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Multiple Roles and Role Strain: Some Notes on Human Energy, Time and Commitment

Stephen R. Marks
American Sociological Review
Vol. 42, No. 6 (Dec., 1977), pp. 921-936
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094577
Page Count: 16
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Multiple Roles and Role Strain: Some Notes on Human Energy, Time and Commitment
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Abstract

Sociologists generally invoke a natural "scarcity" approach to human energy, stressing the overdemanding nature of multiple roles. In contrast, a seldom used "expansion" approach provides an energy-creation theory of multiple roles rather than a "spending" or "drain" theory. Empirical literature only partially supports the scarcity approach view that multiple roles inevitably create "strain." Moreover, human physiology implies that human activity produces as well as consumes energy. We need a comprehensive theory that explains both the scarcity and the abundance phenomenology of energy. Such a theory requires careful analytical distinctions between time, energy, and commitments. It is argued that particular types of commitment systems are responsible for whether or not strain will occur. A theory of scarcity excuses explains how strain or overload is generally rooted in one such system. Scarcity excuses get implicit support from scarcity theories, and a sociology of these theories suggests their ideological basis.

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