Role Theory

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Understanding Intimate Partner Violence through Role Theory:
A Concept Paper

Introducing Role Theory

Role theory is a sociological framework that has been used to explain sets of relational patterns between people across varying contexts. It seeks to explain one of the most important characteristics of human social behavior – the fact that how people act, behave and speak are not separate, unique, disconnected but rather, are reflective of certain patterns and arrangements that depend on the social context and the actors in these contexts (Mangus, 1957; Biddle, 1986). To illustrate, within the context of an intimate relationship such as marriage, violence between partners can be tied to the particular patterns and arrangements of
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However, value roles tend to be attached to very positively or negatively valued identities (Turner, 2001). In intimate relationships, examples of value roles can be the roles of hero, villain, saint, sinner, perpetrator or victim. After providing an overview of role theory and the concept of roles, we now turn to explain the two major approaches to understanding role theory.

Two Main Approaches to Understanding Roles

A review of the related literature identified two main approaches to understanding roles: (1) the traditional structural-functional approach and (2) the interactionist approach. In this section, we highlight the characteristics of each approach as well as provide an explanation of the major assumptions within each perspective. We also provide illustrations as to how each approach can help enlighten our understanding of intimate partner relationships. Finally, we discuss the limitations of each approach.
Traditional Structural-Functional Approach

The structural-functionalist tradition of role theory focuses on how roles, as fixed components of complex social structures, cultures or social systems, influence the behavior of people (Lynch, 2007). Two related strands of role theory are embedded within this approach – structural role theory and functional role theory. Structural role theory concentrates on social structures, which are understood
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