Socialization: Definition, types, aims & agents

At the end of this topic,students will be able to:

  • Define the term “socialization”;
  • Appreciate the aims of socialization;
  • Describe human biological bases of, and capacity for,socialization;
  • Understand the modes of social learning;
  • Identify the modes and /or patterns of socialization;
  • Describe the major types of socialization; and
  • Describe the components and agents of socialization.

Definition of socialization and its Necessity

In any society there are sociallyrecognized ways in which the norms and values of the society are inculcated inthe human infant who comes into this world as a biological organism withanimalistic needs or impulses. Individuals learn group-defined ways of acting andbehaving, and what they socially learn becomes part of their personality.

Socialization is a process of making somebodysocial and fully human. Or more appropriately, it is a process wherebyindividual persons learn and are trained in the basic norms, values, beliefs,skills, attitudes, way of doing and acting as appropriate to a specific social groupor society.

It is an on-going, never endingprocess- from cradle to the grave. That means an individual person passesthrough various stages of socialization, from birth to death. Thus, we needsocialization as infants, preschool children, schoolboys/girls, pubescent, adolescents,adults and older persons.

From the point of view ofindividual persons, especially a newly born baby, socialization is a processwhereby a biological being or organism is changed into a social being. In termsof the group, society or any professional organizations, socialization is aprocess whereby the organizations’, social groups’ and society’s structure and well-beingare kept and sustained. It is the process whereby the culture, skills, norms,traditions, customs,

etc., are transmitted fromgeneration to generation – or from one society to another.

Socialization may be formal orinformal. It becomes formal when it is conducted by formally organized social groupsand institutions, like schools, religious centers, mass media universities,work places, military training centers, internships, etc. It is informal whenit is carried out through the informal social interactions and relationships atmicro-levels, at interpersonal and small social group levels. The mostimportant socialization for us is that we get through informal agents likefamily, parents, neighborhood and peer group influences. It has a very powerfulinfluence, whether negative or positive, in our lives.

The process of socialization,whether it is formal or informal, is vitally important to both individuals and society.Without some kind of socialization, society would cease to exist.Socialization, thus, can be labeled as the way by which culture is transmittedand individuals are fitted into the society’s organized way of life.

The Goals of Socialization

In terms of individual persons,the goal of socialization is to equip him or her with the basic values, norms,skills, etc, so that they will behave and act properly in the social group towhich they belong. Socialization has also the following specific goals (Broomand Sleznki, 1973):

  • To inculcate basic disciplines by restraining a childor even an adult from immediate gratification; a child who is toilet-trainedwill delay relieving himself/ herself until the proper environment is created.
  • To instill aspirations;
  • To teach social roles;
  • To teach skills;
  • To teach conformity to norms; and
  • To create acceptable and constructive personal identities.

Despite the inculcation of valuesand norms is significant in the process of social integration, we need to alsonote that social values are not equally absorbed by members of a society orgroup. The integrative function of socialization is also not equally beneficialto all people. There is always the question of whose values have to beinculcated? This question particularly becomes crucial in an increasinglyglobalizing society.

Hence, the ideological role ofsocialization with the issues of differential power, control, domination and conflictbecome important.

Human Biological Bases of, and Capacityfor, Socialization

From among the animal kingdom,humans are the only ones who are capable of socialization because they are endowedwith the necessary biological bases that are lacking in other animals. Thefollowing are the key biological characteristics of human beings on which socializationis based: Absence of instincts, social contact needs, longer period ofchildhood dependence, capacity to learn and language (Broom and Sleznki, 1973;Henslin and Nelson, 1995)

1.      Absence of Instincts:

The term “instinct” inits current social science usage refers to the complex behavior patterns forwhich some animal species as biologically programmed. For example,nest-building among birds is an indistinct. But humans have no comparablebehavior patterns which are biologically fixed, although they have innumerablebuilt-in physiological reflexes. Human have biological drives or impulses suchas hunger, thirst, sex, etc, rather than instincts. This absence of instincts makeshumans dependent on social direction and their behaviors are amenable to suchdirection. The openendedness of humans is thus the biological ground for socialconformity.

2.      Social Contact Needs:

Humans need sustained social contacts.Studies conducted on primates and human infants revealed that lack of bodystimulation and contact in infancy appear to inhibit and prevent the developmentof higher learning functions. Satisfaction of the social contact and initiationsneeds in humans is a strong biological imperative.

3.      Longer Period of Childhood Dependence:

A third biological condition thatmakes extensive socialization essential for humans is that the human infantneed much longer period of physical dependence and sexual immaturity than otheranimals. The need to acquire the techniques and skills of social living furtherprolongs the dependence. Such longer period of dependence, during which thechild is cared for and controlled by others, results in an intense emotionaldependence that remains throughout life.

