Socialisation

Socialisation is the process whereby an individual learns the norms and values of a culture.

Giddens and Sutton (2017) provide a lengthier definition:

For sociologists socialization is the process whereby the helpless human infant becomes a self-aware, knowledgeable person, skilled in the ways of the culture into which he or she was born. Socialization of the young allows for more general phenomenon of social reproduction – the process through which societies achieve structural continuity overtime.

Agencies of socialisation

Agencies of socialisation refer to groups, social contexts or institutions in which socialisation takes place. The main agencies of socialisation include:

  • The family
  • Friendship and peer groups
  • School (education)
  • Social Media circles
  • The mass media
  • Any voluntary groups or clubs people might be a part of
  • Religion (for those who are religious!)
  • The workplace

In post-industrial societies socialisation is a complex process involving hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of micro-interactions on a day to day basis within the context wider power relations – such as school, work, social media, and economic and political ‘structures’.

Social interactions over the life course within all of these contexts help individuals learn the specific norms of each context and the more general norms which make up their broader culture.

Socialisation isn’t just a passive process in which individuals ‘soak up’ and passively accept already existing norms and values… individuals have the capacity to reflect on the culture presented to them and change the way other people think, feel and act and thus have the capacity to change culture through the socialisation process.

Of course different individuals have different levels of desire and ability to change the culture into which they are socialised. As a general rule children have less ability to enact change compared to adults, while adults with more money, status and visibility have more power to change cultures than others.

For the most part, individuals accept most of the basic norms into which they are socialised – such as language, dress codes in the broader sense (i.e. actually wearing some clothes), being generally polite to people, not being violent, and the concept of working for a living.

However it also true that many people will go through a rebellious phase at certain times of their lives – the most well known of these include toddlers having tantrums and teenagers rebelling, but for the most part most people end up accepting and abiding by most of our already existing norms and values.

There are a minority of individuals for whom the socialisation process is one of rejecting the culture with which they are presented, and for these people socialisation may not be a smooth process – if a child rejects school rules for example they are handed out punishments, maybe even excluded permanently; if someone rejects the social norm of ‘having to work for a living’ they may end up unemployed and living on the streets.

As a final word on this topic individuals who reject ‘mainstream culture’ often go on to form subcultures – of which there are many in postmodern society – everything from Gay Pride to prison gangs and from Goths to Furries can be regarded as forms of subculture – the existence of which offers people who don’t feel a connection with mainstream agencies (such as education or work) a chance to belong to something they actually identify with.

For further information on this you might like to explore the culture of identity further and the relevant posts under the Crime and Deviance section.

Primary socialisation

Sociologists typically distinguish between two broad phases of socialisation: Primary Socialisation and Secondary Socialisation.

Primary socialisation occurs in infancy and childhood and is the most intense phase of learning.

This first phases of socialisation primarily takes place within the family and it is when the child learns the most fundamental norms of their culture such as language, basic manners, and where they start to learn gender.

In the United Kingdom today most children spend most of their early childhoods (pre-school age) in their family domestic unit with their parents and siblings being the main influencers on their socialisation, but there is considerable variation in family structures today – most children are socialised in nuclear families, but a significant minority are socialised in single parent or reconstituted families.

There is also a lot of global variation – in many cultures around the world grandparents, uncles and aunts continue to play a significant role in the primary socialisation of children.

Secondary Socialisation

There is no clear moment when primary socialisation begins and secondary socialisation starts, but the three main agencies associated with the later are education, peer groups, the media, and work.

Education or school

In developed societies with well established education systems children spend at least 30 hours a week (during term time) at school from the age of five where their interactions are highly regulated by the school environment.

School may well be where children are introduced to formal collective rules for the first time – such as uniforms, timetables and codes of conducts.

Thus in terms of time spent during later childhood, school is certainly a main agency of secondary socialisation, especially once we factor in how the school day and week can be extended by journeys to and from school, after school clubs and homework.

