Rethinking Social Roles: Conflict and Modern Life

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Does sociology have anything to gain by returning to the concept of social role? Has this concept been irretrievably damaged by its significance in functionalist theory? This paper aims to recover the role concept through a consideration of alternative perspectives on normativity, illustrated through research on motherhood. A pragmatist re-conception of role is defended as a way of focusing on those aspects of social structures which exert normative authority over agents, while remaining open to some degree of interpretation. This perspective treats roles not as fixed mechanisms of functional coordination or social reproduction, but instead as variable sites mutual accountability. The paper argues that a pragmatist version of the role concept supports explanation of non-determined agency and complex, uncertain, and conflictual forms of normative authority. Treated in these terms, the role concept offers a valuable route to understanding the creative quality of agency and normativity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted - 15 Feb 2021


  • social role
  • pragmatism
  • agency
  • normativity
  • emotion
  • reflexivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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