Basic, General and Independent Roles

In a now rather ancient, but nevertheless useful introductory text on sociology, Michael Banton (1965) developed the following way of looking at social roles.

They could be seen as located on a continuum from "basic" through to "independent", with a "general" zone in the middle for the sake of convenience.




Implications for conduct of all roles to right  


No implications for conduct of other roles




"Can't help it"


Can help it

Impossible or very difficult to change

but not easily

Easy to slip into
and out of

Part of my sense of identity


Trivial for my identity

Liberal assumption that such roles are not grounds for discrimination


Liberal assumption that discrimination may be acceptable because roles seen as voluntary

Many ways of "playing" them


Manner of "playing" restricted

Some (contestable) examples...




Being Alive!








Shopper at Tesco





                 religious commitment                  

This table gives just a few examples of social roles and how they may be located. Those bracketed with and are movable, depending in part on how an individual rates other roles in relation to them. Thus for some people (martyrs), religious commitment is more important than being alive itself, whereas for others it does not figure at all. Occupation may be more important than marital status, which may lead to divorce, or vice versa in which case a person may refuse to move her or his job because it would upset the family arrangements, and so on. Beware of making conventional judgements about how roles ought to be ordered based on how your own roles are ordered. 

Where would you put the following?

Note to lecturers: this can be developed as an interesting and revealing exercise. Get the class to suggest a number of potentially controversial roles such as the above, then set up a scale from 1 to 10 where 1=basic, 10=independent, and without conferring to rate each role on that scale. The scale permits relatively easy comparison of the results: the interesting thing is not the absolute score, but the relative scoring of, say, work vs. family roles.


BANTON M (1965) Roles London; Tavistock


See implications for Equal Opportunities

To reference this page copy and paste the text below:

Atherton J S (2013) Doceo; [On-line: UK] retrieved from

Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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