Socialization Research Paper

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  1. Introduction
  2. The Structure of Socialization
  3. The Agents of Socialization
    1. On Primary Socialization: The Family and Community, Schools, and Peer Network
    2. Schools and Socialization into Social Class
    3. Peer Group and Cohort Socialization
    4. Religious Socialization
  4. Socialization into Gender, Race, and the Life Course
    1. Parental Influence on Gender Socialization
    2. The Influence of Language on Gender Socialization
    3. The Influence of the Mass Media on Gender Socialization
    4. Racial Socialization
    5. Life-Course Socialization
  5. Organizational Socialization: From Total to Greedy Institutions
    1. Military Socialization
  6. Conclusion: Prospects for Future Development in Socialization Theory
  7. Bibliography


Socialization is the most interdisciplinary subfield in the social sciences because of the rich history of arguments across disciplinary lines, discourses between psychology and sociology, sociology and anthropology, and between the social and natural sciences (Clausen 1968; Goslin 1969; Watson 1924). The idea that environmental forces are responsible for human behavior was in direct opposition to the view that instinctual and hereditary factors were largely in charge. This debate came to prominence in the mid-1800s beginning with Darwin’s natural selection and adaptation discoveries ([1872] 1966) and has continued over the last century with varying degrees of intensity.



By 1900, the nature (hereditary) versus nurture (environment) argument concerning whether biological and instinctual forces were overriding social and environmental ones in determining human behavior was at its most intense. Moreover, the emerging discipline and social movement of eugenics in the Americas, which was a natural extension of the idea that hereditary forces were more important than social ones in human development, did much to demarcate the two approaches (see Stepan 1991). In fact, it was the father of eugenics himself, Francis Galton, who noted in the introduction of his book that hereditary factors were overriding all other social factors, and that it was possible to improve the race by the “careful selection” of traits that were more desirable than others (Galton [1869] 1972, quoted in Stepan 1991). Eugenists and hereditarians were utterly convinced that no amount of intellectual training, moral development, or resocialization would ever have an intervening impact over the predetermining genetic ones. “No degenerate or feebleminded stock,” said Karl Pearson, Francis Galton Professor at University College, London University, “will ever be converted into healthy and sound stock by the accumulated effects of education, good laws, and sanitary surroundings. We have placed our money on environment when heredity wins by a canter” (quoted in Stepan 1991:28).

Debates between social scientists who were aligned with the interactionist approach and evolutionary biologists and other “social” scientists who were in the hereditarian camp (Thomas 1999) were passionate and raging (see Bernard 1924; Lombroso 1911; Watson 1924). In fact, each discipline within the social sciences brought its own insights on how individuals develop a sense of self and how they internalized the norms and values of society apart from hereditary influences.

For anthropology, socialization was “seen as enculturation or intergenerational transmission,” for psychology it was “the acquisition of impulse control,” and lastly, for sociology, socialization was conceptualized as “role training or training for social participation” (LeVine 1969:505). These disciplines brought unique theories to the problem of the individual’s personal and social development along the life course while emphasizing dissimilar pathologies to explain failed socializations. Anthropology’s main contribution was to conceptualize the child as tabula rasa repository of cultural values. Children came into the world with clean slates, and society wrote the cultural script onto their blank pages; they were, at least initially, passive receptors of cultural values, norms, and mores. Moreover, anthropology was one of the first social sciences to challenge the received view of biological determinism that posited genetic or instinctual causes for human actions and social pathologies (see Bernard 1924; Lombroso 1911; Wilson 1975; Wilson and Herrnstein 1985). Its emphasis on cultural transmissions between parent and child and between culture and the individual were the basis of its understanding of socialization (see Mead 1930).

In psychology, socialization analysis centered on the development of the personality system in individuals, and here, the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud (1923, 1946) had pervasive influence. One of the central ideas of Freudian psychoanalytic theory of socialization is that inborn instinctual drives are controlling our behaviors, influencing our choices, and affecting our interpersonal interactions. However, these instinctual drives often come into conflict with rules, mores, and norms imposed on us initially by our parents, then our culture, and other socializing agents. The individual, and his or her personality system, is in a constant struggle to balance the inborn instinctual drives for eros, defined by Freud as the insatiable desire for, and pursuit of, pleasure, with the demands of society for discipline, order, and moral stability, which are naturally anathema to the pleasure principle. The child quickly learns to restrain his or her demands for pleasure in acquiescing to society’s norms and mores. As such, Freud reasoned that the personality system that adults have is the sum of socialization and is composed of three parts: the id, which is the most primordial; the ego, which develops after the id; and lastly, the superego, which embodies values that come from the outside world values that have a delimiting impact on the id (Freud 1923).

