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A Theory of Role Strain

Author(s): William J. Goode

Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Aug., 1960), pp. 483-496
Published by: American Sociological Association
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levels, for example, the conditions of small and cultural systems must be regarded as
experimental groups as a subtype of social subsystems of the general category of ac-
system. Only in so far as codification reveals tion system. Each of these in turn is differ-
uniformities in the cognate features of many entiated into further subsystems at different
different types of operationally studied sys- levels of elaboration.Any subsystem is artic-
tem do the more general theorems have a ulated with other subsystems by definable
prospect of approaching rigorous empirical categories of input-output interchange, the
verification. processes, in sufficiently highly differentiated
This specification should not be assumed subsystems, being mediated by symbolic-
to be capable of being carried out by simple type mechanisms such as those discussed
"common sense;" it requires careful tech- above.
nical analysis through a series of concate- In many respects, this possibility of deal-
nated steps. I believe, however, that the ing with multiple system references and of
theory of action in its present state provides keeping straight the distinctions and articu-
methods for successfully carrying out this lations between them, has turned out to be
specification, and conversely, generalization the greatest enrichment of theoretical anal-
as well from lower-level uniformities to ysis developed from Dubin's "Model II." A
higher levels. Perhaps the most important "flat" conception of a single system refer-
key to this possibility is the conception of ence which must be accepted or rejected on
all systems of action as systematically articu- an all-or-none basis for the analysis of com-
lated with others along system-subsystem plex empirical problems, cannot possibly do
lines. The basic system types designated here justice to the formidable difficulties in the
as organisms, personalities, social systems, study of human action.


Columbia 'University

When social structures are viewed as made up of roles, social stability is not explicable as a
function of (a) the normative consensual commitment of individuals or (b) normative in-
tegration. Instead, dissensus and role strain-the difficulty of fulfilling role demands-are
normal. In a sequence of role bargains, the individual's choices are shaped by mechanisms,
outlined here, through which he organizes his total role system and performs well or ill in
any role relationship. Reduction of role strain is allocative or economic in form, but the
economic model is different. "Third parties" interact with an individual and his alter, to keep
their bargain within institutionalized limits. The larger social structure is held in place by role
strains. The cumulative pattern of all such role bargains determines the flow of performances
to all institutions. The research utility of this conception is explained.

THE presentpaperis basedon the general seen as a sequence of "role bargains,"and as

view that institutions are made up of a continuing process of selection among al-
role relationships, and approaches both ternative role behaviors, in which each in-
social action and social structure through the dividual seeks to reduce his role strain. These
notion of "role strain," the felt difficulty in choices determine the allocations of role per-
fulfilling role obligations. Role relations are formances to all institutions of the society.
Within the limited compass of this paper,
* Completed under National Institute of Mental only a few of the possible implications of
Health Grant No. 2526-S. role strain as a theoretical approach can be
I am indebted to several of my colleagues for explored.
criticism of this and related papers, and especially
to Amitai Etzioni, Johan Galtung, Robert K.
The widespread notion that institutions
Merton, Charles H. Page, Morris Zelditch, and Hans are made up of roles is fruitful because it
L. Zetterberg. links a somewhat more easily observable

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phenomenon, social behavior, to an im- social position, for example, age, sex,
portant but less easily observable abstrac- occupation, geographic region, and re-
tion, social structure. In functionalist terms, ligion.
this notion also links the observed acts and 4. Even when individuals accept a given
inferred values of the individual with the in- value, some of them also have a strong
stitutional imperatives or requisites of the or weak "latent commitment" to very
society. At the same time, by focusing on different or contradictory values.5
the elements in the individual's action deci- 5. Conformity with normative prescrip-
sion, it avoids the pitfall of supposing that tions is not a simple function of value
people carry out their obligations because commitment; there may be value com-
these are "functional"for the society. mitment without conformity or con-
Approaching role interaction in terms of formity without commitment.
role strain offersthe possibility of buttressing 6. When individuals' social positions
more adequately the empirical weaknesses change, they may change both their be-
of the most widely accepted theoretical view havior and their value orientations.
of society,' accordingto which the continuity 7. The values, ideals, and role obligations
of social roles, and thus the maintenance of of every individual are at times in con-
the society, is mainly a function of two major flict.
variables: the normative, consensual com-
Under the current conception of roles as
mitment of the individuals of the society;
units of social structures, presumably we
and the integration among the norms held
should observe the role decisions of in-
by those individuals. Although this view is
dividuals in order to see how the society
superior to earlier ones,2 it fails to explain
continues. On first view, as can be seen from
how a complex urban society keeps going3
the above list of points, the basis of social
because it does not account for the following
stability or integration seems precarious,
awkwardempiricalfacts: 4
and the decisions of the individual puzzling.
1. Some individuals do not accept even For even when "the norms of the society"
supposedly central values of the society. are fully accepted by the individual, they are
2. Individuals vary in their emotional not adequate guides for individual action.
commitment to both important and less Order cannot be imposed by any general
important values. solution for all role decisions, since the total
3. This value commitment varies by class set of role obligations is probably unique for
strata, and by other characteristics of every individual. On the other hand, the in-
dividual may face different types of role
' I prefer to call this the "Lintonian model" demands and conflicts, which he feels as
(Ralph Linton, The Study of Man, New York: "role strains" when he wishes to carry out
Appleton-Century, 1936), although Linton is not, of
course, the creator of this model. Rather, he summed
specific obligations.
up a generation of thought about social structure In the immediately following sections, the
in a clear and illuminating fashion, so that for major sources and types of role strain are
many years the definitions and statements in this specified, and thereafter the two main sets
book were widely cited by both anthropologists and of
mechanismswhich the individual may use
sociologists. Of course, "everyone knows" these
weaknesses, but our basic model is not thereby to reduce role strain are analyzed.
changed to account for them.
2 For a systematic statement of several earlier TYPES OF ROLE STRAIN
models, see Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social
Action, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1937, Chapter 2. It is an axiom, rarely expressed, of social
3 For an earlier discussion relevant to this paper, theory that the individuals who face common
see William J. Goode, "Contemporary Thinking
about Primitive Religion," Soziologus, 5 (1955), pp. 5 Charles H. Page has
reminded me that role
122-131; also in Morton Fried, editor Readings in diversity is not confined to modern societies, as the
Anthropology, New York: Crowell, 1959, Vol. II, work of functionalist anthropologists (e.g., Malin-
pp. 450-460. owski's Crime and Custom and Benedict's Patterns
4 For a good exposition of certain aspects of dis- of Culture) has shown. This empirical fact is of
sensus as they apply to American society, see considerable theoretical consequence, especially for
Robin W. Williams, American Society, New York: the relations between adjacent social strata or castes,
Knopf, 1956, esp. pp. 352 ff. or between conquerors and the conquered.

