Social role valorization

Social role valorization

In psychology and social work practice, Social Role Valorization (SRV) is the name given to an analysis of human relationships and human services, formulated in 1983 by Wolf Wolfensberger, PhD, as the successor to his earlier formulation of the principle of Normalisation (Lemay, 1995; Wolfensberger, 1972). The theory is based on the idea that society tends to identify groups of people as fundamentally 'different', and of less value than everyone else. It catalogues the methods of this 'devaluation' and analyses its effects. It may be used by those seeking to counteract these methods and effects.


Although Normalization and the initial versions of SRV were described as an 'Ideology', the most recent formulation explicitly denies that SRV is about what should be done, and reinforces that SRV is intended to be a tool for analysis of the process and effects of Societal Devaluation. Wolfensberger's most recent (1999) definition of SRV is: "the application of what science can tell us about the enablement, establishment, enhancement, maintenance, and/or defence of valued social roles for people" (Susan Thomas and Wolf Wolfensberger in Flynn and Lemay 1999, p. 125).

Social Role Valorization (SRV) is a relationship theory of empirical knowledge for the design and rendering of formal and informal services and relationships to people with any need or condition, especially those who are devalued or are at risk. Social Role Valorization is intended to address the social and psychological wounds that are inflicted on vulnerable people because they are devalued, that so often come to define their lives and that in some instances wreak life-long havoc on those who are close to them.

SRV does not in itself propose a 'goal'. However a person who has a goal of improving the lives of devalued people may choose to use insights gained from SRV to cause change. They may do so by attempting to create or support socially valued roles for people in their society, because if a person holds valued social roles, a person is highly likely to receive from society those good things in life that are available or at least the opportunities for obtaining them. In other words, all sorts of good things that other people are able to convey are almost automatically apt to be accorded to a person who holds societally valued roles, at least within the resources and norms of his/her society.

Social Role Valorization identifies Social Devaluation as a critical human experience that has long-term effects on the individual. SRV is designed to raise consciousness about the fate of Socially Devalued persons. SRV holds that the human being is vulnerable to the regard of others for both the heights of edification and the depths of degradation.

An understanding of Social Role Valorization can leads to ideas about how to improve the lives of people who are devalued by society. These can be seen to have two themes - firstly removing devaluing features (for instance people being segregated from society in a building along with others perceived to belong to the same group), and secondly taking action that leads to people being valued. On one the approaches of SRV involves Socially Valued persons to ally themselves with Socially Devalued persons. This alliance will unify people, broaden acceptance of differences, and encourage the coexistence of people.

SRV is a realistic if not pessimistic sense of human behaviour, holding that human beings are imperfect and capable of great evils even if they are occasionally saintly, heroic or kind.

Social Role Valorization is designed to address the social and psychological wounds that get inflicted on vulnerable people because they are devalued, that so often come to define their lives, and that in some instances wreak life-long havoc on them those who are close and committed to them.

Details of the Basic Structure of Social Role Valorization Theory

SRV is a description of how Societally Differentiated people are devalued, assigned low-value roles, and treated poorly, often to the extent of risk to their own lives. This poor treatment is given to members of any group that is given low value by powerful forces in society.

SRV considers only those things that can be known from a scientific perspective. In itself it does not subscribe to a particular ideology- it does not say what should be done and it does not say what is morally correct.

However SRV does understand that human interaction is impossible without a moral code and so SRV can be used to suggest what is desirable given the spoken or unspoken moral code of a particular society or individual. Consequently it is necessary to understand what sort of moral code and societal expectations might be around the implementation of any application of SRV. A consideration of the concepts of Humanity and Morality place SRV in an appropriate context.

Any particular human society will have a set of written and unwritten rules about who is a member of that society and about how members of that society should act, and what treatment is due to non-members of that society. These rules are often set down in codes of law and in religious texts. Every society has such a Moral Code.