Peer Groups

Most children have friendship groups from a young age, typically children who live locally, children of their parent’s friends or siblings.

It is difficult to assess the important of friends in the socialisation process, but friendship is usually one of the most important aspects in the life of individuals and shouldn’t be underestimate – people increasingly report their friends as being ‘ their family’ for example.

When a child gets to school their peer group will typically extend massively such that a child has to start to learn to ‘get on’ with larger groups most of whom they won’t have intimate relationships with, essential to get on in larger societies.

The Media

Simply in terms of time spent online, the media increasingly becomes an important agency of secondary socialisation as children get older.

Historical sociological perspectives such as The Hypodermic Syringe Model saw the media as having a direct and largely negative influence on children – teaching them to be passive consumers in a capitalist society for example, and children were seen as passive receptors.

However, it is clear today that children are much more active users of a diverse array of mainstream and social media and there is much more interaction going on and a massive diversity of experience, such that it is incredibly difficult to make generalisations about the experience of socialisation via the media.

The workplace and other institutions

Secondary socialisation continues all through adult life – getting one’s first and then subsequent jobs will usually require an individual to not only learn the new formal requirements of the job role but also the more informal norms of the working culture.

Socialisation within Sociology

Socialisation is one the major concepts within sociology, and in my experience you will usually find the concept explored in three main areas:

  • Firstly in the introductory sections of text books, it is fundamental!
  • Secondly in social theory – conceptions have changed as social theory has ‘evolved’ from Functionalism through to Social Interactionism for example
  • Thirdly in the ‘life course’ – which may have links to Child Development – Giddens and Sutton (2017) do it this way.
  • Finally as part of Crime and Deviance – socialisation being a part of social control. Abercrombie (2005) does this.

SignPosting

This post was primarily written for A-level sociology students studying the Culture and Identity option within A-level Sociology.

You might also like my introductory post on culture, socialisation and social norms.

NB – I use the correct spelling of socialisation in the title of this post and anywhere I haven’t quoted sociologists who use the incorrect American spelling.

Interestingly I doubt very much that Giddens, being English, would spell ‘socialisation’ with a Z in the middle, it’s most likely that the editors have modified this to fit in with a global American audience.

Sources

(1) Giddens and Sutton (2017) Sociology, Polity Press.

(2) Abercrombie (2005) Sociology, Polity.

Functionalism in Pictures

A selection of images to represent some of the main Functionalist concepts for A level sociology. Concepts covered include the organic analogy, socialisation, integration, regulation, anomie and more!

Pictures are a powerful tool for simplifying key concepts in A-level sociology. In this post I select what I think are some of the most relevant pictures which represent some of the key concepts relevant to the Functionalist perspective on society.

The Organic Analogy/ society as a system

Institutions in society work together, like  organs in a body

Social Structure

Society’s Structure is made up of institutions

Social Facts

Durkheim theorized that social facts were ways of thinking, feeling and acting which were external to the individual and which constrained the individual.

Value Consensus

Society is based on shared values

Social Evolution

Societies gradually become more complex over time.

Mechanical and Organic Solidarity

Functional Fit Theory

The nuclear family emerged to ‘fit’ industrial society

Socialisation

Individuals learn the norms and values of society, within institutions

Stabilisation of Adult Personalities

Traditional gender roles within the nuclear family provide necessary emotional and psychological support for individuals.

Meritocracy

Individuals are rewarded on the basis of effort + ability. Both meritocracy and role allocation are key ideas in the Functionalist perspective on education.

Role Allocation

Where the exam system ‘sifts’ people into appropriate jobs based on their level of achievement

Social Integration

The more connections people have to others and institutions within society, the more integrated they are.

Social Regulation

Social regulation is the extent to which there are clear norms and value (‘rules’) which guide people in life.

Anomie

Anomie is a state of normlessness, brought on by rapid social change or breakdown. Lack of social integration or regulation can both lead to anomie

Functionalism in pictures final thoughts

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of concepts, or definitive definitions, the idea of this post is to ‘simplify to the extreme’. For more in depth posts on Functionalism, please follow the links on my Theory and Methods page!

