Social Role Valorisation

Another of Dr. Wolfensberger’s contributions was the concept of Social Role Valorization, often abbreviated SRV. The term first came into print in 1983. It evolved out of the principle of normalization in the following way.

As noted in the section on normalization, as the word on normalization spread and as the idea of normalization got implemented, many problems also arose. People thought that because the term was simple, so was the idea, and that it meant just making people normal or making their lives normal; or that if people were so significantly impaired that they could never be “normal,” then segregated and institutional services were still good enough for them. Another perversion of normalization was to merely dress up a large, segregated institution so that it looked more normal, but not to address anything beyond the veneer, so that the people in it still received no beneficial programming, still were cut off from participation in the larger society, and still languished. Dr. Wolfensberger felt these and other perversions of normalization as a constant goad to improve the teaching and definition of normalization. Also, the very name “normalization” proved to be a problem: it was so simple that people assumed automatically that they knew what it meant, and might not even expose themselves to teaching on it, or read the literature on it. 

At the same time, it had always been part of the teaching on normalization that one of the things that contributed to the very non-normalizing life conditions of devalued people was the social roles in which they had been cast. For instance, they were seen, and treated, as if they were sub-human animals or vegetables, as menaces, as objects of pity and charity, as eternal children. These role perceptions of them were held largely unconsciously by most of society, and even by the people who worked in services to them. Naturally, these perceptions got enacted in the conditions of service and of life that would be provided to them. For instance, if an adult was viewed as an eternal child, then a service setting for that person would look like a setting for children, the activities that were provided for the person would be children’s activities, the person would be dressed in childish clothes and spoken to as if a child–all things that both reflected the eternal child role and made the person’s life not culturally normative. And, because people tend to live up or down to what is expected of them, adults who were subjected to these kinds of settings, activities, dress, and language would end up looking and acting as if they were indeed children; in other words, they would fill the eternal child role. Thus, one of the implications of normalization was to make the role expectations more culturally normative and appropriate.

Eventually, in the early 1980s, as a result of meditating on the problems associated with the term and concept of normalization, and on the power of social roles, Dr. Wolfensberger came up with a new idea that he proposed as the successor to the principle of normalization. In order to make sure that its name would not give the impression that it was very simple, he called it Social Role Valorization, or SRV. SRV was defined as “the enablement, establishment, enhancement, maintenance, and/or defense of valued social roles for people–particularly for people at value-risk–by using, as much as possible, culturally valued means.” The importance of culturally valued means maintained the connection to normalization, and social roles were posited to be the key determinant of whether people would likely be accorded the good things or the bad things of life. In other words, people who hold valued social roles, and are seen by others to hold valued roles, are more likely to enjoy normative settings, activities, and routines, to be respected by others, to have positive relationships with others, etc.–all good things of life. But people who are seen to hold social roles that are devalued are more likely to get settings, activities, and so forth that valued people in society would not want, to be kept apart rather than welcomed into societal participation, to be subjected to non-normalizing conditions altogether. Thus, the key to procuring normative and even valued conditions of life for people is to try to procure for them valued social roles, and to help them to carry out such roles. The two main avenues for achieving and maintaining positively valued social roles are personal competency enhancement, because many valued roles require certain competencies; and positive social image, because imagery both shapes and reflects a person’s social roles, and conveys to observers what social roles a perceived party holds.

He wrote a 100+ page monograph on SRV that came out in three editions over a decade, entitled A Brief Introduction to Social Role Valorization as A High-Order Concept for Structuring Human Services, with a fourth edition published after his death.

SRV is usually taught by means of ten “themes” or motifs that run through all its implications. These themes are: (1) the prevalence of unconsciousness and the importance of consciousness about devaluation, how it is expressed, about service practices and their rationales; (2) the conservatism corollary, or the importance of compensating–even bending over backward–for devaluation and the disadvantages it brings; (3) the power of mind-sets and expectancies about what people can accomplish, and how these are conveyed; (4) the importance of social imagery and interpretation in shaping mind-sets, expectancies, and attitudes, the prevalence of imagery, and how so much of it is taken in unconsciously; (5) the importance of interpersonal identification between valued and devalued parties; (6) the power of imitation and modeling, especially as these affect people’s competencies; (7) the concept of “model coherency,” i.e., that all the elements of a service should fit together in a way that is consistent and makes sense, and reflects valid and positive assumptions about the people served; (8) the developmental model, positive assumptions about people’s capacity for growth and learning, and how these assumptions can be enacted so as to achieve competency enhancement; (9) the feedback between expectancies and performance in conveying and constructing social roles; and (10) the importance of personal social integration and valued social participation in valued society for people who are otherwise segregated from it.

Beginning in 1994, there was a journal devoted to SRV, entitled SRV/VRS: The International Social Role Valorization Journal/La Revue Internationale de la Valorisation des Rôles Sociaux, but it only came out irregularly. Starting in June 2006, it got a new publisher and a new name, The SRV Journal, and now comes out twice a year.

As with normalization, a major way in which SRV and its implications for services has been taught is via the PASSING instrument for assessing service quality, and specifically a service’s implementation of SRV. A separate entry on this site discusses PASSING, and its predecessor PASS.

More information on the SRV Journal is available here

Susan Thomas (April 2017)

Wolfensberger, Wolf P. (2013). A brief introduction to Social Role Valorization: A high-order concept for addressing the plight of societally devalued people, and for structuring human services (4th ed.). Plantagenet, Ontario, Canada: Valor Press.