Structural Factors In The Minimization Of Role Conflict: A Re-Examination Of The Significance Of Multiple Group Membership In Disaster

Dynes, Russell R.
Quarantelli, E. L.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Disaster Research Center
It is a standard sociological view that human beings play multiple roles. Implicit in the idea of multi-role enactment is the possibility that a person may simultaneously be called upon to manifest two conflicting or competing roles. Thus, the concept of role conflict is established. Role conflict was one of the first sociological concepts to be used in the area of disaster study. In fact, one article by Killian using this concept was among the earliest to appear in the professional literature on disasters and has been widely quoted and cited, both in the disaster area and in sociology generally. However, studies we have conducted lend very little support to the presence of role conflict in disaster. We document this with a systematic analysis of organizational role behavior in six major disasters. The analysis shows a lack of evidence for the behavioral consequences of role conflict in disaster operations. Our explanation for this finding follows these lines. Most formulations of role conflict are based on examining the social pschological processes of the actor. Such a view implicity assumes that role obligations are somewhat constant. They are not in disasters. In such mass emergencies, there are certain types of structural shifts which not only mitigate the potential behavioral consequences of role conflict, but also provide the conditions for the reinforcement of relevant emergency roles by the family. Three factors seem especially important. (1) There are radical shifts in the institutional structure within the disaster-impacted community which minimize potential role conlficts strain. Certain irrelevant occupational roles are deactivated; the sanction system shifts. Many elements within particular role sets are eliminated. Certain roles dimensions are no longer as relevant, e.g. ascriptive dimensions, status dimensions, etc. The division of labor is reshuffled. There is a "despecialization" of the role structure and a movement back to more diffuse role obligations. The net effect seems to be to release the person from potentially conflicting obligations by simplifying the role structure. (2) Not all positions are relevant for emergencies, but there are key emergency organizations. Roles within key emergency organizations contain dimensions which create explicit expectations for behavior in emergency situations. Emergency relevant roles have built-in mechancisms for resolving conflict or have structural dimensions which reduce it. (3) Many family norms encourage or supplement occupational performance in mass emergencies. Some family roles are dependent upon successful occupational performance. Also, expressive dimensions tend to reinforce emergency obligations. The family is the "role budget" center in which various types of role allocations are made. Other members of the family pick up internal obligations to immediate family, kin, neighbors, etc., which allows certain family members to particate in emergency roles.
structural factors , disaster , role conflict