4.      Capacity to Learn:

A high level of intelligence isan innate human biological potential. Hence, humans are highly educable; theycan learn much more than other animals and can continue to learn more over alonger period of time.

5.      Language:

Man’s ability to learn is afunction of his capacity for language. Other animals may have some degree ofintelligence but only humans have reasoning capacity because they havelanguage. Language expresses and arouses emotion; conveys feelings, values andknowledge. Whether as vehicle for knowledge or for attitude, language is thekey factor in the creation of human society. Symbolic communication, which ispossessed only by humans, makes language possible. Humans innately possess thepotential and capacity to create culture and to be guided by cultural andsocial norms. At the center of all these is language.

The five human biological bases of socialization

  • Absence of instinct
  • Social contact needs
  • Capacity to learn and teachability
  • Capacity for language
  • Longer period of childhood dependence

Modes of Social Learning

What are the mechanisms by whichsocialization is accomplished? Fuller answer is not yet found to this question.Sociologists have, however, identified four modes of social learning. Theseare: conditioning, identity taking, modeling-after and problem solving (Ibid.).

1.      Conditioning:

This involves learningbased on the principle of association. Conditioning refers to the responsepattern which is built into an organism as a result of stimuli in theenvironment. There is what is called classical conditioning in which the response remainsconstant while the stimuli vary, as in Pavilovian experiment. In contrast, in operant or instrumental conditioning, response is controlled. The term “operant”signifies a behavior which is guided by an anticipatedresult. Thus, operant conditioning entails the “creation of built-in responses a result ofsystematic reinforcement.Conditioning is important in socialization in that throughclassical conditioning children learn to respond tovarious social and man-made stimuli; and throughoperant conditioning, they learn to inhibit certain response andadopt others as habitual.

2.      Identity Taking:

Studies show that children beginto identify themselves and others by sex and learn to behave in the normativegendered ways according to the society of which they parts. This happens by agefive. Researchers of socialization believe that sex-type behavior emergesthrough operant conditioning.

However, it is not the case thatconditioning alone accounts for sex-differences in behavior, although the individualstake their identity of maleness and femaleness through approval and disapprovalas well as reward and punishment. As their linguistic and cognitive skillsgradually develop, children begin to learn that they are being called boys orgirls, accept what others label, learn by observation, and report what boys andgirls do and behave accordingly.

3.      Modeling After:

Children learn to model their behaviorafter someone who is an admired, loved or feared figure. This is considered asa typical stage in personality formation and in the development of personalautonomy and social involvement. Through modeling after someone, our behavioracquires meaning and coherence.

4.      Problem Solving:

The above three mechanisms of sociallearning are ways in which individuals internalize the values and norms ofsociety. They may be termed as modes of internalization. However, sociallearning transcends beyond simply internalizing values and norms. It alsoincludes learning to involve in cooperative and conflict-ridden activities, tocope with new situations and to achieve one’s goals. Problem solving mode of sociallearning is essential particularly in societies where complexity and fluiditydominate the social world.

Problem solving is not to beunderstood as a kind of mathematical puzzle solving, but it is one which is appliedto a problematic social situation in which individuals find themselvesuncomfortable and need a context -based response.

While each mode of sociallearning is important, it is to be noted that each has its own limitation. Nosingle mode of social learning thus fully accounts for socialization.

Patterns of Socialization

There are two broadly classifiedpatterns of socialization. These are: Repressive and participatory socialization. Repressive socialization is oriented towardsgaining obedience, while participatory socialization is oriented towardsgaining the participation of the child. Punishment of wrong behavior and rewardingand reinforcing good behavior are involved in the two kinds of socialization,respectively. The following is a tabular representation of the two modes of socialization.

Two modes of socialization, adapted from Broom andSelznick (1973)

Repressive Socialization Participatory Socialization
Punishing wrong behavior  Rewarding good behavior
Material rewards and punishment Symbolic rewards and punishment
Obedience of child Autonomy of child
Non-verbal communication Verbal communication
Communication as command Communication as interaction`
Parent-centered socialization Child-centered socialization
Child’s discernment of parents’ wishes Parents’ discernment of child’s needs
Family as significant other Family as generalized other

Major Types of Socialization

There are different types ofsocialization; the major ones include: primary or childhood socialization, secondary or adulthood socialization, de-socializationand resocialization.

