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Legislative roles and legislative studies: the neo-institutionalist turning point?


Although not a unified theory, the concept of ‘roles’ is central in sociology. It aims to make sense of the uniformity and regularity of individual behavior that results from a position in society and/or from the incorporation of collective norms. Ann Weber (1995: 1134) defines a role as ‘a set of norms (obligations or expectations) attached to an individual’s social position, occupation, or relationship status’. The definition makes clear that role is a notion that links individuals to their social environment. Roles are played by individuals and can be understood as strategies (Turner 1992). Furthermore, they depend on social status and are identified by others. The notion has been used in different theoretical perspectives, following the initial, and to a certain extent contradictory, developments of the philosopher George H. Mead (1934) and the anthropologist Ralph Linton (1936) in the 1930s. The sociological theories that have used the concept of role are numerous: functionalist, symbolic interactionist, structuralist, organizational, and cognitive (Franks 2007). Yet, since roles may explain the persistence of the social order – and more importantly for us – of political institutions, it can be argued that the concept of roles has a strong functionalist dimension. However, the functionalist conception of roles appears to be outdated today, particularly regarding the role-taking process. Selecting a role is now seen as a less restrictive process: individuals negotiate role ‘prescriptions’ rather than passively internalizing obligations (Giddens 1979: 117). Consequently, roles may evolve over time. In political science, the field of legislative studies is probably where the concept of role has been most successful. ‘Parliamentary roles’, ‘legislatives roles’, and ‘representative roles’ are all expressions referring to roles played by Members of Parliament (MPs). Following Ann Weber’s definition, it can be said that legislative roles refer to the norms (obligations or expectations) attached to being an MP. Given the great heterogeneity of the theories using the concept, it is far from easy to give a more precise definition. By way of an attempt, however, we could say that legislative roles: 1 are comprehensive patterns of attitudes and/or behavior shared by MPs, 2 enable MPs to be distinguished or identified as a group, and enable us to distinguish between them, and, 3 have to do with MPs’ own conception of their job overall, and their vision of their voters in particular.
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hal-02396147 , version 1 (05-12-2019)



Magnus Blomgren, Olivier Rozenberg. Legislative roles and legislative studies: the neo-institutionalist turning point?. Magnus Blomgren; Olivier Rozenberg. Parliamentary Roles in Modern Legislatures, Routledge, pp.8 - 36, 2012, 9781138110861. ⟨hal-02396147⟩
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