Category:Role Perception

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Definition

In social sciences, it is assumed that individuals play out different roles in different societal contexts that consist of a "comprehensive pattern of behavior and attitudes, constituting a strategy for coping with a recurrent set of situations [...]"(Turner 1990, p. 87). The role perception defines the place of an individual in a social context like a group, an organization, or in society in general.

Theories and Results

Generally, roles in social contexts are individual interpretations and internalizations of institutional logics emerging from the perception of institutional contexts on the one hand and individual preferences on the other (Searing 1991; Ström 1997). That means that the same formal role of a group of individuals can be perceived and played out quite differently by each individual.

In the context of online participation, different stakeholders like participants, representatives, civil servants and initiators take different roles that require certain behaviour and are supposed to influence their attitudes and their evaluation of online participation. They are also influenced by different perceptions of how to fullfill their own role and how others should act in theirs.

Role Perceptions of Representatives

The role approach is a widely used concept in political representation theory as it provides a helpful framework to analyze different perceptions of how representatives (should) do their job of representation. Representative roles can be described as "comprehensive patterns of attitudes and/or behavior shared by [Members of Parliament] […] [that] have do to with MPs' own conception of their job overall, and their vision of their voters in particular" (Blomgren und Rozenberg 2012, p. 8–9).

The classical role approach asks whether a representative should rather be a 'delegate' that sticks as close as possible to the concrete wishes and orders of the voters or if he or she should rather be a 'trustee' that acts as independent as possible from them and should focus on the longterm good of the whole constituency. This approach goes back to the famous speech of Edmund Burke "Speech to the Electors of Bristol" from 1774 and was applied first by Wahlke and Eulau 1962 to research the attitudes and behaviour of representatives in modern political systems. Despite critique regarding the simplification of assumingly far more complexe roles to binary types and despite contradictory empirical results (see e.g. Patzelt 1993; Rehfeld 2009), the trustee-delegate typology is still widely cited and applied in empirical research.

However, there have been several theoretical and empirical advancements that have developed more dimensions, manifestations and types of representative roles (e.g. Andeweg/Thomassen 2005; Blomgren/Rozenberg 2012; Searing 1991, Ström 1997. Following them, the role perception of representatives can theoretically conceptualized and empirically measured along the following exemplary dimensions:

  • focus of representation: whom to represent? which group of people does a representative represent? e.g. his voters, his party, the whole constituency, a certain societal group, his own interests
  • style of representation: how to represent? whose position does a representative follow in case of a conflict? e.g. according to his own conviction, according to his voters opinion, according to the position of his party?
  • direction of representation: does a representative represent "from above" or "from below"? e.g. should it be more important to a representative to convince his voters of a certain position and explain it to them, or should it be more important that he directly transmits the voters' will into the decision making process?
  • responsivess: should a representative act according to current opinions and moods of his voters or should he stick to a broader mandate?
  • emphasis of tasks: which tasks and duties are the most important for a representative?

All these dimensions can be meausured as the actual behaviour of representatives or as an attitude, as their individual perception of their representative role. As a dependent variable, the role perception is expected to be influenced and shaped by certain individual characteristics like the general political orientation of a representative, his experience and his positions, and also by context factors like the political system and the political culture. As an independent factor, it is assumed that representatives' role perceptions are highly related to other attitudes like their notion of democracy and their acceptance of different forms and meanings of participation and online participation.