Competition …. Win REVISE tokens!

Post a picture in the comments of a picture which you think represents a Functionalist concept, along with a short (20-100 words) explanation of why it’s a relevant picture.

Prizes

Prizes will be awarded purely at my own sole discretion.

  • First prize – 50 REVISE
  • Second prize – 30 REVISE
  • Third prize – 15 REVISE
  • First ten entries all receive 2 REVISE each, just for entering!
  • If you submit a hand-drawn original work of art or photo as part of your entry I’ll gift you 10 REVISE!

I’m going to make this a 6 month rolling competition and these prizes are going to be awarded EVERY MONTH – from December 2019 until May 2020.

WTF are ‘REVISE’ tokens?

The REVISE token is ‘ReviseSociology.com’ token. It’s basically a crypto-currency I’ve conjured out of virtual space which you can use on the site.

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Redeeming REVISE tokens

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Gender and Education: Good Resources

Useful links to quantitative and qualitative research studies, statistics, researchers, and news paper articles relevant to gender and education. These links should be of interest to students studying A-level and degree level sociology, as well as anyone with a general interest in the relationship between gender, gender identity, differential educational achievement and differences in subject choice.

Just a few links to kick-start things for now, to be updated gradually over time…

General ‘main’ statistical sites and sources

The latest GSCE results analysed by gender from the TES

A Level Results from the Joint Council for Qualifications – broken down by gender and region

Stats on A level STEM subjects – stats on the gender balance are at the end (70% of psychology students are female compared to only 10% of computer science students)

General ‘Hub’ Qualitative resources 

The Gender and Education Association – works to eradicate sexism and gender equality within education. Promotes a Feminist pedagogy (theory of learning).

A link to Professor Becky Francis’ research, which focuses mainly on gender differences in educational achievement – at time of writing (November 2017) her main focus seems to be on girls lack of access to science and banding and streaming (the later not necessarily gender focused)

Specific resources for exploring gender and differential educational achievement

Education as a strategy for international development – despite the fact that girls are outperforming boys in the United Kingdom and most other developed countries, globally girls are underachieving compared to boys in most countries. This link takes you to a general post on education and social development, many of the links explore gender inequality in education.

Specific resources for exploring gender and subject choice 

Dolls are for Girls, Lego is for Boys – A Guardian article which summarizes a study by Becky Francis’s on Gender, Toys and Learning, Francis asked the parents of more than 60 three- to five-year-olds what they perceived to be their child’s favourite toy and found that while parental choices for boys were characterised by toys that involved action, construction and machinery, there was a tendency to steer girls towards dolls and perceived “feminine” interests, such as hairdressing.

Girls are Logging Off – A BBC article which briefly alerts our attention to the small number of girls opting to do computer science.

 

 

No More Boys and Girls

No More Boys and Girls (BBC, August 2017) BBC programme documents a 6 week experiment in gender neutrality carried out with one year 3 primary school class in primary school on the Isle of White…. Can our kids go gender free?

Doctor Javid Abdelmoneim (*) believes that these attitudes are not just the result of biology, but down to socialisation, and so establishes a gender neutrality experiment, conducted on one class of year 3s,  in which he removes all traces of gender differentiation for a 6 week period, finally testing them to see if ‘typical gender differences’in things such as self-confidence and spatial awareness have been reduced (*I recommend you check out the above profile, on Al Jazeera, he seems like an interesting character!) 

Strong Girls.png

The rational for doing this research now is that these children have lived their entire lives under the equality act, which was passed in 2010, emphasizing that men and women should be treated the same.

Thankfully, some generous sole has kindly done the BBC’s job for them and provided an effective and just service to license fee payers by uploading the documentary to YouTube, which the BBC itself only made available  for a short time on iplayer, a totally unreasonable action given the cost of the licence fee. Here is said video:

The documentary finding, however, suggest that this is far from the case, and there are several differences in terms of attitudes about what boys and girls should do, and how the teachers treat boys and girls.

