Socialization is a term that refers to the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies, providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within his or her own society (Figure 2). Socialization describes a process that may lead to desirable or moral outcomes. Individual views on certain issues, such as race or economics, may be socialized within a society.
Functionalist Perspective on Socialization
The Functionalist paradigm describes society as stable and describes all of the various mechanisms that maintain social stability. Functionalism argues that the social structure is responsible for all stability and instability, and that that the social structure is continuously attempting to maintain social equilibrium among all the components of society.
According to functionalists, the socialization process is coercive, forcing us to accept the values and norms of society. The values and norms of society are agreed upon by all members of society because there is a “social contract” in effect which protects us from one another and keeps society stable and balanced. People follow and accept the values and norms of society in order to maintain their own safety as well as maintaining social order.
Robert K. Merton
The term role model generally means any "person who serves as an example, whose behavior is emulated by others.” The term first appeared in Robert K. Merton's socialization research of medical students. Merton hypothesized that socialization happens when individuals compare themselves with reference groups of people who occupy the social role to which the individual aspires. Beginning with Merton, sociologists call any group that individuals use as a standard for evaluating themselves and their own behavior a reference group. For example, an individual in the U.S. with an annual income of $80,000, may consider himself affluent if he compares himself to those who earn roughly $35,000 a year. If, however, the same person considers the relevant reference group to be those in the top 0.1 percent of households in the U.S., those making $1.6 million or more, then the individual's income of $80,000 would make him or her seem rather poor.
Talcott Parsons was heavily influenced by Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, synthesizing much of their work into his action theory, which he based on the system-theoretical concept and the methodological principle of voluntary action. The key processes for Parsons for system reproduction are socialization and social control. Socialization is important because it is the mechanism for transferring the accepted norms and values of society to the individuals within the system. Parsons never spoke about "perfect socialization"—in any society socialization was only partial and "incomplete" from an integral point of view. Socialization is supported by the positive and negative sanctioning of role behaviors that do or do not meet these expectations. A punishment could be informal, like a snicker or gossip, or more formalized, through institutions such as prisons and mental institutions.