Culture and Socialisation: the Building Blocks of Our Identity

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Everything we as human beings come into contact with in the social world has a role, however minor, in helping to shape our individual identities. However, the question has been posed, is it culture and socialisation which are more influential as a social process in developing our identity or is it the social structures which are the main shapers in developing our identity? The culture we are raised in and the people that we come into contact with on a daily basis as a young child are the first encounters we have with socialisation. As children we imitate those close to us and habits begin to form. Through this imitation we also learn to express our emotions. These behaviours are ingrained in us from an early age and are the first basic building blocks we are given to develop our individual identities. What we see and have contact with everyday has much stronger influence over us, especially in our early years when we are learning constantly about our environment, culture and the people involved in our lives on a regular basis. These are the things we absorb and begin to understand as a child, the things that we are aware of that have a direct impact on us. Ken Plummer also discusses the great need for this early socialisation and the negative effects that an un-socialised individual may encounter: We start to become aware of other people in this world (usually initially our dear – or not so dear - mothers, father and siblings): we start to become attuned to them. We learn how to please them and others; and indeed how to annoy them. We slowly start to imagine the worlds they live in and how they may respond to us. Like it or not, we become increasingly socialised to act towards them, to develop a primitive empathy or sympathy towards others. If we do not – if we fail to learn this empathy – then we will not be able to communicate, we will not be able to routinely so about daily social life in any kind of satisfactory way (Sociology: The Basics, Ken Plummer 2010, p. 2). Our parents teach us the behaviours that are acceptable in society, these behaviours often become habit and dictate how we conduct ourselves and communicate with others. The mother or guardian and child bond is particularly strong and so from birth the child learns to imitate its mother, this is the earliest and most consistent socialisation the child receives and therefore is most important. The words of Kim Atkins come to mind when stressing the importance of the mother/child bond, “human beings come into existence quite literally through the bodies of our other human beings, and our early survival depends upon the most intimate human interactions.” (Narrative Identity and Moral Identity: A Practical Perspective, Kim Atkins 2008, p.1.) The ideas of George Herbert Mead (1863 – 1932) also suggest that the child’s ideas about the world begin when the child starts to “realise there is something beyond its own world of instinctual gratification, as it comes to recognise and identify with the faces and hands around it (on which it depends). (Sociology: The basics, Ken Plummer 2010, p. 21). This early socialisation isn’t just restricted to one or two communities but is a worldwide phenomenon and disregards class or social structure, although the process of socialisation itself may differ. This theory is also supported by Ken Plummer. A newly born baby, full of bodily desires, is a very human animal – but it is not a very social one. As every good parent across the world knows, it takes a while to train a baby and to help to make it properly social. This process – early or primary socialisation – is done very differently across different cultures and across histories: children are raised by wet nurses, nannies, in communes and large families, by single parents, residential homes and so on. There is much diversity in child-rearing habits. And much research which charts how children come to construct their language, their sense of self and their social habits – for...
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