Support for SRV can be found throughout the Human Sciences. Biology, Evolutionary Biology, Sociology, Economics, Psychology, Anthropology all lend strands to SRV. Even History and Geography have ideas to contribute. Although SRV is not in itself a Science, it is based on empirically produced disciplines.

What does this Science Tell Us?

Psychology and Philosophy tell us that there is considerable doubt about the common sense idea that we have total free will; what we do is often societally or physically caused by unconscious mechanisms.Science tells us that people do not often act as completely free-thinking individuals, but in fact occupy particular social strata and roles that organize and simplify their social communication. Particular people may be forced into a negative role which they do not desire.Science tells us that individuals and groups will place positive and negative values onto other individuals and groups. This assignation of Value may lead to a Process of Devaluation.Complex societal forces mediate the exercise of power and social control in a society. These forces are often not well understood by individuals in that society.Individuals in a society are very aware of Similarities and Differences between members of that society. This is Societal Differentiation.

Such difference groups may include people with the following differences from the valued norm:· People with Mental Difficulties (including those states labelled as Mental Illness and Learning Disability)· People with Physical Capability Differences (including those labelled as having difficulties with mobility, body control and bodily integrity.)· People with Physical Appearance Differences (including those labelled as facially disfigured, unusual appearance, overweight or underweight.)· People Perceived to be of a Different Ethnic or Racial Group .· People of Different Gender or Sexuality.· People who are labelled criminals (whether legally or morally so or not.)· People who do not accept Societal Norms for whatever reason.· People who use Drugs (including those who use Alcohol and Nicotine as well as those who use chemicals more usually called drugs in the society.)· People who Exhibit Lack of Control according to the expectations of that Society.

Psychology shows us that Perception and Interpretation are complex subjects, highly reliant on beliefs and prejudices. Human Perception and Interpretation is complicated and often not in accord with what ‘common sense tells us that it is.

Learning and particularly Imitation are the natural modes of Behaviour Formation and are important in developing useful as well as damaging performances.

Image and Image Transfer are important subjects when considering how people interpret each other and their own surroundings.

Performance, Reputation and Grouping determine how people are seen and interpreted.

Summary of SRV

So, we may summarise: people who differ in any way from societal expectations or desirability, where this difference is negatively valued, will be badly treated by that society.

Powerful Groups in Society Will:

Define People as DifferentTreat People with the same or similar differences as a group.If the difference is seen as negative, it will treat such groups badly.

It will assign Negative Deviancy Roles to such groups and people.(These deviancy roles include: Not Human (Animal-like, Plant-like, Less than Human, Not yet Human, Used to be Human, Alien), Waste, Trivium, (Clown-like, humorously insignificant), Threat, Burden of Charity, Death Related Roles.)SRV suggests that role messages are largely conveyed by image, whether of the individual or of their surroundings (including accompanying people.)

So a person’s potential roles may be limited or assigned by: the company they keep, the surroundings in which they live, or the activities they engage in.SRV suggests that Role Occupancy is dependent on apparent competency in that role. So the availability of roles may be limited or assigned by the person’s ability (or, more importantly, the lack of ability) to perform the necessary role requirements for the effective performance of that role.

What Effect does this have on the Lowly?People cast into such negative roles will be denied the good things in life:

The Good Things in Life· Family or small intimate group· An intermediate but still small-scale group· A transcendental belief system· A transcendental belief system · Absence of imminent threats of extreme privation · To be viewed as a human and treated with respect · To be treated justly · Friends· Work, especially meaningful work · Opportunities and expectations to discover and develop skills, abilities, gifts and talents · To be dealt with honestly · To be treated as an individual · Access to the ‘sites of everyday life’ · Being able to contribute, and having ones contributions recognised as valuable

Further, such groups will be damaged in the following ways:

‘Wounds’ or Bad Things which happen to devalued persons

1 "Relegation" to low (‘deviant’) status

2 "Rejection", perhaps by family, neighbours, community, society, service workers

3 Cast into one or more historical deviancy roles

4 Symbolical stigmatising, ‘marking’, ‘deviancy-imaging’, ‘branding’.

5 Being multiply jeopardised, scapegoated.

6 Distantiation: usually via segregation and also congregation.

7 "Loss of Control", perhaps even autonomy and freedom.