Other minor types of socializationinclude: anticipatory socializationand reverse socialization (Calhoun et al, 1994;Henslin and Nelson, 1995; Soroka, 1996; Macionis, 1997)

1.      Primary or Childhood Socialization

This is also called basic or early socialization.The terms “primary”, “basic” or “early” allsignify the overriding importance of the childhood period for socialization.Much of the personality make-up of individuals is forged at this period inlife. Socialization at this stage of life is a landmark; without it, we would ceaseto become social beings. The human infant who is a biological being or organismis changed into a social being mainly at this early stage. Hence, childrenshould be appropriately socialized from birth up to particularly five years ofage, because this period is basic and crucial one. A child who does not getappropriate socialization at this stage will most likely be deficient in his/hersocial, moral, intellectual and personality development. Some grew up developinganti-social attitudes, aspirations and practices.

2.      Secondary or Adult Socialization

While socialization is anoverbidding issue for children and adolescents, it is a never-ending processthat continues throughout life. Secondary or adult socialization is necessitatedwhen individual take up new roles, reorienting themselves according to their changessocial statuses and roles, as in starting marital life. The socializationprocess at this stage may sometimes be intense. For example, fresh college graduatesentering the world of work to start their first jobs, there are quite many newroles to be mastered.

Intense adult socialization mayalso occur among immigrants. When they go to other countries, they may need tolearn the language, values, norms, and a host of other custom and folkways,coupled with experiencing economic hardships may prove to be truly stressfuland most challenging. Although it may be fairly stated that childhoodsocialization experiences what kind of people we become, the challenges ofsocialization thus continues in late adolescent and adult stages. This happensto be so particularly in the context of fast changing world in complexsocieties.

3.      Re-socialization and De-socialization

In the lives of individuals, asthey pass through different stages and life experiences, there is the need forresocialization and de-socialization. Re-socialization means the adoption byadults of radically different norms and lifeways that are more or lesscompletely dissimilar to the previous norms and values. Resocialization signifiesthe rapid and more basic changes in the adult life. The change may demandabandonment of one lifeway with a new one, which is completely different from,and also incompatible with, the former.

This quite so often happens asadult life in modern societies demands sharp transitions and changes.

De-socialization typicallyprecedes re-socialization. Desocialization refers to stripping individuals oftheir former life styles, beliefs, values and attitudes so that they may takeup other partially or totally new life styles, attitudes and values. The individualshave to abandon their former values and take up new ones in order to become partof the new social group.

De-socialization and re-socializationoften take place in what is called total institutions, which are anallencompassing and often isolated from the community.

They demand a thoroughde-socialization of the new entrants before they assume full-fledgedmembership.

Total institutions include:mental hospitals, prisons, religious denominations and some other politicalgroups, and military units. In each case, persons joining the new setting havefirst to be de-socialized, before they are resocialized.

Re-socialization may also meansocializing individuals again into their former values and norms, after they rejointheir former ways of life, spending a relatively longer period of time in totalinstitutions. This is because they might have forgotten most of the basicvalues and skills of the former group or society. This kind of resocialization mayalso be regarded as reintegration, helping the ex-community members renew theirmemories of their former lifeways, skills, knowledge, etc.

4.      Anticipatory Socialization

Anticipatory socialization refersto the process of adjustment and adaptation in which individuals try to learnand internalize the roles, values, attitudes and skills of a social status oroccupation for which they are likely recruits in the future. They do this inanticipating the actual forthcoming socialization. It involves a kind of rehearsaland preparations in advance to have a feel of what the new role would looklike. However, anticipatory socialization may not be adequate when the natureand scope of life transition is complex. It may be difficult to fullyanticipate what will happen.

5.      Reverse Socialization

Reverse socialization refers tothe process of socialization whereby the dominant socializing persons, such asparents, happen to be in need of being socialized themselves by those whom theysocialize, such as children. This idea seems to be associated with the factthat socialization is a two-way process. It involves the influences andpressures from the socializees that directly or indirectly induce change the attitudesand behaviors of the socializers themselves.

In reverse socialization,children, for example, may happen to socialize their parents in some roles,skills, and attitudes which the latter lack.

Agents and Components of Socialization

Agents of socialization are thedifferent groups of people and institutional arrangements which are responsiblefor training new members of society. Some of them could be formal, while othersare informal. They help individual members get into the overall activities oftheir society.

There are three components tosocialization process.

There is the socializee who couldbe either a newborn child, a recruit to the army or the police force or a freshmanin a college or an intern in medical service.

Then again there are thesocializers who may be parents, peer groups, community members, teachers or churchmembers. Both the socializee and the socializer interact with one another notin a vacuum but in a social environment which plays an important role in the socializationprocess. These different socializing environments are called socializationsettings. The most socializing agencies are the family, peer relationships, schools,neighborhoods (the community), the mass media, etc.