The programme starts with a few clips of boys’ and girls’ attitudes towards gender, which suggests that they have very set views about what they suited to do in the future, in which various girls and boys say that:

  • ‘If a woman has a baby, the man will have to get a job to look after them.’
  • ‘Men are better at being in charge.’
  • ‘Men are more successful because they could have harder jobs and earn more.’
  • ‘I’d describe girls as pretty, dresses, lipstick and lovehearts’
  • ‘boys are cleverer than girls because they get into president more easily’.

There are also early observations of one class in which the teacher clearly uses gender specific terms for girls and boys – calling the girls ‘love’, and boys ‘mate’, for example.

But why do gender differences between boys and girls exist?

Dr Javid visits a neuro-scientist who helpfully tells us that there appears to be very few structural differences in the brains of boys and girls, and thus gender differences are not biologically determined, but exist because of socialisataion – their experiences have taught them different skills and different mental attitudes.

Research from Stanford University suggests that seven is a key age in the development of gender identity, because it is at this age that boys and girls start to develop fixed ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman, thus Dr Javid’s experiment should be able to change gendered expectations of boys and girls.

Dr Stella Something now comes in from the UCL psychometric lab to subject boys and girls to what seems to be a pretty rigorous series of activities aimed to measure….

  1. Their levels of self-esteem
  2. Their perceived intelligence
  3. Their understanding and levels of empathy
  4. Their levels of assertiveness
  5. How good they are at resisting impulses
  6. How much vocabulary they have to describe their emotions
  7. Levels of classroom behavior, hyperactivity and

The basic findings (which are corroborated by the class teacher) are that:

  • Girls underestimate their levels of self-esteem, intelligence and assertiveness: three times as many boys overestimated their perceived intelligence, and girls were more likely to underestimate it. 50% of the boys described themselves as ‘the best’, compared to only 10% of girls.
  • Boys cannot seem to express their emotions – girls were more able than boys to provide ‘similar words’ to describe every emotional cue-word given to them, except for anger.
  • Girls tendED to describe themselves through words about looks (such as ‘pretty’ and ‘lipstick’)

The Control Group

Another, very similar year 3 class which had a regular 6 weeks of teaching was also tested alongside the experimental group to act as a control.

The Experiment 

Dr Javid turns up on day one and tells the pupils about the experiment – he basically tells them he wants to ensure than boys and girls are treated the same, because they can all do as well as each other, and he then gives them a load of signs saying such things as ‘girls are strong’ to challenge gender stereotypes, which they put up around the classroom.

For further details you’ll need to watch the programme…. for now – I’ll update with the rest when I get time!

Notes

The school where this experiment took place is Lanesend Primary School, on the Isle of Wight, with 300 boys and girls aged 5 to 11,

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2017/33/no-more-boys-and-girls

Meet the Natives (Sociology on T.V.)

Meet the Natives involves five people from a tropical island visiting a ‘strange land called England’, where they find many of the customs unusual.

At various points throughout the video the ‘natives’ from Oceania have problems understanding British dinner rituals, the food we eat, housework/ the amount of stuff we have and even the concept of wearing clothes.

Videos like this are a great way to introduce the ‘sociological imagination’ to students, because they are shot from the perspective of ‘the outsider’ and remind us that many of our taken for granted activities are actually quite unusual….

An Introduction to Culture, Socialisation, and Social Norms

In sociology, it is essential to understand the social context in which human behaviour takes place – and this involves understanding the culture in which social action occurs.

Culture is a very broad concept which encompasses the norms, values, customs, traditions, habits, skills, knowledge, beliefs and the whole way of life of a group of people.

To give two specific, and classic definitions of the term culture:

  • Ralph Linton (1945) defined the culture of a society as ‘the way of life of its members: the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation’.
  • Clyde Kluckhohn (1951) described culture as a ‘design for living’ held by the members of a particular society.