8 Discontinuity with the physical environment and objects.

9 Social and relationship discontinuity, even abandonment.

10 Absence or loss of natural/freely-given relationships, and substitution of artificial/’boughten’ ones.

11 Deindividualization.

12 "Involuntary Material Poverty", material/financial exploitation.

13 Impoverishment of experience, especially that of the typical, valued world.

14 Exclusion from knowledge of, and participation in, higher order value systems (e.g. religion) that give meaning and direction to life, and provide community.

15 Having one’s life ‘wasted’

16 Being the object of Brutalisation, ‘killing thoughts’, and death making.

(Hinge wounds in Italic)

Hinge Wounds are those wounds from which the next selection of wounds follow. For instance, it is ‘Relegation and Rejection’ that lead to wounds 3-7. ‘Loss of Control’ leads to wounds 8-12. Involuntary Material Poverty leads to wounds 13-16.Other Reactions to Bad Treatment

Additional Mental/Behavioural Response Patterns That Are Evidence of Disturbed Interactions with the world, and that are engendered by certain wounds and wound clusters.

1 Feeling like being an alien in the world.

2 A sense of worthlessness, dislike of self, despair.

3. Insecurity.

4 Failure sets and avoidance mentalities.

5 Awareness of being a source of anguish to those who love one.

6 Searching for the abandoner.

7 Fantasy and inventions about relationships that do not exist, and may never have existed.

8 Seeking/demanding physical contact, perhaps insatiably.

9 Problematic testing of genuineness of personal and social relationships, particularly new ones.

10 Turning the hurt into resentment, hatred towards privileged people, benefactors, society, God.

11 Withdrawing from human contact, perhaps even from reality.

12 Rage, perhaps violence.

13 A sapping of energy- both physical and mental- resulting in a lowering of intelligent behaviour, and possibly even of intelligence.

Responses Available to Overcome the Above

Avoiding Negative Roles and Outcomes· SRV suggests that in trying to avoid the above, it is most useful to seek positive valued roles for the devalued people and groups.· SRV suggests that such role re-valorisation may be considerably more effective than other means of assisting people in devalued states.· Consequently SRV suggests that enhancing competency and image (of the person and their surroundings) will result in positive roles being made a possibility for devalued people.· If such positive roles are supported and defended, and further positive roles are sought and achieved, then the devalued person will be more likely to achieve more of: · The Good Things in Life· And Avoid:The Wounds and other Negative Effects Secondary to Devaluation.

Actions at Different LevelsIn order to ensure that positive roles are available to persons who have been devalued by society, it is necessary to consider actions at multiple levels:The Level of the Person themselves (personal appearance and competency)The Level of the Usual Immediate Environment of the person (where they live, work, learn and play)The Level of all the Life Arenas in which a person may engage (everywhere else they engage with society)and finally:The Level of Society Itself (how one may effect political, legal and moral change regarding the devaluation of individuals)SRV suggests that by these means, people who have been devalued by society may be rescued (or may rescue themselves) from the effects of devaluation, and may manage to live their lives occupying Valued Roles and become seen as valued by society.


1) SRV has had a life span of barely a generation even if taking into account its predecessor normalization. This should give anyone pause in granting to it a substance it has not yet had time to establish.

2) SRV does not consistently raise consciousness and guarantee concern about socially devalued persons. Ideologies cannot ultimately control the character of their adherents even though they are influential. Further, their theoretical value can be nullified if used wrongly.

3) Not all alliances between socially valued and devalued persons are moral, fruitful and advantageous.

4) Knowing how social devaluation works in society may still leave one impotent against it.

