Natanson on Role

“Alienation and Social Role” Natanson, pp. 177-189 in Phenomenology, Role, and Reason

  • Roles, role-taking, role action
    • Role: a complex of societally formed requirements for undertaking and performing patterned action in the social world
    • Role-taking: dynamics for effecting and carrying out such roles in actual practice
    • Role-action: the intentional dimension underlying role-taking
  • Five a prioris on the intentional level
    • power – sheer capacity to do role taking, consciousness can break up into periods and pauses
    • recourse – role taking is not just a possibility, but can be repeated; again-ness; “availability is free of the occasions of its operation”
    • uniformity – re-performance as renewal of kind of action intended; a sustaining of the intentional signification originally involved
    • recognition – expectation that role-taking will operate in an ambience characteristic of the actor
    • release – role taking can be retreated from, one isn’t stuck in a role forever
  • Each has correlate at the level of role-taking
a priori at the role action level at the role taking level
power capacity, possibility Mundane world is periodic and episodic
recourse again-ness Roles grasped as type-able
uniformity kinds Roles are typified
recognition my Roles are inhabited, owned, personalized
release finite ends Roles are discardable, changeable
  • A prioris are subject to breakdown and decay
a priori breakdown
power Loss of capacity to enter into roles at all.
recourse Any role-taking would be an innovation, unique and without future significance
uniformity Repeated role-takings would not be recognized in their ideal form.
recognition All roles taken as off the shelf (or out of a script). Makes self a stranger to its role-world.
release No sense of turning from one role to another or the finiteness or roles. Multiple role syndrome. “Role-flight,” an acceleration of intentionality in which role-taking merges with a general release of consciousness from responsibility to arrive at judgments or conclusions.
  • Alienation as danger of breakdown of role action
    • “When the order of elements comprising the structure of role-action suffers such immobilization, there results he deformation of sociality which can properly be called alienation.” (185)
    • “Alienation affects the empiric surface of role-activity by virtue of its compelling threat to the a prioris of role action. Whereas social accommodation is possible for the role taker confronted with dangers to his role taking, no such accommodation is possible, in principle, for role-action threatened internally.” (186)
  • Role Distance: a separation between individual and his role effected by the individual for handling a variety of situations in which, for a variety of reasons, he may not wish to be identified by his role (Goffman).
    • This kind of manipulation of role-taking may be a necessary and inevitable part of social life. It is how we keep roles from overtaking selves. In a sense, it is a preservative exercising of “release.” One technique is to raise the process of role-taking to the level of articulation as in what has been called the “‘bit’ technique.”
      • The ‘bit’ technique goes like this: At all cost one must avoid the stigma of being too serious; to do so, you stick a self-mocking label on any scene in which you might be caught displaying deep emotion. Thus: ‘I don’t want to do the “engaged-couple bit,” but…’; or ‘I don’t want to do the “expectant-father bit,” but…’ If one further masks the scene with a heavy dose of banter, it finally becomes permissible to express feeling. Doing ‘bits’ with people is the ‘in’ way of establishing fellowship. They allow one to show affection while ridiculing it, to be sentimental while appearing tough. M. Duberman, NYTBR, 19 Sept 65
    • A parallel form of accommodation cannot rescue us from a breakdown in role-action. The reason is that the accommodation process itself presupposes the intentionality of role-action.
    • “Role distance assumes the self which chooses to deploy its social field in a particular manner; role action constitutes and sustains the very meaning of field and the possibility of a choosing agent. It cannot divorce itself from itself, but it can suffer the phenomenon of deformation and so be confronted with the threat of alienation.” (189)