To a large degree, culture determines how members of society think and feel: it directs their actions and defines their outlook on life. Culture defines accepted ways of behaving for members of society.

In order to survive, any newborn infant must learn the accepted ways of behaving in a society, it must learn that society’s culture, a process known as socialisation, which sociologists tend to split into two ‘phases’ – primary and secondary.

Primary socialisation takes place in the family: the child learns many social rules simply by copying its parents, and responding to their approval or disapproval of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour, which is taught through a variety of rewards and punishments, such as simple praise, treats, smacking and the naughty step.

Secondary socialisation takes place outside of the family in other social institutions including the education system, the peer group, the media, religion and the work place.

Many (though not all) sociologists argue that the norms and values we pick up through these institutions encourage us to act in certain ways, and discourage us from acting in others, and, just as importantly,  they ‘frame’ our worldviews in subtle ways – encouraging us value certain things that other cultures might think have no value, or discouraging us to ask certain ‘critical questions’.

Just some of the ways these institutions might subtly shape our behaviour include:

  • Religion – reinforces basic moral codes such as ‘not killing’, ‘not stealing’, and the value of monogamous relationships, sanctioned by marriage.
  • Education – teaches us the value of tolerating people with different views from ourselves, the value of teamwork and the idea of the individual work ethic – ‘if I work hard I can achieve’.
  • The Media – through advertising, it teaches us that high levels of consumption of products are normal, and through the over-representation of skinny, beautiful, young people, it encourages to spend time and money to look good.

Socialisation is not simply a process in which individuals just passively accept the values of a society – children and adults actively reflect on whether they should accept them, and some choose to actively engage in ‘mainstream’ culture, others just go along with it, and still other reject these values, but those who reject mainstream culture are very much in a minority, while most of us go along with mainstream norms and values most of the time. 

Socialisation and the process of learning social norms

Part of the socialisation process involves learning the specific norms, or informal rules which govern behaviour in particular situations.

There are literally hundreds (and probably thousands) of social norms which govern how people act in specific places and at specific times – the most obvious ones being dress codes, ways of speaking, ways of interacting with others, body language, and the general demeanor appropriate to specific situations.

Social norms are most obvious at key events in the life course such as weddings and funerals, with their obvious rituals (which would be out of place in most other situations) and codes of dress, but they also exist in day to day life – there is a ‘general norm’ that we should wear clothes in public, we are generally expected to turn up to school and work on time, to not push in if there’s a queue in a shop, and we are also generally expected to politely ignore strangers in public places and on public transport (1) (2)

Norms also vary depending on the characteristics of the person – for example, whether you are male or female, or young or old, but more of that later.

Cross cultural differences in social norms

One of the best ways of illustrating just how many social norms we have in Britain is to look at examples of other cultures which are far removed from our own – such as traditional tribes who still exist in parts of South America, Oceania, Asia, and Africa. By reflecting on how different the norms are in these other cultures, we get a good idea of just how many aspects of our day to day lives we take for granted.

For example the San Bushmen of Southern Africa have very different norms surrounding material culture – because they are hunter gatherers, they own very few items, and traditionally their economy was a gift economy, rather than a money economy. Thus, in this culture, money has no value, and ‘stuff’ is simply a burden.

San Bushmen.jpg
The San Bushmen (although their traditional culture is much changed from 100 years ago)

The Sanema, who live in the rain forests of Brazil and Venezuela, have a radically different belief system in which dreams are as important as ‘waking reality’:

The Sanema believe in a dream world inhabited by the spirits of everything around them. The trees, the animals, the rocks, the water all have a spirit. Some can be used to heal, others to bring disaster and death.

Four out of five Sanema men are practicing shamans and it is in their dreams that the spirits visit them. The main work of  the shamen is to dispel the evil spirits they believe cause illnesses, and to do this they induce a trance by taking powerful hallucinogenic drug, sakona, made from the dried sap of the virola tree.