5) SRV’s societal impact, thus far, is largely confined to several narrow human service fields.

6) SRV is open to criticism because of the later politico-moral stance of its founder, Wolf Wolfensberger, in which he advances a non-mainstream response to the plight of the wounded in society. This response may be seen as anti-death (opposing all abortion and all forms of euthanasia), morally conservative, anti-bourgeoise feminist (stressing the 'importance' of motherhood rather than parenthood, and persistently relegating women to subsidiary power roles), homophobic, anti psychiatry and religiose. Although he attempts to isolate SRV from his underlying beliefs, SRV may be negatively affected by this association for those whom disagree with these moral and religious positions. Reference to the series of Pamphlets entitled 'TIPS' and edited by Wolf Wolfensberger provides graphic evidence of the politico-moral stance of the lead proponents of SRV.

Supporters point out that devalued people have enough problems without being pushed into a vanguard (cannon fodder) role by advocates.

SRV advocates a very mainstream, white, middle to upper middle class, Christian bias in terms of the roles people with intellectual disabilities are encouraged to fulfil. It is the anti thesis of an anti oppression approach and is blind to the struggles and victories of other marginalized groups. Instead of building on the rights advanced to others marginalized through the civil rights and other movements, it's advocates further alienate people with intellectual disabilities by discouraging alliances with other marginalized groups.


Some criticism of Social Role Valorization is said by its advocates to be because of misconceptions about it. Such misconceptions include:
* that the theory sees that some people have more value, and others less (the theory speaks about how people are valued by society, in the assumption that all actually have equal value),
* that Social Role Valorization encourages action which supports the valuing of certain sections of society or behaviours (the theory actually encourages action that helps society to value groups previously 'devalued'),
* that Social Role Valorization works against self-advocacy efforts by a group of devalued people (the theory describes how labelling and segregating people supports social devaluation, but says nothing to deny that good can come from groups identifying themselves as having common cause or as having experiences or cultures in common).

The theory of Social Role Valorization is best understood as referring primarily to extreme devaluation (such that few people care much about what happens to an individual or group, or even actively look for their eradication) not more subtle (but still damaging) devaluation such as occurs between different social classes or between genders.


Kendrick, M. (1994). Some reasons why Social Role Valorization is important. SRV-VRS: The International Social Role Valorization Journal, 1 (1) 14-18.(

Lemay, R. (1995). Normalization and Social Role Valorization. In A. E. Dell Orto & R. P. Marinelli (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Disability and Rehabilitation (pp. 515-521). New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan.

Osburn, J. (2006). An overview of Social Role Valorization theory. The SRV Journal, 1(1), 4-13.

Osburn, J. (1998). An Overview of Social Role Valorization Theory. The International Social Role Valorization Journal/La revue internationale de la Valorisation des roles sociaux, 3(1), 7-12.(

Race, DG. (1999) Social Role Valorization and The English Experience. London: Whiting and Birch Ltd.

The Social Role Valorization home page

The SRV Implementation Project home page

The SRV Journal (biannual publication on all things SRV)

Thomas, S. and Wolfensberger, W. (1999) An Overview of Social Role Valorization. In Flynn, RJ. and Lemay, RA. A Quarter Century of Normalization and Social Role Valorization: Evolution and Impact. University of Ottawa Press.

Wolfensberger, W. (1983). Social role valorization: A proposed new term for the principle of normalization. Mental Retardation, 21(6), 234-239.

Wolfensberger, W. (1998). A Brief Introduction to Social Role Valorization. A higher-order concept for addressing the plight of societally devalued people, and for structuring human services. Syracuse, NY: Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership & Change Agentry (Syracuse University).

Wolfensberger, W. (1981-date)(Vols 1-25) TIPS (Training Institute Publication Series), Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership & Change Agentry, 800 South Wilbur Avenue, Suite 3B1, Syracuse, New York 13204.

ee also

Normalisation (people with disabilities)

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