Socialization, as a concept in social scientific research, has evolved over time. While the basic idea outlined above has been a component of most understandings of socialization, there have been quite a variety of definitions and theories of socialization. Some of these approaches are presented here:
Symbolic Interactionism - the self develops as a result of interrelated social interactions and interpretive processes; as a result, socialization is highly dependent on the situations in which the actor finds him/herself and the ways these situations are "made sense of" by the being or others; this approach also argues that socialization is a continuous, lifelong process
Role Theory - socialization is seen as a process of acquisition of appropriate norms, attitudes, self-images, values, and role behaviors that enable acceptance in the group and effective performance of new roles; in this framework, socialization is seen as a conservative force, permitting the perpetuation of the social organization in spite of the turn-over of individual members through time
Reinforcement Theory - the self develops as a result of cognitive evaluations of costs and benefits; this understanding assumes that the socializee, in approaching new roles, is an independent and active negotiator for advantages in relationships with role partners and membership groups
Internalization Theory - socialization is a series of stages in which the individual learns to participate in various levels of organization of society; this theory contends that the child internalizes a cognitive frame of reference for interpersonal relations and a common system of expressive symbolism in addition to a moral conscience; this approach was advocated by Talcott Parsons
Recent research suggests that human children are hard-wired to exactly imitate the roles of adults, including actions that are not pragmatic. This is referred to as "overimitation" and, while seemingly maladaptive from an evolutionary perspective, it is possible that this is one of the characteristics of humans that facilitates the transmission of culture from generation to generation. Despite this possibility, however, arguments in this vein typically stress conformity among children, and ignore variation and deviance (especially in the context of minority groups).
Socialization as Joining Groups
Socialization has addressed the problem of individual adjustment to society. In all of the approaches outlined above, socialization has, in one way or another, referred to the idea that society shapes its members toward compliance and cooperation with societal requirements. In order to reduce confusion, develop a research methodology for measuring socialization, and potentially lead to the comparability of research findings from different studies, Long and Hadden proposed a revised understanding of socialization. Rather than referring to a vague adoption or learning of culture, Long and Hadden reframed socialization as "the medium for transforming newcomers into bona fide members of a group. " Before discussing some of the specifics of this approach, it may be useful to outline some of the critiques Long and Hadden present of earlier approaches to socialization.According to Long and Hadden, many earlier approaches to socialization extended socialization to every part of human social life. As a result, everyone becomes both a socializing agent (socializer) and a novice (socializee) in all encounters with others. This conceptualization leaves socialization without a social home; it is all around but no place in particular. Another criticism of previous approaches is that they allowed socialization to include anything, and anything which is part of the process at one time may be excluded at another. With this conceptualization, any phenomenon may shift its status in the socialization process without changing its own composition or expression. In other words, socialization includes virtually everything, excludes almost nothing, and shifts with circumstance and outcomes. Additionally, previous approaches to socialization lacked specificity about the nature of socialization activity. Defining socialization by its outcomes made it unnecessary to stipulate the nature of the process conceptually. Socialization could be attributed to this or that but in order to truly understand what is taking place it is necessary to go beyond just pointing to socializing agents and specify what it is about those agents that is doing the socializing. Another serious drawback of earlier approaches is that they disregard the process component of socialization. Doing so limits the socialization concept to employment primarily as a post hoc interpretive category that is used to lend significance to findings defined and developed in other terms.
As a result of these criticisms, Long and Hadden found themselves presented with a two-fold task:
1) locate socialization and its social boundaries more precisely
2) specify the distinctive properties which distinguish it from related phenomena
To accomplish this, Long and Hadden developed a new understanding of socialization, "socialization is the process of creating and incorporating new members of a group from a pool of newcomers, carried out by members and their allies". Under this understanding, the principal agents of socialization are certified and practicing members of the group to which novices are being socialized. It should be noted that certified here is only a shortened way of saying "a socially approved member of the group. " Thus, Long and Hadden's revised understanding of socialization sees it as both the process and outcome of joining groups.