In Sanema culture, it is perfectly usual for these shamans to be off their faces on hallucinogenic drugs, ‘warding off evil spirits’ in the middle of the day, while other people go about their more ‘ordinary’ (by our standards) business of cooking, washing, cleaning, or just chillaxing (typically in hammocks).

Sanema Tribe
Bruce Parry and a Sanema shaman off their faces on hallucinogens – it’s normal there!

There are many other examples that could be used to illustrate the extreme variations in social norms across cultures – such as differences in how cultures treat children, or differences in gender norms, the point is that none of these behaviours are determined by biology or physical environment – we’re all pretty much the same as a biological species – these cultural differences are simply to do with social traditions, passed down by socialisation.

Historical differences in social norms 

Social norms also change over time – the most obvious being how norms surrounding childhood and gender have changed, as well as norms surrounding expenditure and consumption.

The fact that social norms change over time again shows that biological differences cannot explain historical variations in human behaviour, and also raises the important point that individuals have the freedom to change the norms they are born into.

Signposting and Related Posts 

(1) To illustrate just now many social norms govern our lives, you might like to read this post: how social norms structure your day (forthcoming post)

(2) Some sociologists (and sociologicalish commentators) are very critical of many of our social norms – suggesting variously that they are just not necessary, too restrictive of individual freedom, or even downright harmful – for more on this – see this post: Social Norms – the unnecessary and the harmful (forthcoming post).

I usually teach this material as part of an introduction to sociology.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Sources used to write this post

Haralambos and Holborn (2013): Sociology Themes and Perspectives

A Level Sociology Key Terms – Families and Households

A selected list of some of the most important key terms in AS Level and A Level Sociology – families and households. NB this is not an exhaustive list, just a starting point! 

Bean Pole Family
A family with a long, thin structure. For example, there might be 4 generations alive, but each generation hasn’t had many children. This is a 21st century example of an extended family, but its members are more likely to live apart than in the past.

Birth Rate 
The number of babies born per thousand per year.

Civil Partnership
The legally or formally recognised union of a man and a woman (or in some countries two people of the same sex) in a committed relationship.

Co-habitation  
Two people living together in the same household in an emotionally intimate, committed relationship without being officially married.

Commercialisation of Housework 
Where new technologies lead to new products which people can buy which reduces the amount of domestic labour people have to do at home – e.g. hoovers, washing machines, microwaves and microwave meals reduce the amount of time spend cleaning, washing and cooking.

Death Rate 
The number of deaths per thousand members of a population per year.

Dual Burden 
When someone does both paid work and a significant amount of the domestic labour, such as housework at home. According to radical feminists, it is mainly women who suffer this.

Economic Factors 
Refers to things to do with money – for example how wealth a society is and the amount of wealth and income an individual or family has.

Emotion Work 
Thinking about the emotional well-being of other members of the family and acting in ways which will be of emotional benefit to others. For example, hugging and reassuring children when they have nightmares, organizing Christmas and birthday parties so that everyone feels included and has a good time.

Extended family  
Family beyond the traditional nuclear family, incorporating aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In the traditional extended family, members live in the same household, in more modern extended families

Gender Norms 
The ‘expected’ patterns of behaviour associated with masculinity and femininity – for example, femininity = caring, masculinity = competitive.

Gender Roles 
The social positions and occupations we associate with men and women – for example we tend to associate the caring role with women, and the ‘provider role’ with men.

Globalisation (simple definition) – The increasing interconnectedness of societies across the globe.

Ideological Functions 
Refers to the ways in which the ideas spread through institutions work top maintain the power of dominant groups in society.

Individualisation 
The process where individuals have more freedom to make life-choices and shape their identities because of a weakening of traditional social structures, norms and values. For example, secularization means people have more choice over whether they should get married or simply cohabit.

Instrumental Role 
The provider or breadwinner role which involves going out to work and earning money for the family – the traditional male role within the family.