In the psychoanalytic theory of socialization, although the id and the superego were clearly irreconcilable by themselves, they did share an important character according to Freud: The past was having an overriding influence on each psychical agency. Influencing the id were biological drives that were genetic and hereditary, while the superego was reflecting the norms, mores, and values of society inherited from previous generations (Freud 1949). Interestingly, Freud’s psychoanalytic approach saw parents, teachers, and others as having a profound influence on the personality system through socialization. These socializing agents acted on the personality system through the superego, by promulgating society’s norms to especially impressionable minds. They act to control the id, because an unrestrained id pursuing eros unhindered by normative constraints was ultimately pathological. Likewise, and in contrast, a person who was overly obsessed with the superego’s normative impositions on the psychical system would become socially stifled. The ego is the mitigating influence between these opposite agencies. The ego is the harmonizing agent that prevents extremes in the personality system from either the instinctual pursuit of pleasure or the crippling compliance to normative constraints. While sociologists appreciated the emphasis on the superego, namely, society’s imposition of values and moral codes, and the role of socializing agents in assuaging the unconscious biological drive for eros, ultimately Freud’s socialization paradigm was in stark opposition to sociological theories on the development of the self because of its emphasis on how instinctual forces influence behavior.

Another important contribution from psychology was the cognitive development theory of Jean Piaget (1950, 1954; see also Piaget and Inhelder 1969), especially his ideas on human reasoning. Piaget’s insights on the analytical maturity of children were an important contribution to the nature versus nurture debate in the sciences because, like Freud, he sought an effective integration of biology and sociality in explaining human reasoning. For Piaget, there was no real nature versus nurture debate with regard to analytical proficiency because both factors had prevailing influence at different periods in a child’s life. For instance, hereditary factors played a role in the maturation of the child’s nervous system, which in turn affected reasoning. According to Thomas (1999:33), “Piaget initially accounted for children’s progress through the four stages by the internal maturation of their nervous system as governed by their genetic endowment.” Thus, like Freud, Piaget conflated ideas from both camps in developing his stage theory of cognitive development.

The first stage of analytical development in Piaget’s theory was the sensorimotor stage, from birth to age 2. In this stage, the infant’s senses mediate understanding of her or his surroundings by what she or he can feel, touch, taste, see, and hear. The infant does not posses the capacity to reason as such, but can only manipulate objects via the senses. The second stage is the preoperational stage, from ages 2–7. The child begins to manipulate rudimentary speech patterns and symbols to solve problems, even though she or he may not be fully cognizant of their meanings. The third stage is the concrete-operational stage, from ages 7–12. With this stage comes the ability to think logically and analyze concrete examples that are easily imagined. The final stage is the formal operational stage, from the age of 12. This stage is where the child can undertake abstract or philosophical reasoning. Egocentric appeals to the senses no longer dominates the child as in the preoperational stage, nor does she or he mostly rely on what others say or feel about an issue, as in the concrete reasoning stage. The child now has the ability to raise and answer critical questions that require abstract thought.

Freud and Piaget’s psychological theories on socialization contained strains of biological determinism because of their emphasis on instinctual drives and/or maturation in shaping human personality (see Thomas 1999). As such, their theories are still oppositional paradigms to the somewhat “oversocialized” (Wrong 1961) view of human development in sociology, the next social science paradigm on socialization.

Sociology’s contribution to the socialization debate begins in earnest in the late 1800s with an emphasis on the self and social role acquisition, the former relating to how individuals come to a sense of self by internalizing the impressions of othersand the latter referring to how individuals come to participate in society by assuming role obligations. Although sociology shared with Freudian psychoanalysis emphasizes on the superego’s influence with respect to the developing self, it differed, according to LeVine (1969), by “stressing positive social prescriptions rather than proscriptions or prohibitions, and in seeing no necessary conflict between conformity and individual satisfaction” (p. 507). In sociology’s conception of socialization, there was no struggle between the individual’s desires and those of the social order. Rather, sociology saw society as having an overriding influence on the development of the self—as opposed to instinctive biological drives—by imparting norms and values onto the developing child, and these moral “social facts” (Durkheim [1895] 1964) were enabling and empowering, as opposed to constraining.

In emphasizing the interactional over the instinctual, sociology departed from the claim that hereditary factors were influencing social behavior by stating unequivocally that the individual’s mind and self were indivisible from the social order, and in fact, that the individual was a reflection of society (Mead 1934). Indeed, it was C. H. Cooley’s ([1902] 1964) analogy of the “looking glass” that became the key symbol of the lifelong development of his “social self” ideal. Cooley believed that the self developed through social interactions, namely, by interpreting and internalizing the reactions and judgments of others. Our self-concept was the looking glass that reflected our thoughts about the impressions of others through the ability to see ourselves from their point of view. His looking glass concept had three parts. We first consider how we appear to others. Then, we weigh their reactions and estimations of our appearance to them. Lastly, we internalize their reactions and evaluations, and in so doing, develop our own emotions and judgments about their estimation, which in turn shapes our self-concept. The self is a mere reflection of a multitude of social interactions over the life course, and this is why it is a mirror reflecting our interconnectedness.