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role obligations can generally fulfill them. which may be applied to the various be-
Indeed, most theories of stratification and havioral demands of the same role (the
criminality require such an assumption, and clergyman as the emotionally neutral coun-
common opinion uses it is as a basis for its selor, but as a praising or condemnatory
moral demands on the individual. We may spiritual guide). Perhaps most jobs fall into
suppose, as a corollary, that there are theo- this category, in that their various demands
retical limits to the specific demands which create some strain as between the norms of
societies may make of men. In addition, the quantity and quality, technical excellence
"theorem of institutional integration"s is and human relations skills, and universalism
roughly correct as an orienting idea: people and particularism.
generally want to do what they are sup- Finally, many role relationships are "role
posed to do, and this is what the society sets," that is, the individual engages, by
needs to have done in order to continue. virtue of one of his positions, in several role
Yet, with respect to any given norm or relationships with different individuals.8
role obligation, there are always some per- The individual is thus likely to face a
sons who cannot conform, by reason of in- wide, distracting, and sometimes conflicting
dividuality or situation: they do not have array of role obligations. If he conforms fully
sufficient resources, energy, and so on. A or adequately in one direction, fulfillment
wider view of all such obligations discloses will be difficult in another. Even if he feels
the following types or sources of role strain: lonely, and would like to engage in additional
First, even when role demands are not role relationships, it is likely that he cannot
onerous, difficult, or displeasing, they are re- fully discharge all the obligations he al-
quired at particular times and places. Con- ready faces. He cannot meet all these de-
sequently, virtually no role demand is such mands to the satisfaction of all the persons
a spontaneous pleasure that conformity with who are part of his total role network. Role
it is always automatic. strain-difficulty in meeting given role de-
Second, all individuals take part in many mands-is therefore normal. In general, the
different role relationships, for each of which individual's total role obligations are over-
there will be somewhat differentobligations.7 demanding.
Among these, there may be either contra- Consequently, although the theorem of
dictory performancesrequired (the bigamous institutional integration, or the assumption
husband; the infantry lieutenant who must of norm commitment, offers an explanation
order his close friend to risk his life in for the fulfillment of the duties imposed by
battle) or conflicts of time, place, or re- a single norm, it does not account for the
sources. These are conflicts of allocation integration of an individual's total role sys-
(civic as against home obligations). tem, or the integration among the role sys-
Third, each role relationship typically de- tems of various individuals, which presuma-
mands several activities or responses. Again, bly make up the social structure. The in-
there may be inconsistencies (what the hus- dividual's problem is how to make his whole
band does to balance his family budget may role system manageable, that is, how to al-
impair his emotional relations with the mem- locate his energies and skills so as to reduce
bers of his household). There may be dif- role strain to some bearable proportions.For
ferent but not quite contradictory norms the larger social structure, the problem is
one of integrating such role systems-by al-
locating the flow of role performancesso that
6 This is the label which Talcott Parsons has sug- various institutional activities are accom-
gested for the view, generally accepted since Durk-
heim's Division of Labor, that the maintenance of plished.
the society rests on desires of individuals to do
things which must be done if the society is to 8 Cf. Robert K. Merton, Social
Theory and Social
survive. The Social System, Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, Structure, Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1957, pp. 369 ff.
1949, pp. 36-43. For its use in an empirical study, see Mary Jean
7 In this paper, I distinguish role and status on Huntington, "The Development of a Professional
the basis of only "degree of institutionalization": Self Image," in R. K. Merton et al., editors, The
all role relations are somewhat institutionalized, but Student-Physician, Cambridge: Harvard University
statuses are more fully institutionalized. Press, 1957, pp. 180 if.

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THE REDUCTION OF ROLE STRAIN: for the moment the role demands which he
EGO'S CHOICE was meeting prior to the crisis.
2. Delegation: This may be seen, at least
A sensitizing or orienting notion in func-
in part, as one way of achieving compart-
tionalist as well as system theory-perhaps
mentalization. If, for example, secular coun-
more properly called one element in the
seling is inconsistent with the clergyman's
definition of a "system"-is that a strain is
moral leadership role, he may be able to
likely to be associated with some mechanisms
delegate it. If secular manipulation by a
for reducing it.9 The individual can utilize
church is inconsistent with its sacredness, it
two main sets of techniques for reducing
may delegate some secular acts to lay leaders
his role strain: those which determine
or to specialized religious orders. A wife may
whether or when he will enter or leave a role
delegate housekeeping, and some of the so-
relationship; and those which have to do
cialization and nursing of the child. Note,
with the actual role bargain which the in-
however,that the societal hierarchyof values
dividual makes or carries out with another.
is indicated by what may not be delegated:
Ego's Manipulation of His Role Structure.
for example, the professor may not hire a
-Ego has at his disposal several ways of
ghost writer to produce his monographs,
determining whether or when he will accept
and the student may not delegate examina-
a role relationship:
1. Compartmentalization: This may be
3. Elimination of role relationships: 10
defined on the psychological level as the
Curtailment may be difficult, since many of
ability to ignore the problem of consistency.
our role obligations flow from our status
Socially, role relations tend toward compart-
positions, such as those in the job or family,
mentalization because the individual makes which are not easily eliminated. Of course,
his demands on another and feels them to be we can stop associating with a kinsman be-
legitimate, in specific situations where he cause of the demands he makes on us, and
can avoid taking much account of the claims if our work-group sets norms which are too
on that person. There seems to be no over- high for us to meet we can seek another
all set of societal values which explicitly re- job. Aside from social and even legal limits
quires consistency or integration from the on role curtailment, however, some con-
individual. The process of compartmentaliza- tinuing role interaction is necessary to main-
tion works mainly by (a) location and con- tain the individual's self-image and possibly
text and (b) situational urgency or crisis. his personality structure: for example, many
The latter process permits the individual to people feel "lost" upon retirement-their
meet the crisis on its own terms, setting aside social existence is no longer validated.
4. Extension: The individual may expand
his role relations in order to plead these com-
9Merton's "mechanisms" operate to articulate
role sets; see Robert K. Merton, "The Role Set: mitments as an excuse for not fulfilling cer-
Problems in Sociological Theory," British Journal tain obligations. A departmental chairman,
of Sociology, 8 (June, 1957), pp. 113 ff. Here, we for example, may become active in uni-
are concerned with a more general problem, which versity affairs so that he can meet his col-
includes role sets as a special source of role strain.
Moreover, Merton is concerned with only one of
league's demands for time with the plea
our problems, integrating the total role systems of that other duties (known to his colleagues)
all individuals in a demarcated social system; while are pressing. In addition, the individual may
we are, in addition, concerned with the problem of expand his role system so as to facilitate
the individual in integrating his own role system. other role demands, for instance, joining an
Several of our mechanisms, then, are parallelled by
Merton's. Compartmentalization partly corresponds, exclusive club so as to meet people to whom
for example, to two of his-observability of the in- he can sell stocks and bonds.
dividual's role activities and observability of con- 5. Obstacles against the indefinite expan-
flicting demands by members of the role set. Our sion of ego's role system: Although the in-
mechanism of hierarchy or stratification, assigning
higher or lower values to particular role demands,
corresponds to two of Merton's-the relative im- 10 This, again, is a general case of
which Merton's
portance of statuses and differences of power among "abridging the role-set" is a special example (ibid.,
members of the role set. p. 117).

