The term socialization is used by sociologists, social psychologists and educationalists to refer to the process of learning one’s culture and how to live within it. For the individual it provides the skills and habits necessary for acting and participating within their society. For the society, inducting all individual members into its moral norms, attitudes, values, motives, social roles, language and symbols is the ‘means by which social and cultural continuity are attained’ (Clausen 1968: 5).


Clausen claim that theories of socialization are to be found in Plato, Montaigne and Rousseau and he identifies a dictionary entry from 1828 that defines ‘socialize’ as ‘to render social, to make fit for living in society’ (1968: 20-1). However it was the response to a translation of a paper by George Simmel that brought the term and the idea of acquiring social norms and values into the writing of American sociologists F. P. Giddings and E. A. Ross in the 1890s. In the 1920s the theme of socialization was taken up by Chicago sociologists, including Ernest Burgess, and the process of learning how to be a member of society was explored in the work of Charles Cooley, W. I. Thomas and George Mead. Clausen goes on to track the way the concept was incorporated into various branches of psychology and anthropology (1968: 31-52). In the middle of the twentieth century socialization was a key idea in the dominant American functionalist tradition of sociology. Talcott Parsons (Parsons and Bales 1956) and a group of colleagues in the US developed a comprehensive theory of society that responded to the emergence of modernity in which the concept of socialization was a central component. One of their interests was to try to understand the relationship between the individual and society – a distinctive theme in US sociology since the end of the nineteenth century. Ely Chinoy, in a 1960s standard textbook on sociology, says that socialization serves two major functions:

On the one hand, it prepares the individual for the roles he is to play, providing him with the necessary repertoire of habits, beliefs, and values, the appropriate patterns of emotional response and the modes of perception, the requisite skills and knowledge. On the other hand, by communicating the contents of culture from one generation to the other, it provides for its persistence and continuity.(Chinoy, 1961: 75)
For many reasons – not least his excessive approval of modern American life as the model social system and his inability to see how gender, race and class divisions discriminated against individuals in ways that were unjustifiable – Parsonian functionalism faded in popularity in the 1970s. Reacting to the functionalist notion of socialization English sociologist Graham White, writing in 1977 said:
… it is no longer enough to focus on the malleability and passivity of the individual in the face of all powerful social influences. Without some idea about the individual’s own activity in shaping his social experience our perspective of socialisation becomes distorted.(White 1977: 5).
During the last quarter of the twentieth century the concept of ‘socialization’ has been much less central to debates in sociology that have shifted their focus from identifying the functions of institutions and systems to describing the cultural changes of postmodernity. But the idea of socialization has lived on, particularly in debates about the family and education. The institutions of the family or the school are often blamed for their failure to socialize individuals who go on to transgress social norms. On the other hand, it is through a critique of functionalist ideas about socialization that there has been an increasing acceptance of a variety of family forms, of gender roles and an increasing tolerance of variations in the ways people express their social identity.

Social norms reveal the values behind socialisation.Sociologists, such as Durkheim, have noted the relationship between norms, values and roles during socialisation.

Forms of socialization

Sociologists may distinguish six kinds of socialization:
* Reverse socialization
* Developmental socialization
* Primary socialization
* Secondary socialization
* Anticipatory socialization
* Resocialization

Primary socialization Primary socialization is the process whereby the people make a child learn the attitudes, values, and actions appropriate to individuals as members of a particular culture.

For example if a child saw his/her mother expressing a discriminatory opinion about a minority group, then that child may think this behavior is acceptable and could continue to have this opinion about minority groups.

Secondary socializationSecondary socialization refers to the process of learning what is appropriate behavior as a member of a smaller group within the larger society. It is usually associated with teenagers and adults, and involves smaller changes than those occurring in primary socialization. eg. entering a new profession, relocating to a new environment or society.

Developmental socialization Developmental socialization is the process of learning behavior in a social institution or developing your social skills.

Anticipatory socialization Anticipatory socialization refers to the processes of socialization in which a person "rehearses" for future positions, occupations, and social relationships.

Resocialization Resocialization refers to the process of discarding former behavior patterns and accepting new ones as part of a transition in one's life. This occurs throughout the human life cycle (Schaefer & Lamm, 1992: 113). Resocialization can be an intense experience, with the individual experiencing a sharp break with their past, and needing to learn and be exposed to radically different norms and values. An example might be the experience of a young man or woman leaving home to join the military.

Agents of Socialization

Agents of socialization are the people and groups that influence our self-concept, emotions, attitudes, and behavior.

#The Family. Family is responsible for, among other things, determining one's attitudes toward religion and establishing career goals.
#Education. Education is the agency responsible for socializing groups of young people in particular skills and values in society.
#Peer groups. Peers refer to people who are roughly the same age and/or who share other social characteristics (e.g., students in a college class).
#The Mass Media.
#Other Agents: Religion, Work Place, The State.

Media and socialization

Theorists like Parsons and textbook writers like Ely Chinoy (1960) and Harry M. Johnson (1961) recognised that socialization didn’t stop when childhood ended. They realized that socialization continued in adulthood, but they treated it as a form of specialised education. Johnson (1961), for example, wrote about the importance of inculcating members of the US Coastguard with a set of values to do with responding to commands and acting in unison without question.

Later scholars accused these theorists of socialization of not recognising the importance of the mass media which, by the middle of the twentieth century were becoming more significant as a social force. There was concern about the link between television and the education and socialization of children – it continues today – but when it came to adults, the mass media were regarded merely as sources of information and entertainment rather than moulders of personality. According to these scholars, they were wrong to overlook the importance of mass media in continuing to transmit the culture to adult members of society.

