Socialization is a fundamental sociological concept, comprising a number of elements. While not every sociologist will agree which elements are the most important, or even how to define some of the elements of socialization, the elements outlined below should help clarify what is meant by socialization.
3) the cultivation of sources of meaning, or what is important, valued, and to be lived for
In short, socialization is the process that prepares humans to function in social life. It should be re-iterated here that socialization is culturally relative - people in different cultures and people that occupy different racial, classed, gendered, sexual, and religious social locations are socialized differently. This distinction does not and should not inherently force an evaluative judgement. Socialization, because it is the adoption of culture, is going to be different in every culture and within different subcultures. Socialization, as both process or an outcome, is not better or worse in any particular culture or subculture.
It should also be noted that, while socialization is a key sociological process in the development of individuals who can function in human society, not every aspect of human behavior is learned. For instance, there is evidence that most children have innate empathy for individuals who are willfully injured and consider it wrong. Thus, some aspects of human behavior that one might believe are learned, like empathy and morals, may, in fact, be biologically determined. To what extent human behavior is biologically determined vs. learned is still an open question in the study of human behavior, but recent reviews of biological, genetic, neuroscience, and psychological literatures suggest that culture can influence biology and vice versa (e.g., nurture becomes nature through processes wherein learned responses and behaviors feed the development of the brain and the activation of genetic potential).
Socialization is a life process, but is generally divided into two parts: Primary socialization takes place early in life, as a child and adolescent. Secondary socialization refers to the socialization that takes place throughout one's life, both as a child and as one encounters new groups that require additional socialization. While there are scholars who argue that only one or the other of these occurs, most social scientists tend to combine the two, arguing that the basic or coreidentity of the individual develops during primary socialization, with more specific changes occurring later - secondary socialization - in response to the acquisition of new group memberships and roles and differently structured social situations. The need for later life socialization may stem from the increasing complexity of society with its corresponding increase in varied roles and responsibilities.
Mortimer and Simmons outline three specific ways these two parts of socialization differ:
1) content - Socialization in childhood is thought to be concerned with the regulation of biological drives. In adolescence, socialization is concerned with the development of overarching values and the self-image. In adulthood, socialization involves more overt and specific norms and behaviors, such as those related to the work role as well as more superficial personality features.
2) context - In earlier periods, the socializee (the person being socialized) more clearly assumes the status of learner within the context of the initial setting (which may be a family of orientation, an orphanage, a period of homelessness, or any other initial social groups at the beginning of a child's life), the school (or other educational context), or the peer group. Also, relationships in the earlier period are more likely to be affectively charged, i.e., highly emotional. In adulthood, though the socializee takes the role of student at times, much socialization occurs after the socializee has assumed full incumbency of the adult role. There is also a greater likelihood of more formal relationships due to situational contexts (e.g., work environment), which moderates down the affective component.
3) response - The child and adolescent may be more easily malleable than the adult. Also, much adult socialization is self-initiated and voluntary; adults can leave or terminate the process at any time if they have the proper resources (symbolic, financial, and social) to do so.
Socialization is, of course, a social process. As such, it involves interactions between people. Socialization, as noted in the distinction between primary and secondary, can take place in multiple contexts and as a result of contact with numerous groups. Some of the more significant contributors to the socialization process are: parents, guardians, friends, schools, siblings or other family members, social clubs (like religions or sports teams), life partners (romantic or platonic), and co-workers. Each of these groups include a culture that must be learned and to some degree appropriated by the socializee in order to gain admittance to the group.