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dividual may reduce his felt strain by ex- action or "bargain": In his personal role
panding his role system and thereby dimin- system, the individual faces the same prob-
ishing the level of required performance lem he faces in his economic life: he has
for any one of his obligations, this process limited resources to be allocated among al-
is also limited: After a possible initial re- ternative ends. The larger social system, too,
duction, Role strain begins to increase more is like the economic system, for the problem
rapidly with a larger number of roles than in both is one of integration, of motivating
do the correspondingrole rewardsor counter- people to stop doing X and start doing Y,
payments from alter. This differential is whether this is economic production or
based on the limited role resources at in- religiousbehavior.
dividual's commands. The rewards cannot Because economic structures are also so-
increase at the same rate as the expansion cial structures, and economic decisions are
even if at first he increases his skill in role also role decisions, it might be argued that
manipulation, because eventually he must economic propositions are simply "special
begin to fail in some of his obligations, as he cases" of sociological propositions." In a
adds more relationships; consequently, his more rigorousmethodologicalsense, however,
alters will not carry out the counter-per- this claim may be viewed skeptically, since
formances which are expected for that role at present the former body of propositions
relationship. Consequently, he cannot in- cannot be deduced from the latter.12Rather,
definitely expand his role system. economic theory may be a fruitful source of
6. Barriers against intrusion: The indi- sociological ideas, because its theoretical
vidual may use several techniques for pre- structure is more advanced than that of
venting others from initiating, or even sociology. Since the precise relation between
continuing, role relationships-the executive economic and sociological propositions is
hires a secretary through whom appoint- not yet fully ascertained, economic vocab-
ments must be made, the professor goes on a ulary and ideas are mainly used in the suc-
sabbatical leave. The administratoruses such ceeding analysis for clarity of presentation,
devices consciously, and one of the most
common complaints of high level profes-
11 Some structural differences between the two
sionals and executives is that they have no cases, however, should be noted: (1) There are
time. This feeling is closely connected with specialized economic producers, for example, wheat
the fact that they do have time, that is, they farmers who offer only one product on the market,
may dispose of their time as they see fit. but no corresponding sociological positions in which
Precisely because such men face and accept the individual offers only one type of role perform-
ance. Some political, religious, military, or occupa-
a wider array of role opportunities,demands, tional leaders do "produce" their services for a
and even temptations than do others, they large number of people, but they must all carry out
must make more choices and feel greater many other roles as well in the "role market."
role strain. At the same time, being in de- Every adult must take part as producer in a mini-
mum number of such role markets. (2) Correspond-
mand offers some satisfaction, as does the ingly, in the economic sphere all participate in
freedom to choose. At lower occupational several markets as buyers; in the role sphere they act
ranks, as well as in less open social systems in several markets as both sellers and buyers. (3)
where duties are more narrowly prescribed, Correlatively, our entrance into the economic pro-
fewer choices can or need be made. ducer or seller activities may be long delayed, and
we may retire from them early if we have enough
Settling or Carrying Out the Terms of the money, but as long as we live we must remain in
Role Relationship.-The total role structure the role market: we need other people, and they
functions so as to reduce role strain. The demand us. (4) We may accumulate enough money
techniques outlined above determinewhether so as to be able to purchase more than we can
use, or produce more than we can sell, in the
an individual will have a role relationship economic sphere; but in the role system we prob-
with another, but they do not specify what ably always ask more on the whole than our alters
performances the individual will carry out can give, and are unable to give as much as they
for another. A common decision process un- demand.
12 The most elaborate recent attempt to state the
derlies the individual's sequence of role per-
relations between the two is Talcott Parsons and
formance as well as their total pattern. Neil J. Smelser, Economy and Society, Glencoe, Ill.:
1. The role relationship viewed as a trans- Free Press, 1956.

