Understanding Social Role Valorization

A Brief Role Introduction To Social Role Valorization by Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger, is a high order concept for addressing the plight of societally devalued people, and for structuring human services (Wolfensberger, 2013). Throughout this book. Dr. Wolfensberger focuses on his ideas and concepts, that are not only based on his personal opinions, but also on observations, prior studies, past incidents, and other phenomenons. The SRV theory opens up to students a different way of understanding the world in general, and the experiences of human suffering and marginalization in particular (Wolfensberger, 2013). To help one better understand Social Role Valorization and its ten themes, one must understand and the “three keywords that provide a comprehensive introductory overview of Social Role Valorization Theory” (Wolfensberger, 2013).

Social Devaluation

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Devaluation is explained by Wolfensberger as when an individual or group is looked upon as a lesser status or perceived with less valuable traits than others. These groups can include, but are not limited to, the poor, the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned, and, most notable for this course, individuals with disabilities (Wolfensberger, 2013). A person who is devalued may be seen as less important by society. A person who is seen to be of a low value to society is then in place to receive low quality housing, poor schooling, low paying and prestige employment, and poor quality health care. Some devalued people may not receive any education or employment at all. Because of their social status, other people do not want to be to associated with the devalued person. The person who is the object of devaluation will thus be rejected, seperated, and excluded (Wolfensberger, 2013). An individual or group who has been socially devalued, often results in an emotional response. Some people reported feeling guilt or shame, while some become angry with the people or circumstances they believe are responsible for such social devaluation. Although devaluation is universal, the people who are the objects of devaluation, usually have all types of hurtful actions done to them. Sometimes, these things are done with conscious and explicit intent; sometimes, these things are done unconsciously; and sometimes these things are simply the result of life conditions and circumstances which are the way they are for the devalued party because of that party’s devalued status and life conditions. “Wounds” is a term that is used to refer to the negative and hurtful things done to devalued people. In hopes to creating and opening new mindsets, Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger dedicated his career to ideologies, structures, and planning patterns of human service systems.

The entirety of Wolfensberger’s work and most of his life was dedicated to creating a new mindset and ways in which those living in institutions could be viewed in a more positive light and be treated as they should, as human beings with inherent dignity. Fortunately, Wolfensberger did not leave his remarkable work undocumented, as he created a model for others to follow, which he called, “model coherency”.

Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger

Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger created a theory called, “Social Role Valorization.” This theory was developed by expanding concepts from a previous work by Wolfensberger, on The Principle of Normalization in Human Services (Wolfensberger, 2013). Social Role Valorization is defined as, “the application of what science can tell us about the enablement, establishment, enhancement, maintenance, and/or defense of valued social roles for people (Osburn, 1998). Reflecting back on his work involving normalization, Wolfensberger continued to develop and perfect his new ideas on Social Role Valorization, and ended up expanding his book, to further discuss the theories of SRV. At the heart of SRV Theory, is the simple idea that holding valued social roles is beneficial in several ways, the primary one being that the person is more likely to be treated well by others, and therefore have better opportunities to attain “the good things in life” (Wolfensberger, 2013). From Dr. Wolfensberger expanded edition, he brought together three keywords that help introduce an overview of Social Role Valorization theory, which are model coherency, relevancy, and potency.

III. Model Coherency

Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger developed the concept of model coherency in the late 1960’s. Model coherency is best understood as a guiding framework in how human service workers can successful support the needs of those they serve (Wolfensberger, 2013). The concepts of relevancy and potency, which will later be discussed, are combined to create a complex construct of service quality, also known as model coherency. Wolfensberger founded this method to ensure that the right party is using the correct materials, methods, and language, in the right settings, in order to fulfill the correct needs for the correct party, who are grouped in the appropriate way. SRV informs us of the importance of enhancing the personal competencies of people (especially if they are devalued or at risk), and one most powerful way to increase the likelihood that people’s competencies will be enhanced is the adoption of the “developmental model.” Throughout his themes, Wolfensberger discusses how human service models are composed of assemblages of assumptions, contents, and processes. He goes onto explain some characteristics of model coherency such as image and competency enhancement. Wolfensberger explains that the construct of model coherency evolved from an idea that he learned from Lloyd Dunn, chair of the Department of Special Education at George Peabody College for Teachers, where Wolfensberger once studied (Wolfensberger, 1999). In the 3rd edition of PASS (Program Analysis of Service Systems), service specialization was renamed as model coherency. The rating of model coherency is concerned with whether a number of variables within a program combine harmoniously so as to meet the specific needs of each client at that particular time of his life (Field Manual, 2007). It is through a balanced blend of potency and relevance that Wolfensberger’s model coherency can be understood as the best method in supporting devalued individuals and helping them find ways to fulfill more socially valued roles (Wolfensberger, 2013). To have a clearer understanding of model coherency, one must familiarize the terms that go along with it.


