Sociology and Socialization

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Socialization has had diverse meanings in the social sciences, partly because a number of disciplines claim it as a central process. In its most common and general usage, the term ‘‘socialization’’ refers to the process of interaction through which an individual (a novice) acquires the norms, values, beliefs, attitudes, and language characteristic of his or her group. In the course of acquiring these cultural elements, the individual self and personality are created and shaped. Socialization therefore addresses two important problems in social life: societal continuity from one generation to the next and human development. Different disciplines have emphasized different aspects of this process. Anthropologists tend to view socialization primarily as cultural transmission from one generation to the next, sometimes substituting the term ‘‘enculturation’’ for socialization (Herskovits 1948). Anthropological interest in socialization or enculturation coincided with the emergence of the ‘‘culture and personality’’ orientation of the late 1920s and 1930s, when the works of Mead (1928), Benedict (1934), and Malinowski (1927) focused on cultural practices affecting child rearing, value transmission, and personality development and helped shape the anthropological approach to socialization. Much of the work in the culture and personality field was influenced by psychoanalytic theory. Contemporary cultural anthropology is guided less by psychoanalytic theory and more by social constructionist theories (such as symbolic interactionism), which view socialization as a collective and interpretive process of reality construction involving the reproduction of culture. This orientation has been shaped largely by the work of Geertz (1973), whose influence is also evident in sociological work on socialization, such as that of Corsaro and Eder (1995). Psychologists are less likely to emphasize the transmission of culture and more likely to emphasize various aspects of individual development (Goslin 1969). There is considerable diversity within psychology in regard to the aspect of socialization studied. For developmental psychologists, particularly those influenced by Piaget (1926), socialization is largely a matter of cognitive development, which typically is viewed as a combination of social influence and maturation. For behavioural psychologists, socialization is synonymous with learning patterns of behaviour. For clinical psychologists and personality theorists, it is viewed as the establishment of character traits, usually within the context of early childhood experiences. The subfield of child development is most closely associated with the topic of socialization within psychology, where socialization is largely equated with child rearing (Clausen [1968] provides a historical overview of socialization in these disciplines). Political science has shown some interest in socialization, but in a limited sense. Its studies have not gone much beyond political socialization: the process by which political attitudes and orientations are formed. However, a different and more esoteric use of the term occasionally appears in this literature: socialization as ‘‘collectivization,’’ that is, the transformation of capitalism to socialism and/or communism.

Within sociology, there have been two main orientations toward socialization. One views socialization primarily as the learning of social roles. From this perspective, individuals become integrated members of society by learning and internalizing the relevant roles and statuses of the groups to which they belong (Brim 1966). This view has been present in some form from the beginnings of sociology as a discipline but has been most closely associated with structural functionalist perspectives. The other, more prevalent sociological orientation views socialization mainly as self-concept formation. The development of self and identity in the context of intimate and reciprocal relations...
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