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and the correctnessof propositionswhich are analysis" seems appropriate to ascertain the
developed here is independent of their pos- course of events which led to the act.15
sible homologs in economics.13In this view, In role behavior, we begin to experience
economic performance is one type of role strain, worry, anxiety, or the pressures of
performance, a restricted case in which others if we devote more time and attention
economists attempt to express role per- to one role obligation than we feel we should,
formance, reward, and punishment in mone- or than others feel we should. This strain
tary terms.14 In both, the individual must may be felt because, given a finite sum of
respond to legitimate demands made on him role resources, too much has already been
(role expectations, services, goods, or de- expended; or because the individual feels
mands for money) by carrying out his role that relative to a given value the cost is too
obligations (performances, goods, or money high. The relative strength of such pressures
payments). Through the perception of al- from different obligations determines, then,
ternative role strains or goods-services-money the individual's role allocation pattern within
costs, the individual adjusts the various de- his total role system. This system is the
mands made upon him, by moving from one resultant of all such strains. Analysis of
role action to another. Both types of trans- role allocation requires, of course, that we
actions, of course, express evaluations of know the individual's internal demands, that
goods, performances,and money. is, the demands which he makes on him-
In his role decisions, as in his economic self, and which thus contribute to his will-
decisions, the individual seeks to keep his ingness to perform well or not."6
felt strain, role cost, or monetary and per- The process of strain allocation is facili-
formance cost at a minimum, and may even tated somewhat, as noted above, by ego's
apply some rationality to the problem. At ability to manipulate his role structure. On
the same time, a variety of pressures will the other hand, the structure is kept in ex-
force him to accept some solutions which are istence by, and is based on, the process of
not pleasant. His decisions are also fre- allocation. For example, with reference to
quently habitual rather than calculated, the norms of adequate role performance, to
and even when calculated may not achieve be considered later, the White child in the
his goal. Rather, they are the most promis- South may gradually learn that his parents
will disapprove a close friendship with a
ing, or the best choice he sees. Since the
Negro boy, but (especially in rural regions)
analysis of such behavior would focus on the
may not disapprove a casual friendship.
act and its accompanying or preceding de-
The "caste" role definitions state that in
cision, the research approach of "decision
the former relationship he is over-perform-
ing, that is, "paying too much." Such social
13 Again, however, correctness is independent pressures, expressed in both individual and
of their origin. It is equally clear that they parallel
certain conceptions of psychodynamics, but again
social mechanisms, are homologous to those
their sociological value is independent of their use- in the economic market, where commodities
fulness in that field. also have a "going price," based on accepted
"Anthropologists have noted for over a genera- relative evaluations. Correspondingly,the in-
tion that economic theory needs a more general
framework to take account of the non-monetary dividual expresses moral disapproval when
aspects of economic action in non-Western societies.
Cf. Bronislaw Malinowski, "Primitive Economics
of the Trobriand Islanders," Economic Journal 31 15 See the several discussions in
Paul F. Lazarsfeld
(March, 1921), pp. 1-16. See also Malinowski's and Morris Rosenberg, editors, The Language of
earlier article, "The Economic Aspects of the In- Social Research, Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1955, pp.
tichiuma Ceremonies," Festskrift Tillagnad Edward 387-448.
Westermarck, Helsingfors: 1912; and Argonauts of 16 Price in an elementary economics textbook,
the Western Pacific, London: Routledge, 1922. Also determined by the intersection of supply and de-
Raymond Firth, Primitive Economics of the New mand, requires no such datum (i.e., why or whence
Zealand Maori, New York: Dutton, 1929. For a the demand is not relevant), and thus the model
discussion of the interaction of economic roles and is simpler than the role model. However, more
religious roles, see William J. Goode, Religion sophisticated economics, as well as the economic
Among the Primitives, Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, practitioner, must distinguish various components
1951, Chapters 5, 6. or sources of demand.

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his role partner performsmuch less well than Similarly, as will be noted below in more
usual, or demands far more than usual. detail, alter's power, esteem, and resources
In all societies, the child is taught the affect ego's performance because they allow
"value of things," whether they are material alter to punish or reward ego more fully.
objects or role performances, by impressing The individual perceives these consequences
upon him that he must allocate his role per- cognitively and responds to them emotion-
formances, and how he should allocate ally. If, then, the individual aspires to be ac-
them.17 These structural elements are con- cepted by a higher ranking individual or
sidered in a later section. group, he may have to perform more ade-
2. Setting the role price in the role bargain: quately than for one of his own rank.
The level of role performancewhich the in- This last proposition requires a further dis-
dividual finally decides upon, the "role tinction. Alter may be able, because of his
price," is the resultant of the interaction be- position, to reward ego more than alter re-
tween three supply-demand factors: (a) his wards others in a similar status, but this
pre-existing or autonomous norm commit- additional reward may be no more than a
ment-his desire to carry out the perform- socially accepted premium for extra per-
ance; (b) his judgment as to how much his formance. On the other hand, the additional
role partner will punish or reward him for reward may sometimes be viewed by those
his performance; and (c) the esteem or dis- others as beyond the appropriate amount.
esteem with which the peripheral social net- Or the individual may over-perform in one
works or important reference groups ("third activity of his role relationshipto compensate
parties") will respond to both ego's perform- for a poor performancein another-say, the
ance and to alter's attempts to make ego poor breadwinner who tries to be a good
performadequately. companion to his children. Such further con-
The individual will perform well ("pay sequences of higher performance and higher
high") if he wants very much to carry out reward may at times be taken into account
this role obligation as against others. He will by both role partners in making their role
devote much more time and energy to his bargain.
job if he really enjoys his work, or is deeply If alter asks that ego perform consistently
committed normatively to its aims. The better than he is able or willing to do, then
individual's willingness to carry out the role he may ease his allocation strain by severing
performance varies, being a function of the his relationshipwith that individual or group
intrinsic gratifications in the activity, the and by seeking new role relationships in
prospective gain from having carried out the which the allocation strain is less.19
activity, and the internal self-rewardor self- 3. Limitations on a "free role bargain":
punishment from conscience pangs or shame The third component in ego's decision to
or a sense of virtue, or the like. perform his role bargain is the network of
With reference to what ego expects alter role relationships-"the third party" or par-
to do in turn, he is more likely to over-per- ties-with which ego and alter are in inter-
form, or perform well if alter can and will action. If either individual is able to exploit
(relative to others) reward ego well or pay the other by driving an especially hard role
him well for a good or poor execution of his bargain, such third parties may try to in-
role obligations. Thus, my predictions as to fluence either or both to change the relation-
what will make my beloved smile or frown ship back toward the "going role price."
will affect my performance greatly; but if Not only do they feel this to be their duty,
she loves me while I love her only little,
then the same smiles or frowns will have less
terest" in Willard Waller and Reuben Hill, The
effect on my role performances for her.18 Family, New York: Dryden, 1952, pp. 191-192.
19 Cf. Leon Festinger's Derivation C, in "A
17 Doubtless, however, the
lessons can be made Theory of Social Comparison Processes," Reprint
more explicit and conclusive when the "value" can Services No. 22, Laboratory for Research in Social
be expressed in dollars rather than in the equally Relations, University of Minnesota, 1955, p. 123.
intangible (but more difficult to measure) moral Also see No. 24, "Self-Evaluation as a Function
or esthetic considerations. of Attraction to the Group," by Leon Festinger, Jane
18 Cf. Willard Waller's
"Principle of Least In- Torrey, and Ben Willerman.