Wolfensberger describes the ideas of relevance and potency and the significant role they play together in model coherency, an essential element of SRV (Wolfensberger, 2013). Relevance means that the content addresses a major or significant need of the people to whom the content is conveyed (Wolfensberger, 2013). In other words, relevance requires that a person’s most urgent needs are handled before other problems that are not as pressing are addressed. One implication of the relevance requirement is that whenever more than one person is being served, the measures must be relevant to all the parties served (Wolfensberger, 2013). This can help suggest the size and composition that a group should facilitate and addressed the needs of each group member. Relating back to model coherency, image and competency affect the social roles of group members. One way grouping can play a role in relevancy is using the strategy of imitation and modeling, similar to model coherency. When referring to relevance, it is clearly more important for an individual to address fundamental needs before addressing other problems.

b. Potency

The other term that helps shape model coherency and relates to relevancy is “potency.” Potency means that whatever processes are employed should be the most effective and efficient means for addressing a party’s needs, so that one can make the best use of the time of recipients, rather than either addressing the needs in a fashion which is not particularly pointed or effective, or outright wasting their time (Wolfensberger, 2013). Since devalued people are already seen as less worthy, it is crucial that the support that is given to these people is the best it can be. Only the most effective and efficient methods of service should be used and only the most pressing and primary needs of these individuals should be addressed in a way that also meets the needs of the whole group (Wolfensberger, 2013). It is one thing to make the content relevant, but to make the content potent is to effectively engage individuals in a way that will instill in them a sense of importance and self-worth. These key concepts are essential in building and understanding the foundation for the historical background and evidence used to create Wolfensberger’s themes of Social Role Valorization theory. Wolfensberger noted the scientific evidence that plays a role in SRV cluster into what he calls “themes.” These themes play a crucial role in helping people to understand the outcome different roles have, deviancy making, wounding, and how to go about them. To ensure that one has a solid understanding of SRV, each theme is supported with historical evidence, some of which took place decades before Wolfensberger created SRV, as one will see throughout the course of this paper.

IV. Ten SRV Themes with Review of the Literature 1800-2017

THEME ONE: The first theme of Social Role Valorization is the role of (un)consciousness. Unconsciousness is present in every aspect of human existence, and affects just about everything that human beings do, since humans function with a high degree of unconsciousness. Wolfensberger explains how one’s ultimate decisions and opinions are based on what one was taught or what one has always expected to be correct. Everything that one perceives by any of their senses, is done on either conscious or unconscious level, and is judged either positively or negatively. One problem caused by the unconscious mind is devaluation. When people are perceived by others, people become too evaluated positively or negatively by their perceivers (Wolfensberger, 2013). It is then, when an individual is evaluated negatively by the perceiver, when devaluation occurs.

To help one better understand the unconscious mind, picture an elderly man driving through New York City at night. He is in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar people. As he drove through the crowded streets, he automatically locks his car doors as people walk past his vehicle. From this scene, it is obvious that the elderly made several assumptions. For one, he assumed that since he was in the city, he was in danger. He may have been taught that because cities are more populated, they have a higher crime rate. Or maybe in his upbringing, he was taught that cities are not safe. In reality, just because the elderly man was in the city at night time, does not mean that he, nor his life, were in danger. Some people do this unintentionally, or without trying to insist something. Thus, there is no such thing as value free or neutral perception, though the value judgments that accompany perception are largely unconscious, and even the more conscious ones are commonly denied (Wolfensberger, 2013). The role of unconsciousness is universal and is present in every aspect of human existence, even reflecting back in society’s history. HISTORICAL EVIDENCE