Matrifocal Household 
A family structure in which mothers are the heads of household and fathers have less power and control in family life and the allocation of resources.

Migration 
Moving from one country or area to another.

Negotiated Families 
Vary according to the wishes and expectations of their members, who decided what is best for them by discussion. Negotiated families are more equal than traditional nuclear families, but more unstable. This is the typical type of family in postmodern society.

Net Migration
The difference between the numbers of people immigrating to and emigrating from a country.

Nuclear Family – A man and a woman and their dependent children, either their own or adopted.

Patriarchy  
A society where men hold the power and women are excluded, disadvantaged or oppressed.  An example of a patriarchal society is one which women are not allowed to vote, but men are.

Personal Life Perspective 
A sociological perspective which believes we should understand family life from the perspective of the individuals who make up the family, focusing on the diverse ways in which different individuals within the family define and perceive their own experiences of family life.

Postmodernism 
The view that social changes (such as globalisation and more consumerism) since the 1950s have resulted in a world in which individuals have much more choice and freedom than is suggested by Modernists social theories such as Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism.

Primary Socialisation 
The first stages of learning the norms and values of a society; learning basic skills and norms, such as language, and basic manners.

Serial Monogamy 
Where an individual has a string of committed relationships, one after the other.

Social Construction of Childhood 
The idea that the norms and values and social roles associated with childhood are influenced by society, rather than being determined by the biological age of a child.

Symmetrical Family –   A family in which  the roles of husbands and wives, although not identical are more similar. There are three elements:
– Both men and women do paid work.
– Men and women both do housework.
– Couples spend their leisure time together rather than separately

Total Fertility Rate 
The average number of babies a woman will have during her fertile years (15-44).

Toxic Childhood 
Where social changes, especially the invention of new technologies, does increasing amounts of harm to children. For example, the internet and mobile phones results in screen saturation with increases anxiety and reduces attention spans.

Gender and Crime: Sex-Role Theory

Sex Role Theory explains gendered differences in offending in terms of the differences in gender socialization, gender roles and gendered identities. The norms and values associated with traditional femininity are not conducive to crime, while the norms and values associated with traditional masculinity are more likely to lead to crime.

Female socialisation, traditional female roles and low female crime rates

Parsons (1937) argued that because females carry out the ‘expressive role’ in the family which involved them caring for their children and looking after the emotional needs of their husbands, that girls grew up to internalise such values as caring and empathy, both of which reduce the likelihood of someone committing crime simply because a caring and empathetic attitude towards others means you are less likely to harm others.

The child caring role also means that women are also effectively more attached to their families and wider communities than men – It is traditionally women who keep in touch with relatives and get to know their children’s friends families and thus bond local communities together. In terms of bonds of attachment theory, women are thus more attached to wider society and thus less likely to commit crime.

Similarly, because traditional female gender roles involve women being busier than men, especially since they have taken on the ‘dual burden’ and ‘triple shift’ in recent decades, this reduces the opportunities for women to commit crime.

Masculinity and the high male crime rate

It has long been theorized that the early socialization of boys into traditional masculine identities is at least partly responsible for the higher male crime rate. Sociologist Sutherland (1960) stated this very simply by saying that ‘boys are taught to be “rough and tough,” which makes them more likely to become delinquent’.

Talcott Parsons (1964) purported that masculinity was then internalized during adolescence, which led to boys engaging in more delinquent behavior than girls, and sub cultural theorists Cloward and Ohlin (1960) proposed that in gangs, younger members learn through contact with older males that traits such as toughness and dominance are necessary in order to assert a strong masculine reputation.

Evaluations of Sex-Role Theory

One possible criticism of sex-role theory is that it is less relevant in today’s society because of the decline of traditional gender roles.

The theory is based in the functionalist theory of the family, so many of the same criticisms apply here.

Signposting

This post has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology. The gender and crime topic is studied as part of the second year crime and deviance compulsory module, usually taught in the second year.

A related topic is the The Liberationist Perspective on the (Long Term) Increase in the Female Crime Rate.

