So why the confusion? I think it relates to the three concepts of role theory:
Sociology says that a role is prescribed and doesn’t include characteristics of people. A particular position is called a role. If a person occupies that position then he/she has that role.
Social psychology talks about people and their position that composes the role. This concept expects a person to exhibit certain qualities while occupying a particular position.
The historical concept was proposed by Moreno and says roles begin at birth, continue to evolve thereafter, and are directly related to tasks. We become who we are based on a certain number of tasks we have. Roles such as mother, teacher, brother, soldier, doctor, etc., are not considered as titles. The role is defined by a grouping of tasks and behaviors that fit within the tasks. For instance, the stereotypical househusband role has tasks of cooking, washing, cleaning, and raising children.
In the above, sociology and social psychology say that if you occupy a position, you automatically have that role. Social psychology also states you must meet certain qualities. Roles in both are titles; if you fill the position you "take" that role and I think this leads to the aforementioned confusion.
In opposition Moreno says to have a role, you have to work for it. You must meet certain tasks and have certain behaviors. It is impossible in Moreno’s historical definition for a person to take a role, fully formed, without first playing the role and learning the necessary tasks and behaviors required to fit into the role.
The whole of a psychodrama leads to role training. In almost all psychodramas (and maybe all), the protagonists are faced with situations where they are incapable of handling some aspect of their lives. Once the emotional problems are revealed, it shows that the protagonists do not have the skills to deal with similar issues. This is why role training is so important. We must help them find new ways of dealing with old and new situations. Does that sound like a partial definition of spontaneity? Protagonists cannot automatically take a role, they must role-play it.
The way a person role-plays a role is based on prior observation of others in that role, elements of personal experience, and learning in the psychodrama. After role playing has reached a certain level, role taking occurs, or if it does not fit the person, the role is rejected. Once role taking is done, the individual creates in that role, adding new elements and casting out elements that don’t work; making it fit the protagonist’s personality. If role creating does not occur, the role becomes stale and rigid, even dysfunctional. In some psychodramas, protagonists may only experience role playing and, briefly, role taking and role creating. Protagonists are left to complete the role training process in another psychodrama or outside the group.
Learning new ways in role training is necessary and can be a vital experience for the protagonist and the whole group.
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From Ann Hale March 2nd, 2019
My take, as in my book, is that role taking is the beginning, enacting the proscribed role from our culture. Moreno thought of this role taking as a "springboard" to action which comes from imagining the role as different from what has been given...when we begin to warmup to the role in new ways, i.e. role playing. Leaving the cultural conserve (role taking) we build momentum, more and more infusions of spontaneity, and either being thrust into role creating, or retreating to the cultural conserve, not able to play it forward.
I see the cultural conserve as left brain, and the role playing, role creating as right brain activity.
My response to Ann, March 3rd, 2019
Ann, I understand what you wrote. Our differences relate to the way I was trained by Carl and Sharon Hollander and the way I think about role training. For instance, suppose my culture says that my role is a doctor. There is no way I can just take that role. I must first play it and learn what it is about and perform the tasks associated with the role. That learning process leads to role taking, the cultural conserve. Once a significant number of tasks have been completed (I can’t know everything), I take the role. I must then create in it to avoid a rigid cultural conserve.
I want to stress that what I am writing about is a process, role training, and it is used to teach people how to assume and handle a role.
Suppose in a psychodrama, a woman has been tightly controlled by her husband for years and learns that in action. Now she must find a different way of dealing with him. She can’t immediately take the assertive wife role, she must learn about it. We set up a scene that allows her to practice assertiveness. To me that is role playing, not role taking. As the psychodrama progresses, she will learn what tasks are necessary for her to complete before she can take the role. When the tasks are completed she is able to take the role. And, again, to avoid rigidity, she must create within the role.
