A status is simply a position in society or in a group. A ‘role’ is the behavioural aspect of status. Statuses are occupied and roles are played. A role is the manner in which a given individual fulfills the obligations of a status and enjoys its privileges and prerogatives.
A position or status is simply the means of identifying a particular social role. The two terms are often used interchangeably. For example, the position of ‘advocate’ identifies a particular body of expected behaviour or the role of advocate.
To define a social role is actually to define the essential or minimal features of the expected behaviour or role. Strictly, from the sociological point of view, to define a social position completely means to define or to indicate its (status) entire role prescriptions. In this way these two terms ‘position’ or status and role are only analytically separable.
(b) Role is a relational term:
An individual plays a role vis-a-vis another person’s role which is attached to a ‘counter-position’. For example, an advocate plays his role as advocate in relation to the client’s role. Role concept is relevant at the level of individual when he is in interaction. Because, it is individuals, not organisations, institutions, or sub-systems, who play roles and occupy positions.
(c) ‘Role’ and ‘status’-in a way point out the divergent interests of the two sciences-social psychology and sociology. Status is a sociological concept and a sociological phenomenon. On the contrary, role is a concept and a phenomenon of social psychology.
Individual differences in personality, ability, talents and behaviour can alone explain as to why different individuals play different roles in the same status. For example, though the status of Prime Minister has been the same for Pandit Nehru, Lai Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. They have played different roles in that status.
(d) Both status and role are dynamic and constantly changing. Hence, role changes with each new incumbent in a status:
The status changes as the norms attached to it are altered. It is quite likely that in course of time, new obligations and new responsibilities may be added to a status or old ones may be removed. Sometimes more rigorous role playing may expand the functions of a status.
Similarly, these functions may change due to the newly felt needs of the system of which status is a part. For example, when an association increases in size, its office-bearers may acquire new duties, or new statuses may be established. Thus, both status and role are dynamic elements in the life of a society. But the statuses are cultural and roles are behavioural in nature.
(e) Though statuses and roles are correlative phenomena:
It is possible to have one without the other. A status without a role may simply denote an unfilled position in an association. For example, when the Vice-Chancellor of a University resigns it may take some time to find a suitable successor for the post. During this time gap the duties of the Vice-Chancellor may be looked into by some of his assistants. These assistants can never enjoy privileges of the status of Vice-Chancellor.
In the same manner, roles are often played without occupying a status. For example, a mother plays the role of nurse when a member of her family is ill. Nurse is a status in hospital, but in home.
(f) As Robert Bierstadt has pointed out, in a formal sociological language a status may be called an institutionalised role. It is a role that has become regularised, standardised, and formalised in the society at large or in any specific association with society. The structure of society consists of statuses and not roles. “It is statuses, together with norms, that give order, predictability and even possibility to social relations”.