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Nature and Nurture Explanations of Human Behaviour

Nature = biology explains behaviour, Nurture = social factors explains human behaviour.

Nature explanations argue that biological inheritance and genetics determine human behaviour; nurture explanations argue that society, culture and social processes such as socialisation explain human behaviour.

While not denying the role of biology in explaining some aspects of human behaviour, sociology very much emphasises the role of society (nurture) rather than nature in explaining human action. The material below forms part of lesson one of an eight lesson introduction to Sociology. 

naturenurture

Nature Explanations of Behaviour

In Sociology, we are looking at human behaviour. Human behaviour is the term we use that refers to all of the things that people do. There are many ways of explaining why certain people do things in particular ways.

Some biologists and psychologists think that people behave as they do because they are animals who primarily act according to their instincts. This is known as the “nature theory” of human behaviour. Other scientists and psychologists are researching whether our behaviour is “genetic” i.e. certain types of behaviour are passed down from parent to child. Again, this is a nature theory of human behaviour because it supports the belief that our behaviour is pre-programmed to a large extent. For example, it has been debated whether there is a criminal gene which means some people are more likely to commit crime.

Nurture explanations of behaviour

Nurture arguments focus on the way people are brought up and how their environment moulds their personality and behaviour. Sociologists argue that some people are brought up to be kind and caring, and others are brought up to display very different forms of behaviour.

An individual’s personality and identify are moulded and developed in response to their social environments and the people they meet. They are by taught others around them telling them what is right and wrong, including teachers, siblings and most importantly parents. This is why sociologists study the family and education (the two topics on the AS course) amongst other topics because it allows to investigate how these institutions effect human behaviour.

Nurture explains more than nature

We have two different ways of explaining human behaviour. One uses nature to explain behaviour, the other uses nurture. The question is, which is the best explanation?

If you explain human behaviour as being the same as animal behaviour, that means that humans would all behave in the same way. French cats behave in the same way as British cats. Do British people behave like French people? People in Britain do tend to behave in a similar way. They do similar things and wear certain types of clothing. Do all people all over the world behave in the same way? Sociologists tend to say ‘no’ and use two main types of evidence to prove the point:

  • historical comparative evidence
  • Anthropological (cross cultural) comparative evidence.

Historical Evidence against Nature theories

Nature arguments suggest human behaviour isn’t dissimilar to animal behaviour, which is based on automatic responses and pre-determined modes of behaviour or that our behaviour is pre-determined by our genes. However, human behaviour has changed significantly throughout history whilst animal behaviour has changed only slightly over a very long period of time. This suggests humans interact with their environments in a unique manner, both moulding and being moulded by it.

 

changing gender roles
Rapidly changing gender roles are one example against nature theories of behaviour

Anthropological Evidence against Nature theories

The second argument uses anthropological evidence. Anthropologists are people who study and compare societies from all over the world. If our behaviour was in our genes then people all around the world would behave in the same way. This is because other than the external physical difference between humans, the actual biological difference between people from different parts of the world is tiny. However, anthropologists show that people behave differently in different societies.

 

nature and nurture
Tribal societies with different norms and values are good evidence against nature theories of behaviour

 Further evidence against nature theories

The Analaysis podcast below demonstrates the importance of nurture over nature explanations of human action…

I should be a psychopath, but I’m not?” 5:30 – 11:44 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010mcl1 (2011)

What was the pattern in the professor’s family history? What genetic pattern did the professor have?What factors does researcher suggest prevented him from becoming a killer, criminal etc?How do the researchers view of genetics vs surroundings explanations of behaviour change?

Nature or Nurture: Conclusions

NOTE – the Nature Vs. Nurture debate is hotly debated topic. No side can claim to provide compelling evidence that entirely disputes the other i.e. neither side can completely disregard nature or nurture in explanation of human behaviour.

Signposting and Related Posts 

I usually teach this material as part of an introduction to sociology module.

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