A contemporary and close friend of C. H. Cooley, George Herbert Mead’s (1934) contribution to socialization theory has been the most enduring of the early sociologists who undertook this debate. Mead began his analysis by stating unequivocally that the self is a social creation: “The self, as that which can be an object to itself, is essentially a social structure and it arises in social experience” (p. 140). In Mead’s socialization theory, the self, which is a product of society and social interaction, has two parts to its existence, the “I” and the “me.” In children, the “I” is the most primordial aspect of the self, initially unaffected by socialization. It is self-centered, egocentric, and undersocialized; it is the self as subject. It is only through socialization that a more complete sense of the self emerges, the “me.” This part of the self internalizes and assumes the “attitudes of others”; it is the self as object (p. 175).

George Herbert Mead (1934) saw play as an essential part of the development of the self in children. Through play, children are able to “take the role of the other” by trying out various tasks (pp. 364–365). These role-taking recreations are essential for the development of the self in children and proceed along a continuum beginning with the imitation stage, birth to age 3, where children impersonate the gestures and responses of others without fully understanding what those gestures mean. Then, the play stage, from ages 3 to 6, where children play at role taking by acting out occupational or status roles they have observed in adults. Finally, there is the game stage, age 7 and beyond, where children can now take on multiple roles while participating in highly organized activities such as sports. Taking on the role of “significant others” and the expectations of “generalized others,” which Mead (p. 154) defined as the “organized community or group which gives to the individual his unity of self,” is essentially how the child comes to see himself or herself as connected to the social world. The child learns to modify his or her behavior to comply with the values, norms, and expectations of the “general” community, and this is an essential part of the socialization process in children.

The Structure of Socialization

Sociology’s approach to the study of socialization emphasizes social learning throughout the life course, from birth to death; socialization is not limited to the young, but rather, it occurs in varying degrees at all points in the life course of the individual (see Marshall and Mueller 2003; Mortimer and Simmons 1978). Moreover, social learning theory (see Bandura 1977) has been the dominant paradigm in sociological analysis on socializing processes, positing that individuals learn both approving and deviant behaviors through social interactions (see Bandura 1969; Sutherland, Cressey, and Luckenbill 1992). However, the indelible contribution that sociology makes to understanding human socialization is its analysis of how structural forces affect the quality and form of socialization. According to Inkeles (1969), ecological, economic, political, and moral structures are continually affecting the socialization people receive. Ecological factors such as population dynamics and density, for instance, will affect proximally the type of interactions people have. Likewise, economic factors, such as a person’s income and assets, which largely determine an individual’s access to goods and services, have a crucial impact on socialization, especially when they impose limits on a child’s education and access to cultural capital (see Bourdieu and Passeron 1977; Keister and Moller 2000; Kozol 1991; Shapiro 2004). Political structures affect socialization throughout the life course from state policies and laws that harm poor and improvised families to nationstate repression that curtail free and open discourse (see Edin and Lein 1997). Finally, values or preferences concerning both prescribed and proscribed behaviors influence both social interactions and personal choices (see Crittenden 1990; Windermiller, Lambert, and Turiel 1980). Structural factors affect the socialization individuals receive, and as such, sociology pays keen attention to how the aforementioned variables affect an individual’s socialization into social class, race, and gender.

The Agents of Socialization

Besides illuminating the impact of structural variables on socializing processes, sociology noted the existence of agents of socialization, namely, people and institutions that function as conduits of social facts. These agents influence our attitudes, preferences, and worldviews by imparting values and norms, which, once internalized, affect our preferences and our behaviors. While the list of potential agents of socialization is exhaustive, sociologists have focused on the family and community, schools, peer groups, religion, media, the arena of competitive sports, and the workplace as the main sources of socialization. Each of these institutions transmits particular values that buttress—or sometimes oppose—the values of other attending socialization agencies. For instance, the values propagated by religious agents of socialization, are, usually, the values that families in their congregation try to promulgate to their children in primary socialization— values that affect parenting styles and parent-child relations (see Pearce and Axinn 1998; Wilcox 1998).

On Primary Socialization: The Family and Community, Schools, and Peer Network

Primary socialization incorporates the foremost socializing agents that children encounter: family and community, schools, and peer networks. Our family gives us our sense of self and social location, and this has an enduring impact as we move through the life course. The family transmits norms and values to us that shape our preferences (Denzin 1977; Elkin and Handel 1984; Handel 1988). The family socializes us into our social class, gender, and racial and ethnic identities (Anderson 1990; Lorber 1993; MacLeod 1995; Ontai-Grzebik and Raffaelli 2004). Families impart religious or nonreligious worldviews that, at least initially, orient our ethical, political, and ideological leanings (Acock and Bengtson 1978; Hunsberger and Brown 1984; Martin, White, and Perlman 2003). Moreover, families, and parents in particular, play a crucial role in facilitating the moral socialization of children by providing them a forum for moral “role taking,” that is, the ability of children to take the moral standpoints and perspective of parents through communication and reciprocal exchanges on morality (Kohlberg 1969).

