An initial definition of a role is that it represents the way that someone is expected to behave in a particular social situation. Roles, therefore, are the parts we play in our relationships with others and this idea is similar to that of an actor playing a part in a play.
Each individual plays many roles in society and each role (or part that we play) has a number of associated characteristics:
Having noted that our life consists of playing out a wide variety of roles, we can note two further aspects to role play:
a. There are some roles that we choose to play. These are called achieved roles.
b. There are some roles we are forced to play. These are called ascribed roles.
Similarly, status can also be achieved or ascribed. A teacher has a higher status than a student because they have achieved the level of qualification and training necessary to qualify for this role. On the other hand, your status as male or female is an ascribed one - it is something that derives from your biological status and the meaning given to this status by the society in which you live.
Roles have two further dimensions that are worth noting here:
Firstly, what is called the prescribed aspect of a role.
Secondly, what we term role performance.
This distinction is useful because it tells us something about role play. The prescribed element in any role provides a basic structure (or norm-based framework) governing the way people are generally supposed to interact.
Thus, the teacher-student relationship will always be based on a set of norms particular to the culture in which the roles exist. However, the actual relationship between teacher and student (role performance) can be modified by a range of other relevant factors.
For example, the age of the individual playing the student role may alter the way the role is performed (very young children have a different relationship to their teacher than do older students).