The process of image association, regardless whether conscious or unconscious, is one of the most effective learning and behavioral control mechanisms known (Wolfensberger, 2013). The second theme of SRV is the dynamics and relevance of social imagery. Social imagery can be defined as the messages portrayed by any given symbol or image as it relates to the lives of people who are marginalized by society (Wolfensberger, 2013). The symbols and imagery that have historically been associated with devalued people are often made unconsciously, but nevertheless strongly influence people’s role expectancies and the social valuation of the persons so imaged (Wolfensberger, 2013). Examples of both positive and negative imagery will help one to better understand this theme. An example of negative imagery and positive imagery is helpful in better understanding what this theme is implying. An example of negative imagery would be if a student who is on the autism spectrum, was placed in the corner of the room, with their chair facing the wall. This image could convey that this student did not belong with the rest of his peers, or is not “worthy” enough to sit with the rest of his classmates. There are many different assumptions and messages this negative imagery could convey. On the other hand, an example of positive imagery could be a student in a wheelchair, being pushed around by another student outside at recess. This positive imagery suggest that the student in a wheelchair isn’t being left out, but rather is being included in the fun. Although Wolfensberger focuses much of his work on imagery and the roles it plays in society, the power of imagery has dated back long before Wolfensberger’s time. HISTORICAL EVIDENCE


Mind sets and expectancies largely control the perceptions of, and behavior towards people (Wolfensberger, 2013). The power of mindsets and expectations is vital in the everyday lives of marginalized people, which is why this is the third theme of SRV. The goal of this theme is to reshape the mind sets and expectations that people have about devalued people and groups. In hopes of doing so, these mindsets can be as positive as possible, believe in areas for growth, and expect people to have valued roles in society. Wolfensberger explains how mindsets are understood as the thoughts and opinions that one forms about devalued people (2013). Going hand in hand with mindsets, the expectations that are set in our minds can work to build a person up or tear them down (Wolfensberger, 2013). It is critical that valued people understand their impact that they have on devalued people’s lives, just by keeping a positive mindset. If one has a positive mindset about devalued people, these devalued individuals may create a positive mindset for themselves. Imagine a rehabilitation center for recovering athletes that experienced a serious injury. The physical therapist, Joe, has many different patients with a wide variety of injuries and physical disabilities. Betty is at the rehab center because she tore her ACL playing soccer, Ashley is at the rehab because she tore a muscle in her shoulder, and Timmy is at the rehab because he shattered his femur in a car accident. Joe has high expectations for Betty and Ashley since their injuries are more common than a shattered femur, and their injuries are less severe than Timmy’s. Because of this mindset, Joe often persuades Ashley and Betty to push themselves, compliments them on their dedication, and then rewards them with smoothies at the end. Yet, Timmy’s injury is much more serious and requires more time and services to try to completely heal his shattered femur. Because Timmy’s injury is worse than Ashley and Betty’s, Joe does not expect much from him. Instead of pushing Timmy to do an extra set of weights or another lap around the pool, Joe tells him that he can head home early. Joe keeps Timmy’s exercises simple and never changes his routines. He tells the other physical therapists that Timmy has a small chance of fully recovering. Since Joe set such a low expectation for Timmy, Timmy doesn’t feel the need to push himself and work his hardest. Timmy is healing slower than expected and is developing other issues due to his lack of mobility in his leg. Since Joe expects almost nothing from Timmy, he doesn’t feel like need to put in his best effort. On the other hand, Joe has a positive mindset and high expectations for Ashley and Betty, therefore they push themselves to fulfill their expectations. HISTORICAL EVIDENCE


The relevance of role expectancy and role circularity to deviancy-making and deviancy-unmaking is the fourth theme of SRV. Similar to unconsciousness, role expectancy and role circularity are present in everyday human life. The dynamics of role expectancy and role circularity are also called self fulfilling prophecy. The physical environment, activities that are offered, their personal presentation, language, imagery that conveys social message, and other people who are juxtaposed to that person tend to elicit from the person who is the object of the role expectancies (Wolfensberger, 2013). These characteristics can help shape how a devalued individual is seen, what expectations one might have concerning this individual, and forms what kind of mindset one may have regarding this devalued individual.

Respecting Cultural Diversity Begins At School: Crafting A Tapestry Of Global Citizens

Imagine a world painted in a dazzling array of colors, each hue representing a unique culture, tradition, and way of life. Now, let’s think about schools as the vibrant canvases where this picture begins to take shape. Respecting cultural diversity isn’t just a box to check. It’s an ongoing journey that starts right at the heart of our communities: schools.