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but they have an interest in the matter as strain, they determine which of the first
well, since (a) the exploiting individual may set of mechanismsego may use, and on what
begin to demand that much, or pay that terms. Similarly, they determine whether
little, in his role relations with them; and ego and alter may or must bargain freely, to
(b) because the exploited individual may either's disadvantage, or to what extent
thereby performless well in his role relations either can or must remainin an advantageous
with them. These pressures from third par- or costly bargaining position. The most im-
ties include the demand that either ego or portant of such elements are perhaps the
alter punish or reward the other for his following:
performances or failures.20 1. Hierarchy of evaluations: Social evalu-
It is not theoretically or empirically clearations are the source of the individual's
whether such third parties must always be evaluations, but even if only the frequently
a limited reference group, or can at times occurringtypes of choices are considered,such
be the entire society. Many of the norms of evaluations reveal complex patterns.2' Some
reference groups appear to be special defini- sort of overall value hierarchy seems to be
tions or applications of similar norms of the accepted in every society, but aside from
larger society. Certain groups, such as crimi- individual idiosyncrasies, both situational
nal gangs or power cliques in a revolutionary and role characteristics may change the
political party, may give radical twists of evaluation of given acts. Indeed, all indi-
meaning to the norms of the larger society. viduals may accept contradictory values in
Under such circumstances,the interaction of some areas of action, which are expressed
pressureson ego and alter from various third under differentcircumstances.Here, the most
parties can be complex. We suppose that importantof these qualifying factors are: (a)
which third party is most important in a the social position of ego (one should pay
given role transaction between ego and alter some respect to elders, but if one is, say, 30
is a function of the degree of concern felt years of age, one may pay less); (b) the
by various third parties and of the amount social position of alter (the power, prestige,
of pressure that any of them can bring to or resources of alter may affect ego's deci-
bear on either ego or alter. sion); (c) the content of the performance
by ego or alter (mother-nurseobligations are
STRUCTURAL LIMITS AND DETERMINANTS more important than housekeeper-laundress
duties); and (d) situational urgency or
Strain-Reducing Mechanisms.-The indi- crisis. When ego gives the excuse of an ur-
vidual can thus reduce his role strain some- gent situation, alter usually retaliates less
what: first, by selecting a set of roles which severely. However, when several crises occur
are singly less onerous, as mutually suppor- simultaneously, the allocation of role per-
tive as he can manage, and minimally con- formances is likely to be decided instead
flicting; and, second, by obtaining as gratify- by reference to more general rankings of
ing or value-productive a bargain as he can value.22
with each alter in his total role pattern. These illustrations suggest how structural
As the existence of third parties attests, factors help to determine ego's willingness
however, both sets of ego's techniques are to perform or his performance,in an existing
limited and determined by a larger struc- role relationship (Type lb), and though
tural context within which such decisions they reduce his uncertainty as to what he
are made. Not all such structural elements
reduce ego's role strain; indeed, they may 21 Norman Miller has
used data from the Cornell
increase it, since they may enforce actions Values Study to show how various combinations of
which are required for the society rather social positions affect expressions of value in Social
Class Differences among American College Students,
than the individual. Essentially, whether Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, 1958.
they increase or reduce the individual's role 22 In an unpublished paper on "doubling" (the
living together of relatives who are not members
20 Note, for example, the potential "seduction" of the same nuclear family), Morris Zelditch has
of the mother by the child; the mother wishes to used approximately these categories to analyze the
please the child to make him happy, and may have conditions under which the claim to such a right
to be reminded by others that she is "spoiling" him. is likely to be respected.

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should or must do, they also may increase as his seniors believe they performed at his
his obligations. At the same time, these same rank. Such norms also apply to the total
factors also determine in part whether or system of roles assumed by the individual.
when ego will include the relationship at The individual may criticize another not
all (Type la) in his total role system (for only when the latter's specific performance
example, a noted physicist should engage in fails to meet such criteria, but also when the
a technical correspondencewith a fellow phys- latter's range of roles is too narrow (the
icist, but may refuse to appear on a popu- wife complains, "We never go out and meet
lar television show; even a passing stranger people") or too wide (the husband com-
is expected to give needed aid in a rescue plains, "You take care of everything in the
operation). communityexcept me").
This set of interacting factors is complex, The individual must assume more roles
but gives some guidance in role interaction. in an urban society than in primitive or
Since there is a loose, society-wide hierarchy peasant society, and the norm of functional
of evaluations, and' both individuals and specificity applies to a higher proportion of
their referencegroups or "third parties" may them. This norm permits individuals to bar-
be committed to a somewhat different hier- gain within a narrower range, but also, by
archy of values, at least the following com- limiting the mutual obligations of indi-
binations of evaluations may occur: viduals (and thus tending to reduce role
Evaluations of:
strain), it permits them to assume a larger
number of roles than would otherwise be
Task Rank of Situational
Evaluations by: Content Alter Urgency possible. This, then, is a role system basis
Society for the generally observed phenomenon of
Reference Groups or Gesellschaft or secondary relations in urban
Third Parties society.
Alter 4. Linkage or dissociation of role obliga-
Ego tions in different institutional orders: The
fulfillment of role obligations in one institu-
2. Third parties: Though third parties tional order either rests on or requires a per-
figure most prominently in the bargaining formance in another.24 Thus, to carry out
within an existing role relationship, espe- the obligations of father requires the fulfill-
cially those which are more fully institution- ment of job obligations. Such doubled obli-
alized (statuses), they also take part in ego's gations are among the strongest in the soci-
manipulation of his role structure, since they ety, in the sense that ego may insist on rather
may be concerned with his total social posi- advantageous terms if he is asked to neglect
tion. For example, families are criticized by them in favor of some other obligation. Link-
kinsmen, neighbors, and friends if they do ing two institutional orders in this fashion
not press their children in the direction of limits ego's freedom to manipulate his role
assuming a wider range of roles and more system.
demanding roles as they grow older. At the same time, there are barriers
3. Norms of adequacy: These define what against combining various roles, even when
is an acceptable role performance.23Norms the individual might find such a linkage
of adequacy are observable even in jobs congenial. (For example: a military rule
which set nearly limitless ideals of perform- against officers fraternizing intimately with
ance, such as the higher levels of art and enlisted men; a regulation forbidding one
science, for they are gauged to the experience, to be both a lawyer and a partner of a certi-
age, rank, and esteem of the individual. For fied public accountant). In an open society,
example, a young instructor need not per- some role combinations are permitted which
form as well as a full professor; but to would be viewed as incongruousor prohibited
achieve that rank he must perform as well in a feudal or caste society.
23 This mechanism is akin to, though not identical
24 I have described this mechanism of institu-
with, Merton's "mutual social support among status
occupants." Merton, "The Role Set . . . ," op. cit., tional integration in some detail in Religion Among
p. 116. the Primitives, op. cit., Chapters 5-10.