Although the sociological research on family socialization is overwhelming, recent studies all point to the importance of family life in influencing adolescents’ involvement in deviant groups and delinquent behaviors (Whitbeck 1999), in illicit drug use (Donohew et al. 1999; Oetting and Donnermeyer 1998; Oetting, Donnermeyer, and Deffenbacher 1998), alcohol consumption (Barnes Farrell, and Cairns 1986), and sexual activity (RamirezValles, Zimmerman, and Juarez 2002). Consequently, the socialization children receive from their parents is an important predictor of future deviant behaviors. Family abuse, for instance, has been shown to be a strong predictor of adolescent delinquency, including deviant peer affiliation for both boys and girls, for drug abuse and risky sexual activity (Whitbeck 1999). Children model the behavior of parents, thus the primary socialization they encounter influences their choices in adolescence and beyond. One researcher, using the social learning theory of socialization that underscores the importance of “anticipatory socialization” and the modeling hypothesis, where a person might prepare in the present to assume an anticipated future role (Bandura 1977), has shown that the best predictor of future alcohol abuse is parental behavior: Parents who are heavy drinkers are more likely than nonheavy-drinking parents to have children who become heavy drinkers (Barnes et al. 1986).

Community life is also an important socialization agent for children and adults. Neighborhood life can play an important role in buttressing—or negating—the socialization children receive at home. Several studies on poor inner-city neighborhoods have shown that community socialization often filters into the home and vice versa (Anderson 1976; Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, and Aber 1997; Clark 1965; MacLeod 1995; Rainwater 1970; William and Kornblum 1990; Wilson 1987, 1996). Elijah Anderson’s (1990) research on the neighborhood life and family structure of inner-city residents describes two types of families that coexist in extreme poverty: “decent families” and “street families.” The former, although poor and struggling to make ends meet, have accepted mainstream social values of hard work and self-reliance, while taking an interest in their children’s education and moral development. The values they impart at home are anathema to the realities of the street, and these families do their best to insulate children from the surrounding pathologies of crime and deviance. On the other hand, the “street families” have abandoned the mainstream American values of hard work and self-reliance, and, what’s more, are actively propagating the “code of the streets” in their socialization patterns, a code that values interpersonal respect and the use of violence to ensure its prolongation.

Schools and Socialization into Social Class

Schools perform an essential work in the socialization of children by first transmitting the culture’s values. In fact, Émile Durkheim (1973) proposed a protracted role for educators in socializing children into morality. Moral socialization was the first work of every school. Durkheim thought it was the duty of schools to instruct their pupils into society’s values and norms, a task that he thought too overwhelming for the family unity (Durkheim 1973). Schools also impart the knowledge and intellectual skills necessary to assume adult roles, while performing essential functions in social integration, career gatekeeping, and social placement for society, and these are manifest functions (see Collins 1977, 1979; Hallinan 1994; Kilgore 1991).

Durkheim notwithstanding, the most crucial socialization role that schools perform today is in preparing students for economic and social class reproduction. The charge that schools are socializing children in such a way to assure class reproduction is a contested and hotly debated issue among social scientists. The debate is, however, less about whether schools do socialize children in such a way to produce class reproduction and more about how they go about accomplishing this function.

The strongest proponents of the socialization into class reproduction thesis are Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis (Bowles 1977; Bowles and Gintis 1976, 2002). Their work on social reproduction has influenced a host of other similar studies (Cookson and Persell 1985; Kozol 1991; Willis 1976). Bowles and Gintis (1976) advance a thesis known as the “structural correspondence” principle, which argues that there are structural similarities between the way schools and workplaces are organized, and this corresponding likeness is designed to socialize students into the demands of a modern capitalist workforce.

Bowles and Gintis (1976; Bowles 1977) also believe that public schools in working-class and poor communities are much more highly regimented, emphasizing control, rules, and discipline and order over independence, while schools in middle-class suburbs flex less direct control and supervision over students’ curriculum and their interpersonal interactions emphasizing problem solving and critical thinking. Middle-class public school students are in training, Bowles and Gintis (1976) reason, to be managers, supervisors, and professionals, that is, to assume the same social class position as their parents. Working-class and poor public school students, however, receive a pedagogy that prepares them to take orders and to be biddable employees.

Other theorists on educational socialization, like Pierre Bourdieu (1974, 1977) and Basil Bernstein (1965, 1977), stress the importance of socialization into cultural and linguistic capital. According to Bourdieu (1974, 1977), children in middle- to upper-class families receive a primary socialization that stresses the attainment of gainful cultural competencies that are designed to give advantages especially in the world of careers. These cultural competencies, which include things such as linguistic skills and familiarity with the aesthetics, tastes, and preferences of the power elite, are desired by wealthy and middle-class parents. Basil Bernstein (1965, 1977) notes that parents in the middle and upper classes orient their children toward a linguistic code that is elaborated, where their vocabulary and syntax patterns reflect a wide range of possible linguistic tools. On the other hand, children from working-class and poor backgrounds have a linguistic code that is restricted, limited to a predictable linguistic range. Naturally, schools in middle- and upper-class communities orient themselves to the achievement of linguistic and cultural capital, and in so doing, impose a system of implicit disadvantage to children coming from poor communities and less privileged backgrounds. Moreover, Cookson and Persell’s (1985) research on the educational socialization that elite boarding schools transmit is especially instructive of the role of cultural capital in this process. These schools emphasize a classical curriculum with a plethora of elective courses on the arts, languages, and music. They provide students with opportunities to travel and study abroad and stress the value of competition and esprit de corps through sports and intramural activities. Cookson and Persell (1985) argue that elite boarding schools are preparing students to assume the reins of power in society, and they are using the acquisition of cultural capital as the primary instrument to achieve this goal. Of course, the analogous argument follows for those students who come from working-class and poor backgrounds. The education they receive is socializing them for social reproduction (see Kozol 1991; MacLeod 1995).