One of my first self-directed roles was architect. All I knew about an architect was that an architect designed buildings. I couldn’t begin to perform in that role; I couldn’t take it, so I had to play it. I had completed some tasks, such as freehand and mechanical drawing, math, and English that helped me when I studied architecture. However, there were many tasks I knew nothing about: architectural drawing, functional planning, building aesthetics, construction contracts, and structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering. I had to learn them. In the five-year educational process, I worked in an architectural office and learned about that—role playing. Upon graduating, I was still role playing as an architect. I was required to do an apprenticeship for three years and then pass a four-day exam. When I passed the damn thing, I was still role playing because I had no clients who wanted to build a building. A client eventually came and it was then that I took the role. Providing architectural services for a variety of buildings is an example of creating within the role.
The way Carl and Sharon taught role training was acceptable to Moreno. Your definition of role taking seems to fit more with Social Psychology than with Moreno’s historical concept that must include completion of tasks (role playing) before the role is taken.
Your mention of role taking as a “springboard” fits with my explanation of changing a conserve in the section, “The Canon of Creativity Reconsidered”, p. 399-409 in my book. I even used the word, springboard, because Carl used it and I could not think of another word.
You and I know that Moreno changed his thinking a lot and gave conflicting information but did he change to your understanding or to mine or did he accept both?
Shortly after responding to Ann, I received the following from Dale Buchannan:
Thoughts About Role Development by Dale Richard Buchanan, March 2019
My appreciation to Bill Wysong who posted a blog on his unique interpretation of role development that goes from role playing to role taking to role creating. His blog motivated and inspired me to write a posting about Moreno’s classical hypothesis that role development proceeds through the stages of role taking, role playing and role creating.
In my work with Nina Garcia we stress that the four cornerstones of psychodrama are: role theory, sociometry, the theory of spontaneity /creativity and psychodrama/sociodrama intervention constructs. While each can be used independently, Moreno envisioned them as interdependent parts of an organic whole.
As such if we view the constructs of role development though these interdependent cornerstones for example it might look like: role development (role taking, role playing and role creating), social atom, the Canon Of Creativity, catharsis and psychodramatic or sociodramatic role training.
I will not go though all the complexities of role theory and practice in this posting. However, first I would like to remind everyone that Thomas & Biddle (1966) considered Moreno to be the founder of role theory. He authored and created many of the terms and constructs of role theory long before other fields become aware of and interested in role theory.
As defined by Moreno, roles are the actual and tangible forms that the ego takes. In a functioning person there are always roles that are ascending and descending. There is a learning curve or stages of development for this process and Moreno believed that those stages were role taking/training, role playing and role creating.
There is a learning curve or stages of development for all roles and Moreno believed the arc of this pattern begins with role taking and proceeds to role playing and role creating. Role taking refers to an enactment of the role in a routinized, somewhat stilted way. It is the bare bones of the role and often performed with great anxiety and unease. The cultural conserve of the role is either experienced outside of the individual through instructions given by an employer, teacher, or peer group or internally through that individual’s perception of the role as dictated by family of origin, cultural influences and peers. Role playing is when the individual gains more confidence and ease in performing the role. As the individual plays with the role they will begin to have less anxiety in the new role and begin to embody the role with greater degrees of spontaneity and creativity. Finally, when they have mastered the rudiments of the role and have become comfortable enacting it, they are ready to move into the phase of role creating. Role creating is when the individual infuses the role with such a high degree of spontaneity and creativity they have added new aspects to the role or transformed the role to such a degree that the role enactment becomes a model or cultural conserve for others. Individuals embrace the role creating stage when their peers or social atom acknowledge the role they created as something new or novel and becomes a new cultural conserve for that social atom. Very few people create a role that defines the role for the culture. Those that do are usually public figures often with just one name – Oprah, Obama, Cher and Pele.
For Moreno role development was much broader than what happens in a psychodrama or sociodrama session. Let us look at an example of a new waitperson at an established restaurant. A new waitperson named Pat is told to follow a script when approaching customers, “Hello, Welcome to Mario’s Italian Restaurant. I’d like to tell you about our specials this evening, We have the line caught salmon, the Quacker Duck in Orange Sauce, and an aged Angus sirloin. May I get you a beverage while you look over the menu?” After dinner is served, the waitperson is instructed to ask if the customers would like to look at the dessert tray.