The institution of family isgenerally regarded as the most important agent of socialization. In the processof socialization, the most important contacts are between a child and his/herparents and siblings. The contacts could also be between the child andsurrogate parents when actual parents are not available. Besides the child’sparents, there are other agents of socialization (in modern societies) such asday-care-centers, nurseries and kindergarten, as well as primary and secondary schoolsand universities. It seems that these various agents of socialization havepartially taken over the function of the parents, particularly in modernsocieties, where women are increasingly leaving their traditional home-basedresponsibilities by engaging in employment outside home. The school representsa formal and conscious effort by a society to socialize its young.

Other than parents and schools,peer groups play very significant roles in the socialization process.Sometimes, the influence of the peer group, be it negative or positive, can beas powerful as that of parents. The peer group may transmit prevailing societalvalues or develop new and distinct cultures of its own with peculiar values.

The mass media such astelevision, radio, movies, videos, tapes, books, magazines and newspapers are alsoimportant agents of socialization. The most crucial effect on children comesfrom television, as studies show. The effects are both negative and positive.

Negative impact seem to begreater that parents and other concerned bodies worry about the way television issocializing children. For example, studies show that watching violence ontelevision can encourage aggressive behavior in children

Multiple and Contradictory Influencesof Socialization

So far, the picture of socializationpresented may seem to be biased towards the structural functionalist view of societyand socialization. Hence, it would be useful to add few ideas that may helpbalance the picture. In a critical conceptualization of socialization, the contradictoryand ambiguous sources and influences of socialization need to be highlighted.

If we take a good exampleinteresting for health science students, it would be important in this regard.A case in point could be alcohol and tobacco consumption.

Evidences show that theconsumption of tobacco and alcohol is rapidly increasing in the Third world.There are underlying and contradictory processes of socialization behind thisphenomenon. The conflicting influences arise when on the one hand, families,schools, and medical institutions warn youngsters not to consume theseproducts; and on the other hand, the global companies producing these productsare powerfully waging the war of getting the products to the youth, through thelure of television advertisement.

This example shows us that oftenconflicting, competing messages pass from the various sources of socialization.The various agents of socialization are also not accorded balanced share ofpower, control and domination. The international companies, who forcefully promotethe culture of consumerism thorough the aid of the powerful global media, tendto play dominating roles in influencing the attitudes and lifestyles ofyoungsters (Personal communications. Dr Teketel Abebe, Addis AbabaUniversity, Department of Sociology and



Socialization is a lifelong,never ending process whereby individuals are trained and fitted into the normalfunctioning of their societies and groups. Only human beings are biologicallycapable for socialization.

Thus, biological bases that makesocialization in humans possible include: absence of instincts, social contactneeds, capacity to learn, prolonged childhood dependence and language.Researchers of socialization have identified the mechanisms by whichsocialization takes place; these are called modes of social learning.

They include: classical andoperant conditioning; identity taking; modeling-after and problem solving. Thepatterns of socialization vary from society to society; there are two broadpatterns of socialization; these are: repressive socialization which focuses onpunishment and reward mechanism, emphasizing obedience of children; and participatorysocialization, which focuses on participating children, by stressingchild-centered socialization.

The goals of socializationinclude: inculcating basic disciplines, instilling aspirations as well asdisciplines, providing individuals with identities, teaching social roles andtheir supporting attitudes, and teaching skills. The major types of socializationare: primary, childhood socialization; secondary, adult socialization; de-socialization and re-socialization. Other minor types include: anticipatory socialization and reverse socialization. Socialization can be carried out at informal and formal levels; of these, informal socialization through the agency of parents, siblings, peer groups and interpersonal relationships plays a very powerful role in shaping our attitudes, goals, lifestyles, knowledge and overall personality development. Other formal agents of socialization also play very important roles; these are: schools at different levels and mass media, of which television stands out the most powerful agent of socialization relating to children, often with negative effects.

Practice Questions

  • Definethe term “socialization”.
  • Whyare humans biologically capable ofsocialization?
  • Mentionand discuss the goals of socialization.
  • Discussthe mechanism by which social learning in humanstakes place.
  • Compareand contrast the two modes of socialization.
  • Mentionand discuss the major and minor types ofsocialization.
  • “Agreater proportion of an individual’s personality is areflection of the type of socialization process he or shehas gone through during primary socialization.” Explain.
  • “Withoutsocialization a person is a mere biological being.”Discuss.
  • Identifythe aspects of your personality which you regardas the results of parent socialization, peer influxesand the mass media,
  • Discussthe negative and positive effects oftelevision as agent ofsocialization in your life.



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