Peer Group and Cohort Socialization

The last agent of primary socialization is peer groups. Peer groups are an important socialization agent throughout the life course because we often see others in our generational cohort as comparative metrics of our own social standing (see Heinz and Marshall 2003). Our contemporaries are an index of our social location, and we look to them for guidance on everything from consumer tastes, to political and ideological orientations, to socialization into old age. Elkin and Handel (1984) note that each peer group will have several common features, among them, these: (1) similar age cohort or social position; (2) members with different levels of power and influence within the peer group; and (3) social concerns that are unique to its members or cohort. Peer groups are especially important for adolescents, and several studies document the importance of this socializing agent.

The research of Ogbu (1978, 1983), Fordham and Ogbu (1986), Fordham (1988), and recently McWhorter (2001) suggest that Afro-American teens face tremendous downward pressure toward academic mediocrity because many of their peers link academic success to desires to “be white.” Fordham and Ogbu (1986) find that many AfroAmerican children deliberately underperform in school, settling for Ds and Cs instead of Bs and As, to avoid being labeled and stigmatized by their peers. Patricia and Peter Adler (1998), in their study of peer socialization among elementary students, found that peer groups exercise power by “techniques of inclusion and exclusion.” With regard to exclusion techniques, Adler and Adler (1998) found that adolescent peer groups exercise power and influence through out-group subjugation, by bullying and harassing outsiders; by in-group subjugation, or picking and niggling lower-ranked members of the clique; by compliance, or not openly challenging the harassing behaviors of more powerful group members; by stigmatization, where the group subjects a member to stigmatizing labels and derisive comments; and finally, expulsion, or getting kicked out of the group. Peer influences are important because as adolescents move along the life course, the other agents of primary socialization flex a diminishing level of influence over their attitudes and preferences; and much evidence suggests that peer influences, especially around attitudes of drug use, begin to have an overriding influence over those of parents as children mature (Downs 1987; Kaplan, Martin, and Robbins 1984; McBroom 1994). Notwithstanding this evidence, there is a vigorous debate concerning the power of peer influence over adolescent socialization into both deviant and conforming behaviors.

Control theorists see deviance and delinquency as resulting from a weakening of the bonds of attachment and commitment to primary groups, namely, family, community, and school. Deviance is the outcome of weakened social control on the part of parents and teachers, which then leads to weakening self-control on the part of the individual, and this is due to peer influences. Baron and Tindall (1993), in their research on delinquent attitudes common among juvenile gang members, find support for control theory that emphasizes strong social bonds as the correlates of conforming behavior and weak social bonds as leading to deviant outcomes (see Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990; Hirschi 1969). Peer influences should not have a more influential impact than other primary socializing influences if individuals are highly attached and committed to their family, community, and school. Indeed, in a recent essay on the limitations of peer socialization, Hartup (1999) points to several factors that make the relative influence of peer socialization hard to gauge, partly because of a lacuna in research. Among Hartup’s (1999) constraining influences are (1) the nebulous social characteristics of children who are doing the socializing versus the children being socialized; (2) the conditions (coercion, reward, etc.) that make behavior change possible might be different for groups of children; and (3) the constraining influences of cognitive and affective maturity that limit children’s influence over each other. While the question regarding which primary socialization agent is most powerful in determining adolescences’ deviant outcomes is open for debate, the research is clear on the point that the influence of peer groups increases over time, while the influence of parents generally decreases.

Religious Socialization

Sociology has always placed an emphasis on the importance of religious institutions in social life. Émile Durkheim ([1915] 1965), in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, defined religion as a set of beliefs and practices on sanctified things that provide a basis for the development of moral communities. Durkheim saw religion as an “eminently social” creation that strengthened collective solidarity by bringing together individuals who share similar moral worldviews (pp. 21–22). Westerhoff (1973) writes that religious socialization “is a process, consisting of lifelong formal and informal mechanisms, through which persons sustain and transmit faith, worldview, value system and way of life” (p. 121). Religious institutions contribute to socialization by helping individuals sustain and transmit values, worldviews, rituals, and other aspects of sacred culture. Current research links levels of religious socialization to everything from voting patterns to educational outcomes (Jelen and Chandler 1996; Regnerus 2000).