Broad and Narrow Socialization
Arnett proposed an interesting though seldom used distinction in types of socialization. Arnett distinguishes between broad and narrow socialization:broad socialization is intended to promote independence, individualism, and self-expression; it is dubbed broad because this type of socialization has the potential of resulting in a broad range of outcomes
narrow socialization is intended to promote obedience and conformity; it is dubbed narrow because there is a narrow range of outcomes
These distinctions correspond to Arnett's definition of socialization, which ais:the whole process by which an individual born with behavioral potentialities of enormously wide range, is led to develop actual behavior which is confined with a much narrower range; the range of what is customary and acceptable for him according to the standards of his group
Arnett explains that his understanding of socialization should not be understood as having just two options, broad or narrow. Instead, the author argues that socialization can be broad or narrow within each of the seven socializing forces he outlines (e.g., family, friends, etc.). Because each force can be either broad or narrow, there is a wide variety of possible broad/narrow socialization combinations. Finally, Arnett notes two examples where his distinction is relevant. First, Arnett argues that there are often differences in socialization by gender. Where these differences exist, argues Arnett, socialization tends to be narrower for women than for men (other sociologists have demonstrated similarities in other minority groups). Arnett also argues that Japanese socialization is narrow as there is more pressure toward conformity in that culture. Arnett argues that this may account for the lower crime rates in Japan.
Not all socialization is voluntary nor is all socialization successful. There are components of society designed specifically to resocialize individuals who were not successfully socialized to begin with. For instance, prisons and mental health institutions are designed to resocialize people who are deemed to have not been successfully socialized. Depending on the degree of isolation and resocialization that takes place in a given institution, some of these institutions are labeled total institutions. In his classic study of total institutions, Erving Goffman gives the following characteristics of total institutions:
1) all aspects of life are conducted in the same place under the same authority
2) the individual is a member of a large cohort, all treated alike
3) all daily activities (over a 24-hour period) are tightly scheduled
4) there is a sharp split between supervisors and lower participants
The most common examples of total institutions include mental hospitals, prisons, and military boot camps, though there are numerous other institutions that could be considered total institutions as well. The goal of total institutions is to facilitate a complete break with one's old life in order for the institution to resocialize the individual into a new life.Mortimer and Simmons note a difference in socialization methodologies in different types of institutions. When the goal of an institution is socialization (primary or secondary), the institution tends to use normative pressures. When the goal of an institution is resocialization of deviants, coercion is frequently involved.
In all such cases (and especially in total institutions), this process is accomplished by what Goffman called "the mortification of the self," which refers to the processes whereby authority figures strip unwanted elements from the person under their care and / or control to fashion a type of self society deems acceptable or normative. In the case of mental patients and military personnel, for example, new admissions to the institutions are stripped of their existing symbolic resources (e.g., fashion choices, schedules, methods of speech, etc.) so they may be re-fashioned in the image of the "healthy patient" or "capable soldier. " Thus while much socialization involves learning and adopting new lessons, socialization often also involves the repression or suppression of individuality, prior cultural ties, and / or former patterns of behavior.
One of the most common methods used to illustrate the importance of socialization is to draw upon the few unfortunate cases of children who were, through neglect, misfortune, or wilful abuse, not socialized by adults while they were growing up. Such children are called "feral" or wild. Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents); in some cases this child abandonment was due to the parents' rejection of a child's severe intellectual or physical impairment. Feral children may have experienced severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Others are alleged to have been brought up by animals; some are said to have lived in the wild on their own. When completely brought up by non-human animals, the feral child exhibits behaviors (within physical limits) almost entirely like those of the particular care-animal, such as its fear of or indifference to humans.
Feral children lack the basic social skills which are normally learned in the process of socialization. For example, they may be unable to learn to use a toilet, have trouble learning to walk upright and display a complete lack of interest in the human activity around them. They often seem mentally impaired and have almost insurmountable trouble learning a human language. The impaired ability to learn language after having been isolated for so many years is often attributed to the existence of a critical period for language learning, and taken as evidence in favor of the Critical Period Hypothesis, and the examples of such children are often used to cast doubts upon potential biological and genetic determinants of human behavior and development. It is very difficult to socialize a child who became isolated at a very young age into a relatively normal member of society and such individuals often need close care throughout their lives.
There are, unfortunately, a number of examples of such children that have been well-documented, including:
Danielle Crockett, who was found in a Plant City, Florida home in 2005.