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Such pressures are expressed in part by The psychological dimensions of these limi-
the punishments which the individual may tations are not relevant for our discussion.
have to face if he insists on entering dis- It should be noted, however, that at least
approved combinations of roles. The barriers one important element in the persistence of
against some combinations also apply to a personality patterns is to be found in these
special case of role expansion: entrance into limitations: the role structure remains fairly
certain very demandingstatuses, those which stable because the individual cannot make
require nearly continuous performance, are many free role bargains and thus change
subject to frequent crises or urgencies, and his role system or the demands made on him,
are highly evaluated.25 Even in our own and consequently the individual personality
society there are not many such statuses. structure is also maintained by the same
The combination of two or more sets of structural elements.27
potential crises and responsibilities would 6. Lack of profit in mutual role devia-
make for considerablerole strain, so that few tion: Since two role partners depend in part
individuals would care to enter them; but in on each other's mutual performancefor their
addition organizationalrules sometimes, and own continuing interaction with other per-
common social attitudes usually, oppose such sons, mutual role deviation will only rarely
combinations.-The priest may not be a reduce their role strain. It might be advan-
mother; the head of a hospital may not be tageous to me if my superior permits me to
a high political leader. loaf on the job, but only infrequently can
5. Ascriptive statuses: All statuses, but he also profit from my loafing. Consequently,
especially ascriptive statuses, limit some- both ego and alter have a smaller range of
what ego's ability to bargain, since social choices, and the demands of the institutional
pressures to conform to their norms are order or organization are more likely to be
stronger than for less institutionalized roles. met. When, moreover, in spite of these in-
Some of these require exchanges of perform- terlocking controls, ego and alter do find a
ances between specific individuals (I cannot mode of deviation which is mutually profit-
search for the motherwho will serve my needs able-the bribed policeman and the profes-
best, as she cannot look for a more filial sional criminal, the smothering mother and
child) while others (female, Negro, "native the son who wants to be dependent-con-
American") embody expectations between cerned outsiders, third parties, or even a
status segments of the population. The larger segment of the society are likely to
former are more restrictive than the latter, disapprove and retaliate more strongly than
but both types narrow considerably the area when either ego or alter deviates one-sidedly.
in which individuals can work out a set of On the other hand, there is the special case
performancesbased on their own desires and in which ego and alter share the same status
bargaining power. Because individuals do -as colleagues or adolescent peers, for ex-
not usually leave most ascriptive statuses, ample. They are then under similar pressures
some may have to pay a higher role price from others, and may seek similar deviant
than they would in an entirely free role solutions; they may gang together and profit
market, or may be able (if their ascription collectively in certain ways from their
status is high in prestige and power) to exact deviation.28
from others a higher role performance.26 Less Desirable Statuses: Efforts to Change
the Role Bargain.-The preceding analysis
25 Perhaps the third characteristic is merely a of how ego and alter decide whether, when,
corollary of the first two.
28 Although the matter cannot be pursued here,
it seems likely that in economic terms we are deal- 27 Cf. C. Addison Hickman and Manford H.
ing here with the phenomena of the "differentiated Kuhn, Individuals, Groups, and Economic Behavior,
product"-ego cannot accept a given role perform- New York: Dryden, 1956, p. 38.
ance from just anyone, but from the specific people 28 Albert K. Cohen has discussed one example of

with whom he is in interaction-and of oligopoly- this special case at length in Delinquent Boys,
ego can patronize only a limited number of sup- Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1955. It requires, among
pliers or sellers. Moreover, with respect to certain other factors, special ecological conditions and the
roles, both supply and demand are relatively possibility of communication among those in the
inelastic. same situation.

