Role, a Subunit of Status
Part of the effectiveness of statuses comes from the fact that only a portion of their constituent understandings need to be shared for them to function. Occupants of any one, and those dealing with them as such, need share only those directly concerned with their relationship rather than the status's total inventory of understandings. A student in a chuo (religious school for children) need only share, and that only roughly, the expectations the occupant of the teacher status (mwalimu ) has of him and he has of the teacher. The other roles in the teacher status, including that involving the teacher and the student's parents, need not be shared in any detail as far as his own relations with the teacher are concerned. The parent-teacher role may well affect the student, of course, but the student need not, and probably usually does not, have the understandings required for actually participating in that role.
This is not to say one role relationship may not vitally affect another, as the parent/child relationship sometimes affects the teacher-student relationship. Rather it is to say that a status can play a part in guiding the behavior
of those in a relationship involving one of its occupants without either the occupant or those in relations with him sharing all the elements in the status.
The part of a status that contains expectations concerning members' relations with members of the same or another status is called a "role" here. This concept is useful in directing attention to the fact that limited sharing between two individuals in a relationship need not lessen the effectiveness of culture's guidance in that relationship. The fact that a status's roles can connect the status to a variety of others in quite different relationships is, of course, vital in understanding the processes whereby social structure operates. Several of these latter processes are examined in chapters 9 and 10, but for the present, the point is that these depend on quite limited sharing, even of the components of shared statuses, for their operation.
In order for statuses and their subdivisions, roles, to operate, it is essential that people be fairly confident about which statuses they occupy, which are occupied by those with whom they are in interaction, and what expectations are associated with that occupancy. As will now be seen, this is not entirely a matter of shared understandings leading to inevitable social consequences. Rather, a dialectic between social relations and the cultural elements concerning them proves central to the effectiveness of culture in this, as in many other, processes central to community and individual functioning.