Much of the early work on religious socialization focused on why religious socialization fails, that is, why many adults abandon the faiths of their youth by either becoming apostates, agnostics, and/or nonchurched individuals (Hadaway and Roof 1979; Hunsberger 1980, 1983; Martin et al. 2003; Roof and Hoge 1980). Most researchers in this field recognize the importance of three socializing agents as playing a significant role in religious socialization: parents, churches, and peer groups. These agents, particularly parents, socialize children into religion by channeling them to institutions and experiences that will strengthen the ethical values and religious worldviews taught at home. This explanation is known as the channeling hypothesis (Himmelfarb 1980; Martin et al. 2003). Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious institutions can have an indirect impact on the socialization of children if parents view them largely as normative “reference groups” (Merton 1968). Yet the intensity of religious socialization in childhood has a direct effect on the apostasy rate of adults (Hunsberger and Brown 1984). For instance, in a study of the intensity of religious socialization among a sample of 878 college students, Hunsberger and Brown found that the home environment, particularly the influence of mothers, had the strongest influence on later levels of religiosity. Hunsberger and Brown (1984) note that the stronger the religious socialization in adolescence, the more likely individuals are to remain in their faith, and the less likely they are to become apostates. Finally, a bourgeoning area of religious socialization research focuses on the role of religious socialization in influencing people’s attitudes on a variety of political and “family values” issues, from abortion to premarital sexual relations (Hammond, Shibley, and Solow 1994; Hayes 1995; Jelen and Chandler 1996; Wilcox and Jelen 1990).

Socialization into Gender, Race, and the Life Course

Gender socialization is the mechanism by which individuals acquire the expected roles associated with their respective sex (see Weitzman 1979). Gender role socialization begins with the internalization of norms and—most significant—expected behaviors that society ascribes to males and to females. The earliest “socialization” perspective on the rise of gender identities in children was Sigmund Freud, who saw the emergence of gender as entangled in psychosexual development, namely, the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complex for girls (see Freud 1923). Girls come to first define themselves as girls by the lack of a penis, while boys come to define themselves principally through the possession of a penis. The problem of lack, that is, “I lack a penis,” becomes the seminal experience of girls, who now must come to terms with their “penis envy.” Boys, on the other hand, are privileged for not suffering from the problem of lack, while girls must contend with this potential neurosis. Gender, as both a social and personal concept for the child, is first linked to the recognition of difference, a dispensation with innumerable recompense for males, and anatomical determinism for girls.

Rejecting Freud’s theory of lack, Nancy Chodorow (1978) proposed a psychoanalytic and sociologic model of gender emergence that was less constrained by anatomical determinism, or “penis envy.” Chodorow saw a child’s gender identity as emerging through the process of breaking away from the mother to form a unique identity. But the real strength of Chodorow’s (1978) theory on the reproduction of mothering is its emphasis on social learning of both gender and mothering. According to Chodorow, the process of severing the bond between mother and child, which was necessary for the emergence of a unique identity in the child, was invariably more violent for boys than it was for girls because boys saw themselves as more separate and distinct from their mothers than girls did. A girl’s socialization into gender and femininity is a more fluid process because of her identification with, and closeness to, the mother. Masculine identity, on the other hand, requires a complete break—or loss—to achieve a culturally sanctioned socialization into manhood. If women experience a sense of lack in Freud’s understanding of the emergence of gender, then the problem for boys, in Chodorow’s socialization paradigm on gender, is one of loss and disconnection from the mother: It is masculinity that is troubled and lacking.

Parental Influence on Gender Socialization

Notwithstanding the aforementioned psychoanalytic theories on gender, the existing research in the areas of gender socialization suggests that gender is socially constructed, and that parents have an overriding influence beginning with how they interact with their sons versus their daughters (Goldberg and Lewis 1969; Hoffman 1977). Socialization into gender begins at home, with children modeling the behaviors of their parents. Moreover, marriage itself is a primary tool that socializes children into gender role expectations (Ex and Janssens 1998; Risman 1998). Socialization into gender roles often takes subtle forms in the home such as the division of household work. Peters’s (1994) research among 448 high school students found that traditional gender role behaviors were most evident in the division of household chores, where boys did most of the yard work and girls typically attended to the inside of the home. Peters (1994) also found that girls were much more likely to have an earlier curfew than their brothers were.

The Influence of Language on Gender Socialization

One of the most potent methods of socializing individuals into gender is through language. A recent study suggests (Gelman, Taylor, and Nguyen 2004) that one of the ways children learn gender differences is by “implicit essentialist language” that privileges one sex (male) over another (female). According to Gelman et al. (2004),

Children may infer from their parents’ implicit essentialist language that their parents endorse gender-stereotyped responses, and adopt these beliefs. Although children are active learners and parents are unlikely to shape children’s beliefs directly, mothers’ linguistic input does seem to convey subtle messages about gender from which children may construct their own essentialist beliefs. (P. 111)

Language as a tool of gender socialization can work in three ways, according to Henley (1989): (1) Language might be used in explicit and pejorative ways to subjugate women; (2) language might be used in implicit ways that result in the exclusion of women, as in the use of masculine pronouns; and lastly, (3) language might be used to proliferate gender stereotypes (as cited in Gelman et al. 2004). Children internalize these implicit and subtle verbal cues that support, whether consciously or not, the gendered hierarchy that privilege the masculine over the feminine. Moreover, children’s storybooks and fairly tales are replete with the use of sexist violence and imagery of female subordination: “Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, had a wife, but couldn’t keep her. He kept her in a pumpkin shell, and there he kept her very well” (Davies 1991; Purcell and Stewart 1990; Weitzman et al. 1972).