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or how well they will carry out their role is allocating his total role energies, managing
obligations permits the deduction of the his whole role system; or that he is spending
proposition that when an individual's norm "too much" time in one role obligation and
commitment or desire to perform is low with retiring from others. Consequently, family
respect to a given status-in our society, relations form the most immediate and per-
many women, Negroes, and adolescents re- sistent set of interactions which are of im-
ject one or more of the obligations imposed portance in social control. Formal with-
on them; perhaps slaves in all societies do- drawal from these relationships is difficult,
then alter must bring greater pressure to and informal withdrawal arouses both indi-
bear on him in order to ensure what alter vidual guilt feelings and pressures from
judges to be an adequate performance. If others.
the individual does under-perform,he is less Moreover,since the family is a role alloca-
likely to have strong feelings of self-failuretion center, where one's alters know about
or disesteem; he may feel no more than some one's total role obligations and fulfillments,
recognition of, and perhaps anxiety about, it also becomes a vantage point from which
possible sanctions from alter. to view one's total role system in perspective.
Individuals are especially conscious that Because it is a set of status obligations which
they are "training" others in both child and change little from day to day and from which
adult socialization, if those others are sus- escape is difficult, role alternatives can be
pected of being weakly committed to their evaluated against a fairly stable background.
role obligations. Thus, most Whites in the Consequently,other family memberscan and
South have for generations held that all do give advice as to how to allocate energies
Whites have an obligation to remind the from a "secure center." Thus it is from this
Negro by punishment and reward that he center that one learns the basic procedures
"should keep in his place," and that punish- of balancingrole strains.
ment of the Negro is especially called for Finally, family roles are "old shoe" roles
when he shows evidence that he does not in which expectations and performanceshave
accept that place. It is the heretic, not the become well meshed so that individuals can
sinner, who is the more dangerous. It is relax in them. In Western society, it is mainly
particularly when the members of a sub- the occupational statuses which are graded
ordinate status begin to deny normatively by fine levels of prestige, just as achievement
their usual obligations that third parties be-within occupations is rewarded by fine de-
come aroused and more sensitive to evidence grees of esteem. It is not that within jobs
of deviation in either performance or norm one is held to standards,while within families
commitment. On the other hand, individuals one is not.29It is rather that, first, socializa-
in a formerly subordinate status may, over tion on the basis of status ascription within
time, acquire further bargainingpower, while the family fits individual expectations to
those in a superior status may gradually habitual performancesand, second, rankings
come to feel less committed to the mainte- of family performances are made in only
nance of the former role pattern. very rough categories of esteem. The intense
sentiments within the family cushion indi-
THE FAMILY AS A ROLE BUDGET CENTER vidual strain by inducing each person to
make concessions, to give sympathy, to the
For adult or child, the family is the main others. Of course, greater strain is experi-
center of role allocation, and thus assumes enced when they do not. These status rights
a key position in solutions of role strain. and obligations become, then, "role retreats"
Most individuals must account to their or "role escapes," with demands which are
families for what they spend in time, en- felt to be less stringent, or in which some-
ergy, and money outside the family. And what more acceptable private bargains have
ascriptive status obligations of high evalua-
tion or primacy are found in the family. 29 See Melvin Tumin's discussion of
More important, however, is the fact that various incentives in
non-occupational statuses in "Rewards and
family members are often the only persons Task Orientations," American Sociological Review,
who are likely to know how an individual 20 (August, 1955), pp. 419-422.

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been made among the various members of of the social structure. While these role per-
the group. One's performanceis not graded formances accomplish whatever is done to
by the whole society, and one's family com- meet the needs of the society, nevertheless
pares one's family performance to only a the latter may not be adequately served. It
limited extent with that of other people in is quite possible that what gets done is not
other families. enough, or that it will be ineffectively done.
The existence of unranked or grossly As already noted, the role demands made by
ranked performance statuses or roles may one institutional order often conflict with
permit the individual to give a higher propor- those made by another-at a minimum, be-
tion of his energy to the ranked performance cause the "ideal" fulfillment in each is not
statuses. The institutions which contain such qualified by other institutional demands and
statuses vary. For example, in contemporary would requiremuch of any person'savailable
Western society, the layman's religious per- resources. Many such conflicting strains fre-
formances, like his familial performances, quently result in changes in the social struc-
are ranked only roughly, but at one time ture. Within smaller sub-systems, such as
evaluation of the former was more differ- churches, corporations,schools, and political
entiated. However, familial performanceap- parties, the total flow of available personal
parently is never ranked in fine gradation resourcesmay be so disintegrative or ineffec-
in any society.30Here, an implicit structural tive that the system fails to survive. In ad-
propositionmay be made explicit: the greater dition, the total role performances in some
the degree of achievement orientation in a societies have failed to maintain the social
system of roles, the finer the gradation of structureas a whole.
prestige rankings within that system or Thus, though the sum of role performances
organization.31 ordinarily maintains a society, it may also
change the society or fail to keep it going.
ROLE STRAIN AND THE LARGER SOCIAL There is no necessary harmony among all
role performances, even though these are
based ultimately on the values of the society
Social structures are made up of role re- which are at least to some extent harmonious
lationships, which in turn are made up of with one another. Role theory does not, even
role transactions. Ego's efforts to reduce his in the general form propoundedhere, explain
role strain determine the allocation of his why some activities are ranked higher than
energies to various role obligations, and thus others, why some activities which help to
determine the flow of performances to the maintain the society are ranked higher, or
institutions of the society. Consequently, the why there is some "fit" between the role
sum of role decisions determineswhat degree decisions of individuals and what a society
of integration exists among various elements needs for survival.
The total efforts of individuals to reduce
30 Partly because of the difficulty of outsiders
their role strain within structural limitations
observing crucial performances within it; partly, directly determines the profile, structure, or
also, because of the difficulty of measuring relative pattern of the social system. But whether
achievement except in universalistic terms, as against the resulting societal pattern is "harmonious"
the particularistic-ascriptive character of familial or integrated, or whether it is even effective
roles. Note, however, the creation by both Nazi
Germany and Soviet Russia of a family title for
in maintaining that society, are separate
very fertile mothers (an observable behavior). empiricalquestions.
31 Note in this connection the case of China, the
most family-oriented civilization. In comparison
with other major civilizations, the Chinese developed SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
a more complex ranking of kinship positions-and
a more explicit ranking of familial performances. The present paper attempts to develop
(See Marion J. Levy, Jr., The Family Revolution role theory by exploiting the well-known
in Modern China, Cambridge: Harvard University notion that societal structures are made up
Press, 1949, esp. Chapter 3). Various individuals of roles. The analysis takes as its point of
have figured in Chinese history as "family heroes,"
that is, those who performed their family duties departure the manifest empirical inade-
exceedingly well. quacies, noted in the first section, of a

