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Foundations for Socialization

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 socialization.

  • 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 each other.

  • 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 receive messages.

  • 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 children’s futures.

  • 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.

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