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Socialization is the process of social interaction through which people acquire personality and learn the ways of their society. It is an essential link between the individual and society. To aid in this process, we have agents of socialization (significant individuals, groups, or institutions in which learning takes place). These include:
The family: Family is by far the most significant agent of socialization. It is within the family that the first socializing occurs. Families teach the child the language of their group, acceptable gender roles, and important values.
Schools: For children in modern industrial societies, school is an important, formal, agent of socialization. Besides teaching the basics, there is often a ”hidden curriculum” as well, things like following rules, being punctual, and not being absent unless you have a legitimate excuse.
Peers: these are friendship groups of roughly equivalent age and interests, who are social equals. They are particularly important for teens and young adults; peers can ease the transition to adulthood. They tend to be more egalitarian than some of the other agents and influence a person’s attitudes and behavior.
Mass media and technology: in modern societies, these are important agents of socialization. Most people believe that people’s attitudes and values are affected by what they see and hear in the media. A positive influence is the fact that televisions and commercials can introduce young people to unfamiliar ideas, lifestyles, and cultures.
Public opinion: what people think about controversial issues is important, but not everyone’s views are equally influential. Better educated, wealthier, and well-connected people’s views often carry more clout. This agent influences appropriate gender roles, notions of right and wrong, and beliefs about controversial topics such as abortion or gay marriages.
Religion: religion is important and relevant for some people, but in the modern world, religion is losing some of its power and influence. For those that follow religious tenets, the norms influence people’s values, the desired size of families, the likelihood of divorce, rates of delinquency, and behaviors considered appropriate (or not).
Workplace: the workplace teaches us appropriate values, work ethic (or lack of it), and appropriate attire. In modern societies, full-time employment confirms adult status and awards us a personal identity. In a culture that has few rites of passage, that is important.
The state: increasingly agencies like nursing homes, mental health clinics, and insurance companies have taken over functions previously filled by families. The state runs many of these institutions or licenses and regulates them. In a sense, the state has created new rites of passage, such as the age a person can legally drive, purchase and consume tobacco and alcohol, marry without parental consent, or officially retire.
Total institutions: these are an important agent of resocialization for some; they are places where residents are confined for a set period of time and kept under the influence of a hierarchy of officials. Every aspect of life is controlled, from the time you get up until you go to bed. The goal of a total institution is to resocialize you, to totally change you and make you into something new (and presumably better”).
- Giddens, A. & Duneier, M. (2000) Introduction to Sociology, 3rd edn. W. W. Norton, New York, pp. 76-84, 186-91, 370-2.
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