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widely current view of social stability, when these two have made a free role bar-
namely, that the continuity of a social sys- gain which is far from the going role price.
tem is mainly a function of two major vari- The demands of the third parties may in-
ables: (a) the normative, consensual com- clude the requirementthat ego or alter pun-
mitment of the individuals of the society; ish the other for his failure to perform
and (b) the integration among the norms adequately.
held by those individuals. Accepting dissen- Under this conception of role interaction,
sus, nonconformity, and conflicts among the bargains which some individuals make
norms and roles as the usual state of affairs, will be consistently disadvantageousto them:
the paper develops the idea that the total the best role price which they can make will
role system of the individual is unique and be a poor one, even by their own standards.
over-demanding.The individual cannot sat- However, no one can ever escape the role
isfy fully all demands, and must move market. The continuity of the individual's
through a continuous sequence of role deci- total role pattern, then, may be great even
sions and bargains, by which he attempts to when he does not have a strong normative
adjust these demands. These choices and the commitment to some of his less desirable
execution of the decisions are made some- roles. Like any structure or organized pat-
what easier by the existence of mechanisms tern, the role pattern is held in place by both
which the individual may use to organize his internal and external forces-in this case, the
role system, or to obtain a better bargain in role pressures from other individuals. There-
a given role. In addition, the social structure fore, not only is role strain a normal experi-
determines how much freedom in manipula- ence for the individual, but since the indi-
tion he possesses. vidual processes of reducing role strain
The individual utilizes such mechanisms determine the total allocation of role per-
and carries out his sequences of role be- formances to the social institutions, the total
haviors through an underlying decision proc- balances and imbalances of role strains
ess, in which he seeks to reduce his role create whatever stability the social structure
strain, his felt difficulty in carrying out his possesses. On the other hand, precisely be-
obligations. The form or pattern of his proc- cause each individual is under some strain
ess may be comparedto that of the economic and would prefer to be under less, and in
decision: the allocation of scarce resources- particular would prefer to get more for his
role energies, time, emotions, goods-among role performances than he now receives,
alternative ends, which are the role obliga- various changes external to his own role sys-
tions owed by the individual. The role per- tem may alter the kind of role bargains he
formances which the individual can exact can and will make. Each individual system
from others are what he gets in exchange. is partly held in place by the systems of
It is to the individual'sinterest in attempt- other people, their demands, and their coun-
ing to reduce his role strain to demand as ter-performances-which ego needs as a
much as he can and perform as little, but basis for his own activities. Consequently, in
since this is also true for others, there are a society such as ours, where each individual
limits on how advantageous a role bargain has a very complex role system and in which
he can make. He requiressome role perform- numerous individuals have a relatively low
ance from particular people. His own social intensity of norm commitment to many of
rank or the importance of the task he is to their role obligations, changes in these ex-
perform may put him in a disadvantageous ternal demands and performances may per-
position from which to make a bargain. Be- mit considerable change in the individual's
yond the immediate role relationship of two system.
role partners stands a network of roles with The cumulative pattern of all such role
which one or both are in interaction, and bargainsdeterminesthe flow of performances
these third parties have both a direct and to all social institutions and thus to the needs
an indirect interest in their role transactions. of the society for survival. Nevertheless, the
The more institutionalized roles are statuses, factors here considered may not in fact in-
which are backed more strongly by third sure the survival of a society, or of an or-
parties. The latter sanction ego and alter ganization within it. The quantity or quality

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of individual performances may undermine tions of this relationship, how little can you
or fail to maintain the system. These larger get away with performing? Or, by probing
consequences of individual role bargains can the decision, it is possible to ascertain why
be traced out, but they figure only rarely in the individual has moved from one role
the individual role decision. transaction to another, or from one role or-
With respect to its utility in empirical re- ganization to another. Finally, this concep-
search, this conception permits a more tion is especially useful in tracing out the
adequate delineation of social structures by articulation between one institution or or-
focussing on their more observable elements, ganization and another, by following the
the role transactions.This permits such ques- sequence of an individual's role performance
tions as: Would you increase the time and and their effects on the role performancesof
energy you now give to role relationship X? other individuals with relation to different
Or, granted that these are the ideal obliga- institutional orders.


Drew University
"Altruism,"definedoperationallyby means of mutual ratings of a cohort's generaltendency
to inhibit his own desiresin the light of the desiresof others,is found to possessan identity
which cannot be equated with estimates of social acceptability,popularity, degree of ac-
quaintance,or sociability.Although extrapolationbeyond in-group relationshipsappearsun-
warranted,a considerabledegree of consensus,discrimination,and reliabilityis apparent.Its
relationship to measures of religiosity, authoritarianism,urbanization, faith, neurotic
symptomology,socio-economicstatus, economicinvolvement,toleranceof egoism, projection,
internalization,and socialization are noted. Factor analysis suggests that altruism is an
integral part of a "sacred"configuration,while the latter is a fundamentaldimension of

ATHOUGH coined by Auguste Comte volvement with the concept of such a scholar
about the time he created the term as Sorokin.3
sociologie and utilized by Durkheim Piaget, Hartshorne and May, and Murray
in his typology of suicide,' the term altru- report studies of a suggestive nature under-
isme has received almost no systematic at- taken in the twenties and thirties, but none
tention from writers in the mainstream of
contemporarysociology or social psychology.
R. L. Simpson writes: ". . . he has not kept
Gordon Allport suggests that the psycholo- his promise to write dispassionately.... his infusion
gist tends to overlook affiliative desires in of metaphysicsand crusadingzeal into sociological
over-reacting to the struggle to free his dis- works has obscuredfor some of the more naturalis-
cipline from an affect-laden theology.2 Simi- tically inclined sociologists the value of his many
larly the sociologist, burdenedwith a clerical contributions. . . ." "Pitirim Sorokin and His
Sociology," Social Forces, 32 (December, 1953),
and reformist heritage, is understandably pp. 120-131. Sorokin has published the following
distressed when he notes the passionate in- volumes which deal directly with altruism: The
Reconstructionof Humanity,Boston: Beacon,1948;
1 See the recent discussionin Bruce P. Dohren- Explorationsin Altruistic Love and Behavior, op.
wend, "Egoism, Altruism, Anomie, and Fatalism: cit.; Altruistic Love: A Study of AmericanGood
A Conceptual Analysis of Durkheim's Types," Neighbors and Christian Saints, Boston: Beacon,
AmericanSociologicalReview, 24 (August, 1959), 1950; Social Philosophiesof an Age of Crisis,Bos-
pp. 466-473. ton: Beacon, 1950; S. 0. S.: The Meaning of Our
2 Gordon Allport, "A PsychologicalApproachto Crisis, Boston: Beacon, 1951; editor, Forms and
the Study of Love and Hate," in P. A. Sorokin, Techniquesof Altruisticand SpiritualGrowth,Bos-
editor, Explorations in Altruistic Love and Be- ton: Beacon, 1954; The Ways and Power of Love,
havior, Boston: Beacon, 1952, pp. 145-146. Boston: Beacon,1954.

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