The Influence of the Mass Media on Gender Socialization

The mass media is a crucial secondary agent of gender socialization that supports gender role stereotypes and stratification. Television, movies, video games, music, magazines, advertisements, the Internet, books, and other secondary media sources of socialization are especially important to adolescents as their parents’ influence begin to diminish and as the influence of peers takes precedence (Arnett 1995; Kelly and Donohew 1999; Van Evra 1998). Research abounds on the gender role stereotypes and violence against women that are perpetuated in the mass media, a result of what some feminist scholars have referred to as the “feminist backlash” (Faludi 1991). No other time in history has witnessed such a perfect convergence, proliferation, and intensification of consistent gender role stereotypes in all forms of mass-mediated imagery, from Internet manga and hentai marketed to adolescents and young adults (Powell-Dahlquist and Vigilant 2004), to beer commercials, popular music, movies, and videos (Cooper 1985). What’s more, these media sites portray a relatively consistent and overwhelmingly stereotypical ideal of girls and women according to the most recent studies (Deitz 1998; Furnham and Bitar 1993; Glascock 2001; Kolbe and Langefeld 1993; Signorielli 1989). Deitz’s (1998) content analysis on the portrayal of violence and gender role sets in video games found that the stereotypical depiction of women as sexual objects was common, and that 21 percent of the video games analyzed had violence directed at women.

While the media are powerful agents of socialization, most sociologists still conceptualize their influence as a secondary one (Kelly and Donohew 1999). The media largely strengthen the values, norms, and worldviews that come out of primary socialization. The media might encourage both prosocial and antisocial behaviors in their portrayals, but the data on whether there is a unidirectional link between violence and/or sexism in the media and actual behaviors are still contested (see Van Evra 1998).

Racial Socialization

Over the last 20 years, research has intensified in the area of racial socialization, one of the newest areas of socialization analysis in the social sciences (Brega and Coleman 1999; Constantine and Blackmon 2002; Hughes 2003; Hughes and Johnson 2001; Miller and MacIntosh 1999; M. F. Peters 1985; Scott 2003; Stevenson, Reed, and Bodison 1996; Thompson, Anderson, and Bakeman 2000). Racial socialization is the mechanism by which parents transmit values that increase ethnic pride and strengthen self-concept in hopes that this will insulate children from the effects of racism or ethnic prejudice. Racial socialization typically involves conversations between parent and child about the social meaning of race, and admonitions about the difficulties they might face because of their race or ethnicity. It may also include the sharing of race-related experiences such as a parent’s experiences with discrimination. Some researchers even suggest that racial socialization is a requisite tool for successful coping during discriminatory experiences (see Fischer and Shaw 1999; Miller and MacIntosh 1999; Ward 2000).

An adolescent’s level of racial socialization is typically measured by an instrument called the Scale of Racial Socialization for Adolescents (SORS-A), while a teen’s level is measured by the Teenager Experience of Racial Socialization Scale (TERS), both developed by Howard Stevenson (1994). One study on the prevalence of racial socialization among Afro-Americans found that 79 percent of respondents had conversations with their parents that fit the racial socialization definition (Sanders-Thompson 1994), while another reported 73 percent (Biafora et al. 1993). Other studies find that minority children who experience racial socialization for the likelihood of future racial or ethnic discrimination, and who receive counteracting messages about racial and ethnic pride, have higher levels of self-esteem and social competence (Constantine and Blackmon 2002). Moreover, a different study finds an association between high-achieving Afro-American students and higher levels of racial socialization (Sanders 1997; see also McKay et al. 2003). The study of racial socialization seems to be an increasingly important and bourgeoning area of analysis for understanding both the effect of racial socialization on coping with perceived or real discriminatory actions and prejudicial experiences, and their affect on adolescents’ well-being.

Life-Course Socialization

The life-course theory of socialization represents one of the most extensive subfields of socialization research, and as such, deserves separate space to do justice to the depth and breadth of its concerns (see Marshall and Mueller 2003; Mortimer and Simmons 1978, for two comprehensive reviews). The most frequently cited researcher in the life-course perspective is Glen Elder (1974, 1975, 1994, 1998), who has done more than any other life-course theorist to advance this perspective. The very notion of the life course, however, infers developmental stages, biological, psychological, and social, that individuals experience as they mature from infancy to death (Cain 1964; Erikson 1959; Riley 1979). The lifecourse theory of socialization divides the life cycle into several important stages beginning with childhood, then adolescence (13–17), young adulthood (18–29), middle age (30–65), and old age (65 and beyond). Entrance into each of these stages requires learning new sets of norms and expectations. Exiting these stages may also involve their own rites of passage and status passage (Cain 1964; Glaser and Strauss 1971), as, for instance, acquiring the driver’s license and registering with selective service may signify passage from adolescence into young adulthood. Each stage in the life course involves adopting new roles and learning new role expectations. At times, entrance into a new role along the life course might involve radical resocialization, or completely altering the norms and expectations of a previous stage, as, for instance, going from independent living to an assisted-living facility or nursing home in old age.

