Socialization is the process of social
interaction by which people acquire those
behaviors essential for effective participation in
society, the process of becoming a social being.
It is essential for the renewal of culture and the
perpetuation of society. The individual and
society are mutually dependent on
Nature and Nurture Human
socialization presupposes that an adequate
genetic endowment and an adequate
environment are available. Hereditary and
environmental factors interact with and affect
Theories of Socialization Theories of
socialization include functionalist and conflict
theory perspectives as well as three microlevel
approaches. Social learning theory emphasizes
conditioning and observational learning.
Cognitive developmental theory argues that
socialization proceeds differently in the
sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete
operational, and formal operations stages.
Symbolic interactionists say reflexive behavior
facilitates the development of the self.
Agents of Socialization One of the
most important early agents of socialization is
the family. As children grow, peers and schools
become important agents of socialization. The
mass media, especially television, also serve as
agents of socialization.
Social Communication If they are to
adapt to their social environment, human
beings must be able to communicate.
Communication refers to the process by
which people transmit information, ideas,
attitudes, and mental states to one another. It
includes the verbal and nonverbal processes
(body language, paralanguage, proxemics,
touch, and artifacts) by which we send and
Definition of the Situation An
important part of socialization is learning what
constitutes reality—the basic schemes we use
to make sense of and understand the social and
physical world. Definition of the situation is
the interpretation or meaning we give to our
immediate circumstances. Our definitions
influence our construction of reality, an insight
captured by the Thomas theorem.
The Self and Socialization
The formation of the self—the set of concepts
we use in defining who we are—is a central part
of the socialization process. The self emerges in
the course of interaction with other people and
represents the ideas we have regarding our
attributes, capacities, and behavior. It typically
includes an egocentric bias.
Charles Horton Cooley: The Looking-Glass Self Charles Horton Cooley’s notion
that our consciousness arises in a social context
is exemplified by his concept of the lookingglass
self—a process by which we
imaginatively assume the stance of other
people and view ourselves as we believe they
see us. Self-image is differentiated from selfconception.Self-esteem is governed by
reflected appraisals, social comparisons, and
self-attribution. Personal efficacy is another
aspect of self-evaluation.
George Herbert Mead: TheGeneralized Other George Herbert Mead
contended that we gain a sense of selfhood by
acting toward ourselves in much the same
fashion that we act toward others. According to
Mead, children typically pass through three
stages in developing a full sense of selfhood:
the play stage, in which the child plays roles
modeled on a significant other; the game
stage; and the generalized other stage.
Erving Goffman: ImpressionManagement Erving Goffman pointed out
that only by influencing other people’s ideas of us
can we hope to predict or control what happens to
us. Consequently, we have a stake in presenting
ourselves to others in ways that will lead them to
view us in a favorable light, a process Goffman
calls impression management. Goffman
introduced the dramaturgical approach.
Socialization across the Life Course
Socialization is a continuing, lifelong process.
All societies have to deal with the life course that
begins with conception and continues through
old age and ultimately death. Role socialization
involves anticipatory socialization, altering
roles, and exiting from roles.
Childhood Though societies differ in
their definitions of childhood, they all begin the
socialization process as soon as possible.
Children display people-oriented responses at
very early ages and develop very quickly in
other ways. The “social capital” contained
within a family’s environment is of vital
consequence in channeling and shaping
Adolescence In much of the world,
adolescence is not a socially distinct period in the
human life span. Children in many countries are
socialized to assume adult responsibilities by age
13 and even younger, sometimes by way of
puberty rites. Adolescence is not necessarily a
turbulent period, nor does a sharp generation gap
separate American adolescents from their parents.
Young Adulthood The developmental
and socialization tasks confronting young
adults revolve about the core tasks of work and
love. Individuals are strongly influenced by age
norms and tend to set their personal watches by
a social clock. Some social scientists have
looked for stages through which young adults
typically pass. Others believe that unexpected
events play a more important role in
development. People locate themselves during
the life course not only in terms of social
timetables but also in terms of life events.
Middle Adulthood Middle adulthood is
a somewhat nebulous period. The core tasks
remain much the same as they were in young
adulthood. Increasingly, work is coming to be
defined for both men and women as a badge of
membership in the larger society. Although
economic considerations predominate, people
also work as a means to structure their time,
interact with other people, escape from
boredom, and sustain a positive self-image.
Later Adulthood The last years of one’s
life may be filled with more dramatic changes
than any previous stage. Retiring, losing one’s
spouse, becoming disabled, moving to a
nursing home or other care facility, and
preparing for death all require individuals to
change and adapt. Societies differ in the
prestige and dignity they accord the aged.
Death A diagnosis of impending death
requires that an individual adjust to a new
definition of self. Changes in medical technology
and social conditions have made death a different
experience from that of earlier times. Americans
are grappling with the issue of euthanasia, and
the hospice movement has arisen to provide a
more humane approach to the dying experience.