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Status and Role Complexity

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True   Likely   Speculative
Human Uniqueness Compared to "Great Apes": 
Relative Difference
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Status/role complexes allow and reflect a greater social complexity among humans than is found in any other species.  A status is a linguistically designated kind of "person" (individual or collective).  A role is the behavior that is associated with that status.  Statuses and roles in crucial senses are defined and understood in relation to each other.  These relationships often, if not always, include rights and obligations.  The occupancy of particular statuses is defined by such principles as sex, age, kinship, locality, occupation, rank, and religion.  Statuses based on sex, age, and kinship are found in all human societies.  Statuses may have only a single incumbent ("mother", "President") or may be collective ("adult", "French") and they may have varying degrees of perpetuity (offices, corporate groups, and corporate categories being the putatively perpetual forms).  Even when collective and putatively perpetual, they are conceived as unitary actors-as is seen in phrases such as "the U.S. invaded Iraq" or "Ossetia wants independence").  Putatively perpetual statuses have procedures and/or conditions for recruiting new members/incumbents with the passage of time and the rights and obligations of such statuses may persist far beyond the lifetimes of their members or incumbents.

Statuses and roles, particularly their corporate or quasi-corporate forms, provide the framework for both order and disorder in human society.  Most if not all human institutions include particular combinations of statuses.  The rights and obligations associated with and defining a people's statuses is a crucial element, if not the entirety, of that people's law.  Such governance as a people may possess flows primarily from functionally specialized statuses such as "elder", "chief", "war leader", and "village council", along with some more ephemeral forms and a great many more complex forms.  The economies of all peoples are bound up in and articulated largely through all or part of their status/role complexes.
Human observers readily perceive analogs of some human statuses in other species: infant, adolescent, adult, male, female, child, parent, being among them.  The transition between these natural or de facto statuses and the more numerous, culturally variable, presumptively perpetual, and morally- or legally weighted statuses of human societies is an unknown territory.  But however and whenever the transition took place its consequences for the subsequent development of human societies have been very substantial.  While experimental evidence suggests specialized mental faculty for processing "human kinds", other specialized mental functions for status-role thinking are little known.

Related MOCA Topics
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Title Certainty


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