After working their a few weeks the manager tells Pat that they are doing a good job and to keep up the good work. By this time Pat is more confident and comfortable in the role of waiter and begins to add new elements to the role or transforms the role Pat now says, “Welcome to Mario’s Italian Restaurant. I’d like to tell you about our specials this evening. We have the line caught fresh salmon which is absolutely fabulous, and a Quacker Duck in Orange sauce that will leave you quacking for more, and finally our house favorite is an aged Angus sirloin cooked to your specification.”
Not all waitpersons progress from role playing to role creating, but any excellent restaurant will have more than one role creating waitperson. After a few months, customers who come into the restaurant are asking to be seated in Pat’s section. Pat has added a few more changes. After giving the daily specials Pat adds, “for those of who are vegan or might enjoy a non meat/diary option we have a spectacular field mushroom medley over home made vegan pasta.” At the end of the meal Pat says “I took the liberty to take over our dessert tray – all of these desserts are homemade fresh daily and our cheesecake is legendary. If you are too full to enjoy a desert by yourself may I suggest you get one or two to share with the table.”
At last the manager notices that PAT is a “star” among other waitpersons. More customers ask for PAT and PAT has the highest average sales of all the waitpersons. New waitpersons are assigned to shadow Pat as Pat instructs and serves as a model for the new waitpersons.
While only the exceptional person may create a new role for our cultural (i.e. Moreno created the roles of psychodrama director and psychodrama auxiliary) each of us has an opportunity to transform or add to existing roles so that they become cultural conserves for our social atom. Your partner may be the “ideal” mate for you, your friend Sally may be the funniest person you know and Sid may make the best-grilled fish that you have ever eaten. In highly functional social atoms it is entirely possible to have many individuals rather than none or just one who excel in role creating the same “generic” role but do so in an exceptional way. In this highly functional social atom you too will be a role creator for others in your social atom. In highly dysfunctional social atoms it is also possible for no one to reach the stage of role creating as this social atom is based on scarcity, fear and anxiety. If this is true it’s time for you to create a new social atom. Psychodrama and sociodrama can help us transform or create new social atoms. These processes were created to help people dream new roles or new ways of being, to find new auxiliaries who will help us sustain and create these new roles, to help persons give birth to these new roles, to help persons nurture and support these new roles and help persons put some old roles to rest (e.g., the perfectionist, the warrior, the cynical and sarcastic doubter), or to transform or “retire” them (the martyr, the savior, Peter Pan, etc.).
Some authoritarian systems or social atoms are steeped in scarcity, fear, and anxiety and there is only room for one role creator and few people advance beyond role taking. Moreno encouraged us to spread the sociometric wealth. We are fortunate and blessed that, for the most part, our psychodrama community is based upon abundance, love and light. Consequently each of us knows many role creators who have added to and transformed the roles of trainer, educator, clinician, scholar, director, and auxiliary.
Moreno, J. L. (1961). The Role Concept: A Bridge between Psychiatry and Sociology. American Journal of Psychiatry.118, 518-522
One of the clearest articles that Moreno ever wrote. This article describes and discusses the psychiatric role concept; the history of the term role; the definition of role, the constructs of role and the function of role. The article defines and discusses the terms role playing, role perception, role enactment, and role pathology. He also elaborates on the co-unconscious.
Moreno, J. L. (1964). Role Theory and Role Practice. In Psychodrama: Volume I. Beacon, NY: Beacon House, Inc., 153-160.
In this chapter from Psychodrama: Volume I, Moreno discusses the relationship between roles, spontaneity, intelligence and self (ego), and offers several available methods for measuring roles. Two main components of roles, i.e. role perception and role enactment, are analyzed.
Thomas, E. J. & Biddle, B. J. (Eds.) (1966). Role Theory: Concepts and Research. NY: John Wiley & Sons