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What is Socialization?

A Basic Definition:

The social processes through which new members of society develop awareness of social norms and values and help them achieve a distinct sense of self. It is the process which transforms a helpless infant into a self-aware, knowledgeable person who is skilled in the ways of a society’s culture.

Socialization is normally discussed in terms of primary socialization, which is particularly intense and takes place in the early years o life, and secondary socialization, which continues throughout the life course.

Stages of Socialization 

Socialization takes place through various agencies, such as the family, peer groups, schools and the media.

The family is the main agent during primary socialization, but increasingly children attend some kind of nursery schooling from a very young age. It is in the family that children learn the ‘basic norms’ of social interaction – in Britain such norms include learning how to walk, speak, dress in clothes, and a whole range of ‘social manners’, which a taught through the process of positive and negative sanctions, or rewarding good and punishing bad behaviour.

In modern societies, class gender and ethnic differences start to affect the child from a very young age and these influence patterns of socialization. Where gender is concerned, for example, children unconsciously pick up on a range of gendered stereotypes which inform the actions of their parents, and they typically adjust their behaviour accordingly.

In adulthood, socialization continues as people learn how to behave in relation to new areas of social life, such as work environments and political beliefs. Mass media and the internet are also seen as playing an increasing role in socialization, helping to shape opinions, attitudes and behaviour. This is especially the case with the advent of new media, which enable virtual interactions via chatrooms, blogs and so on.

Taken together, agencies of socialization form a complex range of contrary social influences and opportunities for interaction and it can never be an entirely directed or determined process: humans are self-aware beings capable of forming their own interpretations of the messages with which they are presented.

Criticisms of the Concept

The main criticism of theories of socialization is that they tend to exaggerate its influence. This is particularly true of functionalism which tended to see individuals as cultural dopes, at the mercy of socializing agencies.

Dennis Wrong (1961) took issue with what he saw as the ‘oversocialized concept of man’ in sociology, arguing that it treats people as mere role-players, simply following scripts.

Today, theories of society and cultural reproduction are much more likely to recognize that individuals are active players and that socialization is a conflict-ridden and emotionally charged affair, and the results of it are much less predictable than functionalist theories suggested in the 1950s.

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Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – in 14 bullet points

A brief post covering the relationship between self and society in late-modernity according to Anthony Giddens, covering concepts such as Globalisation, abstract systems, ontological security, manufactured risks, narcissism and fundamentalism.

This is very much my own reading of Giddens’ text – Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age.

Giddens Self Identity and Society

Gidden’s Key Ideas about Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Taken from Modernity and Self Identity – And Against Post Modernism)

  1. There is a global structure – e.g. it’s Capitalist and Nation States remain powerful, but it’s dynamic, constantly changing, and not predictable.

  2. Institutions (political and economic) are ‘reflexive’ – they try to ‘steer’ events in the future in the light of existing and continually updating (imperfect) knowledge.

  3. There are significant global problems (manufactured risks) which we all face and none of us can escape – e.g. Global Warming. These are real, objectively existing problems, not hyperreal, and they bind us together, even if many of us fail to accept this.

  4. The increased pace of change and Uncertainty are a fundamental part of late-modernity.

  5. Globalisation penetrates our lifeworlds through abstract Systems (money, clock time, expert systems, especially science).

  6. The media is more important and influential in late-modern society, but Giddens rejects the concept of hyperreality – the main significance of the media is that it makes us more aware of diversity and of the fact that there are many different ways of living.

  7. In Late Modern (not Post-modern) Society, there is what Giddens calls a ‘duality of structure’ – social structures both empower us and constrain us (differentially, and broadly along the lines of class, gender and ethnicity, although not perfectly) – people are not just ‘free’ to do whatever they want – their freedom comes from existing structures – think of your typicaly fashion blogger on YouTube for example – you may think of them as ‘free’, but they are fundamentally dependent on global capitalism, a monetary system, and the infrastructure of media technology.

  8. In terms of the self – Identity is no longer a given – we no longer have a pre-existing identity based on our gender, class, family or locality, everything is open to questionand we are forced to contunally look at ourselves and continuously ask the question ‘who am I’ – identity becomes a task, something we must do for ourselves, and nearly every aspect of our lives becomes something we need to reflect on as a result.

  9. It is for this reason that we become concerned with constructing a ‘Narrative of Self’ – A coherent life story, so that we can convince ourselves that we have a stable identity through time. Constructing a self-identity takes a lot of time and effort.

  10. Therapy emerges as a new expert system to help people in the process of continual identity reconstruction – especially useful at epochal moments like divorce.

  11. The construction and expression of the self becomes the new norm – there are many ways we can do this – mainly through consumption (buying and doing stuff), through relationships, and through developing bodily regimes (health regimes).

  12. An unfortunate consequence of this focus on the self is the rise of Narcissism, with very few people asking moral and existential questions about existence.

  13. However, this process is dialectical and New Social Movements (e.g. the Green Movement) which do consider moral and existential issues – in which people attempt to incorporate moral and existential questions into the construction of their ‘political’ identities.

  14. Late Modernity produces various ‘Generic’ Types of Identity – The Narcissist, the Fundamentalist, both are extreme expressions of the same social system.

Related Posts

Giddens – Modernity and Self Identity – A summary of the introduction and chapter 1.

What is the purpose of Sociology according to Giddens? – A very brief summary