In the middle of the twentieth century the pace of cultural change was accelerating, yet Parsons and others wrote of culture as something stable into which children needed to be introduced but which adults could simply live within. As members of society we need to continually refresh our ‘repertoire of habits, beliefs, and values, the appropriate patterns of emotional response and the modes of perception, the requisite skills and knowledge’ as Chinoy (1961: 75) put it.

Some sociologists and theorists of culture have recognised the power of mass communication as a socialization device. Dennis McQuail recognises the argument:

… the media can teach norms and values by way of symbolic reward and punishment for different kinds of behaviour as represented in the media. An alternative view is that it is a learning process whereby we all learn how to behave in certain situations and the expectations which go with a given role or status in society. Thus the media are continually offering pictures of life and models of behaviour in advance of actual experience.(McQuail 2005: 494)

Total institutions

The term "total institutions" was coined in 1963 by Erving Goffman, designed to describe a society which is socially isolated but still provides for all the needs of its members. Therefore, total institutions have the ability to resocialize people either voluntarily or involuntarily. For example, the following would be considered as total institutions: prisons, the military, mental hospitals and convents (Schaefer & Lamm, 1992: 113).

Goffman lists four characteristics of such institutions:
* All aspects of life are conducted in the same place and under the same single authority.
* Each phase of a members daily activity is carried out in the immediate company of others. All members are treated alike and all members do the same thing together.
* Daily activities are tightly scheduled. All activity is superimposed upon the individual by a system of explicit formal rules.
* A single rational plan exists to fulfill the goals of the institution...

Gender socialization and gender roles

Henslin (1999:76) contends that "an important part of socialization is the learning of culturally defined gender roles." Gender socialization refers to the learning of behavior and attitudes considered appropriate for a given sex. Boys learn to be boys and girls learn to be girls. This "learning" happens by way of many different agents of socialization. The family is certainly important in reinforcing gender roles, but so are one’s friends, school, work and the mass media. Gender roles are reinforced through "countless subtle and not so subtle ways" (1999:76).


Resocialization is a sociological concept dealing with the process of mentally and emotionally "re-training" a person so that he or she can operate in an environment other than that which he or she is accustomed to. Resocialization into a total institution involves a complete change of personality. Key examples include the process of resocializing new recruits into the military so that they can operate as soldiers (or, in other words, as members of a cohesive unit) and the reverse process, in which those who have become accustomed to such roles return to society after military discharge.

ocialization for animal species

The process of intentional socialization is central to training animals to be kept by humans in close relationship with the human environment, including pets and working dogs.


Feral animals can be socialized with varying degrees of success.
Feral children are children who lack socially accepted communication skills. Reports of feral children, such as those cited by Kingsley Davis, have largely been shown to be exaggerations, or complete fabrications, with regards to the specific lack of particular skills; for example, bipedalism.


For example, the cat returns readily to a feral state if it has not been socialized properly in its young life. A feral cat usually acts defensively. People often unknowingly own one and think it is merely "unfriendly."

Socializing cats older than six months can be very difficult. It is often said that they cannot be socialized. This is not true, but the process takes two to four years of diligent food bribes and handling, and mostly on the cat's terms. Eventually the cat may be persuaded to be comfortable with humans and the indoor environment.

Kittens learn to be feral either from their mothers or through bad experiences. They are more easily socialized when under six months of age. Socializing is done by keeping them confined in a small room (ie. bathroom) and handling them for 3 or more hours each day. There are three primary methods for socialization, used individually or in combination. The first method is to simply hold and pet the cat, so it learns that such activities are not uncomfortable. The second is to use food bribes. The final method is to distract the cat with toys while handling them. The cat may then be gradually introduced to larger spaces. It is not recommended to let the cat back outside because that may cause it to revert to its feral state. The process of socialization often takes three weeks to three months for a kitten.

Animal shelters either foster feral kittens to be socialized or kill them outright. The feral adults are usually killed or euthanized, due to the large time commitment, but some shelters and vets will spay or neuter and vaccinate a feral cat and then return it to the wild.


In domesticated dogs, the process of socialization begins even before the puppy's eyes open. Socialization refers to both its ability to interact acceptably with humans and its understanding of how to communicate successfully with other dogs. If the mother is fearful of humans or of her environment, she can pass along this fear to her puppies. For most dogs, however, a mother who interacts well with humans is the best teacher that the puppies can have. In addition, puppies learn how to interact with other dogs by their interaction with their mother and with other adult dogs in the house.

A mother's attitude and tolerance of her puppies will change as they grow older and become more active. For this reason most experts today recommend leaving puppies with their mother until at least 8 to 10 weeks of age. This gives them a chance to experience a variety of interactions with their mother, and to observe her behavior in a range of situations.

It is critical that human interaction takes place frequently and calmly from the time the puppies are born, from simple, gentle handling to the mere presence of humans in the vicinity of the puppies, performing everyday tasks and activities. As the puppies grow older, socialization occurs more readily the more frequently they are exposed to other dogs, other people, and other situations. Dogs who are well socialized from birth, with both dogs and other species (especially people) are much less likely to be aggressive or to suffer from fear-biting.


* Chinoy, Ely (1961) Society: An Introduction to Sociology, New York: Random House.
* Clausen, John A. (ed.) (1968) Socialization and Society, Boston: Little Brown and Company.
* Johnson, Harry M. (1961) Sociology: A Systematic Introduction, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
* McQuail, Dennis (2005) McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory: Fifth Edition, London: Sage.
* Parsons, Talcott and Bales, Robert (1956) Family, Socialization and Interaction Process, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
* White, Graham (1977) Socialisation, London: Longman.
* Michael Paul Rhode, Smithsonian Dep. of Anthropology

ee also

*Cultural assimilation
*Reciprocal socialization
*Social construction
*Structure and agency

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