Agents of Socialisation

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From the moment we are born, we all go through a process of socialisation. During this time we learn the norms and values of our society. There is some debate as to how much of what makes us different as individuals is due to the influence of society or whether we are in some way biologically programmed. The nature or nurture debate is important to consider when studying the nature of socialisation as the roles played by social influence and biological influence are both relevant. When studying socialisation sociologists are more interested in looking at social influence and nurture factors.

Primary socialisation begins as soon as we are born, and usually continues until a child begins primary school. This time period is when parents play the most significant role and is the reason why family is seen as the most important agent of primary socialisation. As more mothers go back to work after maternity leave and place their children with childminders or in nurseries, they can also be seen as primary agents of socialisation. It could be argued that the media has an influence also as there are television programmes designed for small children, such as CITV and CBeebies.

When children become more independent they start to spend less time with their parents and more time in school or with their friends. This is when Secondary socialisation begins. These social influences become more significant in a child’s life as time goes on. The agents of secondary socialisation are education, peer groups, religion and the media (in later life the workplace is also included in this list.) All these agents, including family, are significant in the process of learning the norms, values and culture of society.

Functionalists believe that each part of the social structure has a function or use, which allows society to run smoothly. Society is based on consensus and agreement about the way things should be in society, what is right and what is important. Socialisation is a lifelong process by which we keep learning and developing as human beings. The most important primary agent of socialisation is family, playing an important role in shaping the life and behaviour of individuals within society by teaching the basic norms and values. Children copy the behaviour of family members and use them as role models and by imitating them they learn the correct way of behaving. Basic norms as what time to eat, where they sleep, when to wash, etc are passed on naturally. These norms can also reflect the importance of mealtimes in maintaining good family relations. Other ways in which the family can influence socialisation is by rewarding good behaviour with praise or treats and discourage unwanted behaviour by withdrawal of pocket money or using a ‘time-out’.

Ballard was a major researcher in the Asian community and found that Asian families worked hard to preserve traditional family ways in spite of difficulties like finding houses big enough for extended families. He saw there was the potential for successful ‘cultural navigation’, where someone navigates successfully between cultures helping to avoid a ‘generational culture clash’ with parents and grandparents, although there may still be disagreements about appropriate dress, arranged marriage, etc.

Gender roles are learned from an early age. A child who sees his father go out to work while his mother stays at home will have an effect of how a child sees gender roles. Father = breadwinner, mother = carer, cleaner, cook, etc. There is no guarantee that the child will grow up and fall into the same role but they may influence choices they make in later life. Feminists believe that our gender determines our life chances, and that because of hegemonic ideas of masculinity this usually favours men. Liberal feminists, such as Oakley argue that girls and boys are socialised in different ways. For example girls are encouraged to take on caring roles, which could lead to them having jobs such as...
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