Title

Revisiting Role Theory in Occupational Science

Start Time

15-10-2009 3:45 PM

End Time

15-10-2009 5:15 PM

Abstract

Role theory currently occupies an undefined and somewhat problematic space in occupational science. On one hand, the use of role theory provides an indispensable analytic tool in understanding occupation. On the other hand role theory has been criticized for producing conformity and not recognizing the individual’s ability to act independently. Further, some theorists that utilize role theory continue to draw upon a functionalist definition in defining roles as socially agreed upon norms. There is a conflict between the limits placed on individualism by role theory and the importance of the individual within occupational science. In order to understand the problematic use of roles in occupational science this paper examines relevant past occupational science theorists as well as current role theory from occupational science and other related fields. Reilly originally used role theory to place importance on the individual. This was effective in that functionalist role theory was used in contrast to the medical model. Since then use of role theory in occupational science has not progressed and roles serve not to place importance on the individual but to limit individualism. Examining the evolution of role theory in other disciplines points to a solution the dilemma created by the use of role theory in occupational science. Current role theory has gone beyond functionalism to define roles as an influence on behavior and not the final determinant. This definition of roles as an influence on behavior has served to mitigate the limits that roles place on the individual. Unlike other theorists that have called for the elimination of the use of role theory, this paper utilizes theory from other fields in calling for the use of role theory with agreed upon understandings of definition and use. First, roles should be clearly defined, separating role theory in occupational science from the conformity of functionalism. Second, roles should be used in conjunction with a larger theory of identity that places adequate importance on the individual. Ultimately, a clear definition of roles and the use of role theory in conjunction with a larger theory of identity allow occupational science to benefit from the analytical power of role theory while maintaining the importance of the individual. For instance, the occupations of cancer survivors can be analyzed not in terms of the roles society requires them to fulfill, but for how expectations created by roles effect the process of recovery.

References

Biddle, B. J. (1986). Recent Development in Role Theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 12, 67-92. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.so.12.080186.000435

Jackson, J. (1998a). Contemporary Criticism of Role Theory. Journal of Occupational Science, 5(2), 49-55. Access Article

Jackson, J. (1998b). Is There a Place for Role Theory in Occupational Science? Journal of Occupational Science, 5(2), 56-65. Access Article

Reilly, M. (1966). The challenge of the future to an occupational therapist. American Journal Occupational Therapy, 20(5), 221-225.

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Oct 15th, 3:45 PM Oct 15th, 5:15 PM

Revisiting Role Theory in Occupational Science

Role theory currently occupies an undefined and somewhat problematic space in occupational science. On one hand, the use of role theory provides an indispensable analytic tool in understanding occupation. On the other hand role theory has been criticized for producing conformity and not recognizing the individual’s ability to act independently. Further, some theorists that utilize role theory continue to draw upon a functionalist definition in defining roles as socially agreed upon norms. There is a conflict between the limits placed on individualism by role theory and the importance of the individual within occupational science. In order to understand the problematic use of roles in occupational science this paper examines relevant past occupational science theorists as well as current role theory from occupational science and other related fields. Reilly originally used role theory to place importance on the individual. This was effective in that functionalist role theory was used in contrast to the medical model. Since then use of role theory in occupational science has not progressed and roles serve not to place importance on the individual but to limit individualism. Examining the evolution of role theory in other disciplines points to a solution the dilemma created by the use of role theory in occupational science. Current role theory has gone beyond functionalism to define roles as an influence on behavior and not the final determinant. This definition of roles as an influence on behavior has served to mitigate the limits that roles place on the individual. Unlike other theorists that have called for the elimination of the use of role theory, this paper utilizes theory from other fields in calling for the use of role theory with agreed upon understandings of definition and use. First, roles should be clearly defined, separating role theory in occupational science from the conformity of functionalism. Second, roles should be used in conjunction with a larger theory of identity that places adequate importance on the individual. Ultimately, a clear definition of roles and the use of role theory in conjunction with a larger theory of identity allow occupational science to benefit from the analytical power of role theory while maintaining the importance of the individual. For instance, the occupations of cancer survivors can be analyzed not in terms of the roles society requires them to fulfill, but for how expectations created by roles effect the process of recovery.