Respecting Traditions and Culture in Classrooms

Inclusion: It’s not just a buzzword. It’s the heartbeat of modern education. From day one, classrooms should be a mosaic of cultures, where every student’s background adds a splash of brilliance. The magic begins when students from different walks of life find their stories and traditions acknowledged.

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Picture this: In a history class, students aren’t just reading about the ancient Silk Road. They hear firsthand stories from their classmates whose ancestors traversed those paths. The classroom becomes a treasure trove of personal narratives, giving life to textbooks’ tales.

Teaching Beyond Textbooks: Folks often say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Similarly, you can only grasp a culture with its textbooks. It’s about immersing students in real-life experiences. Inviting guest speakers, organizing cultural fairs, or engaging in interactive projects gives students a taste of the world’s flavors.

Visualize: The aroma of diverse cuisines fills the air during a cultural fair. Students become explorers, navigating stalls adorned with art, crafts, and stories from around the globe. They’re not just reading about cultures. They’re living them.

Unity in Diversity: Fostering Friendships

The Buddy System: Remember your first day in a new place? The jitters, the nervous excitement. Now, blend that with meeting a buddy who speaks your language, literally and figuratively. Schools can pair students to build bridges between cultures, breaking the ice and melting away unfamiliarity.

Imagine a shy newcomer steps into the classroom. Instead of awkward glances, they’re met with warm smiles from their buddies. Language barriers? They crumble. Cultural misunderstandings? Vanished. What remains are connections forged in kindness.

Collaborative Learning, Global Wisdom: Teamwork, they say, makes the dream work. And when diverse minds collaborate, dreams transform into visions. Group assignments that pool together students from different backgrounds aren’t just about grades. They’re about global insights.

Envision a science project that brings together students who grew up in varying ecological contexts. Aha! Solutions come from all sides, blending traditional knowledge with textbook wisdom. It’s more than learning. It’s an education in perspective.

Cultural Sensitivity: Beyond the Bell

Community Engagement: Learning doesn’t pause when the school bell rings. It resonates beyond the classroom, echoing in the community. Schools can partner with local cultural organizations to extend the cultural conversation beyond their walls.

Paint this scene: A neighborhood comes alive with cultural celebrations. The school isn’t just a spectator. It’s a participant. Students and teachers join hands in the festivities, honoring traditions and showcasing unity. The message? Education doesn’t just happen within four walls. It’s woven into the fabric of the community.

Lifelong Lessons in Empathy: They say, “Walk a mile in someone’s shoes.” In schools that respect diversity, it’s more like “dance a mile in someone’s cultural shoes.” Through immersive experiences, students gain empathy, learning to appreciate and understand perspectives unlike their own.

Visualize: Students don’t just study history. They reenact it through cultural simulations. Suddenly, history isn’t about memorizing dates. It’s about feeling the emotions, the struggles, and the triumphs. Empathy grows, and with it, a world that values each thread in the tapestry of humanity.

Cultural Diversity: A Ripple Effect

Change Agents: Remember that pebble you tossed into the pond and the ripples that spread? Are schools fostering cultural respect? They’re those pebbles. The impact doesn’t stay confined to school corridors. It extends to the community and beyond.

See this: Students who grew up celebrating diverse cultures don’t just grow up. They grow into advocates. They champion understanding, bridging gaps wherever they go. What started as lessons became legacies of acceptance.

A World that Thrives: Diversity isn’t a challenge. It’s a gift that brings fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a rich tapestry of experiences. When schools nurture this diversity, they’re shaping a world that thrives on collaboration, compassion, and unity.

Conclusion: Planting Seeds of Understanding

As we journey from classroom to community, let’s remember that embracing cultural diversity isn’t an event. It’s a mindset. Schools that cultivate respect for cultures aren’t just imparting knowledge. They’re nurturing global citizens who appreciate differences. The future they’re shaping is one where unity blossoms from diversity, and the world’s beauty lies in its kaleidoscope of cultures.

So, whether you’re a teacher, a student, a parent, or a community member, remember: the journey of embracing diversity begins within each of us and ripples out, touching lives far beyond the school bell’s chime.

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