, shares experiences and has valued relationships with others.
2) People with high support needs (severe disability, aged etc.) will always need support structures as a part of their lives.
3) The amount of participation in a community (living, education, employment or recreation) is directly related to the skills and resources of the person, and, the skills and resources of the community that the person wishes to participate in.
4) Institutions are going to be around in one form or another whether we like it or not, It is the way that they are used that is the problem.
5) The institutions of a society towards a particular group determine the way the group participates in society.
6) The institutions of a particular government department, organisation, profession or service define the way the person is supported within that society.
7) Facilities that support people with high support needs do not need to be the nursing homes or prisons in the sense that they are today, but can become warm inviting community places that offer a range of services to the community, as well as be a part of the wider community within that society.
8) People with high support needs are a minority group in our society, and will have the same problems as other minority groups in being a part of society.

Peter Anderson