The American Sociologist

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 280–298 | Cite as

How Role Replaced Personality as a Major Category of Sociology



Try to imagine sociology being without the role concept. The thought experiment will strike us as impossible. And yet, through the early decades of the 20th century, remarkably few sociologists thought of social agents as incumbents of social roles and as performing roles in their day to day lives. This article addresses a set of related questions. How did sociologists manage without the concept social role? How did they describe the social agent and his agency? When and in what circumstances was the term social role initially formulated and when did it enter the vocabulary of social science? Ralph Linton’s The Study of Man (1936) is identified as the key text in this history of the concept social role, foreshadowed in writings of Robert Park, E. A. Burgess, and Kimball Young. Linton introduced his role idea in the midst of disciplinary change with boundaries between sociology and psychology (particularly social, and personal, psychology) being redrawn.


Role Personality Social psychology Status Self 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arts-EducationDeakin UniversityGeelongAustralia

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