Finally, life-course theorists have highlighted a peculiar similarity between the resocialization into total institutions (Goffman 1961) such as prisons and mental hospitals, which begins with a degradation ceremony (Garfinkel 1956), and the resocialization that growing old requires. Irving Rosow (1974) notes that growing old poses a special problem for adult socialization because it involves the forced socialization into an undesirable position, whereas normal status passages involves the entrance into a valued position. According to Rosow (1974), the reasons why socialization into old age is difficult include (1) the devalued status that aging represents, (2) the ambiguity of norms around the old-age “role,” (3) role discontinuity, (4) loss of previous status, and (5) resistance to current role socialization (p. 118). The strength of the life-course perspective is its emphasis on the importance of socialization throughout the life cycle of the individual.

Organizational Socialization: From Total to Greedy Institutions

Work is the primary arena for adult socialization, and professional organizations have been the focus of much socialization research (Mortimer and Simmons 1978). Naturally, the socialization that takes place in organizations will reflect the type of structure that exists. For instance, Goffman’s (1961) description of the “total institution,” where every aspect of an individual’s life is controlled by an authoritarian body, depicts an organization that is expressly concerned with the resocialization of individuals such as prisoners and military enlistees. Others, like Lewis Coser’s (1974) “greedy institutions,” may encourage the professional socialization of members into the organization’s values, while requiring unrealistic allegiance and undivided fidelity. Studies point to the role of professional socialization in, for instance, learning how to lie as a requisite for “successful” assimilation into some greedy institutions (Schein 2004), and in preparing for an anticipated future occupation, for example, the anticipatory socialization into careers such as social work (Barretti 2004a, 2004b). Studies on the anticipatory occupational socialization among nursing students find a dichotomy between classroom education on the one hand and service learning on the other, where students apply their knowledge firsthand, thus achieving both academic and professional socialization at the same time (Melia 1984).

A considerable body of work in recent years has focused on the role of gender in institutional socialization, especially on the socialization of women into traditional male-dominated fields (Carlson, Thomas, and Anson 2004; Gomez-Mejia 1983; Okamoto and England 1999; Worden 1993). Research has also focused on how the demands of greedy institutions affect family life (Perlow 1997). Finally, occupational socialization theory has been dominated by four explanatory models over the last 25 years, each seeking to explicate how socialization takes place in bureaucratic organizations: socialization tactics theory, uncertainty reduction theory, social cognitive theory, and sense-making theory (see Saks and Ashforth 1997 for a comprehensive discussion of each of these occupational socialization models).

Military Socialization

As a subfield of occupational analysis, military socialization has received considerable sociological attention. Most studies tend to treat the military as both a total and a greedy institution because of the control the uniformed armed forces exercise over their enlistees, and for the demands they make for unwavering commitment and loyalty to their values (see Segal 1986). The military’s raison d’être is to resocialize individuals to meet rigors of war, and basic training is the most pronounced and shocking method of resocializing young soldiers into the values of military service (Bourne 1967). Moreover, the drill sergeant plays a crucial role in this resocialization process (see Katz 1990). Faris (1975) notes that drill instructors are key to resocialization because of their use of degradation ceremonies to break and remake individuals and for their efforts at maintaining group solidarity. Bourne’s (1967) study on the psychosocial character of basic training found four distinct periods of resocialization during the course of basic training beginning with the following: (1) the initial shock of being removed from one’s normal social environment and being segregated from the mundane world; (2) the stripping away of any semblance of one’s unique individuation; (3) the period of acquiring new skills and identities that are reinforced by the institution; and finally, (4) a period of personal transformation marked by a sense of accomplishment where individuals are fully socialized into their new identities as “soldiers.”

Other studies focus on hypermasculinity as the principal quality of military basic training (Karner 1998; Levy 2000). Several studies point to the armed forces as propagating the warrior ideal through an ethos of the masculine mystique, an image criticized as bogus and inflammatory, and specifically designed to capture the imaginations of young men who are searching for their own masculine self-identities (Arkin and Dobrofsky 1978; Shatan 1977).

Finally, there is a body of research on the military’s role in the political socialization of soldiers (see Bachman et al. 2000; Franke 2000; Goertzel and Hengst 1971; Stevens, Rosa, and Gardner 1994). One study on political socialization among enlistees between the years 1976 and 1997 found that military enlistees were more likely to support greater military expenditures and a protracted role of the military in world affairs than their nonenlistee cohort (Bachman et al. 2000).

Conclusion: Prospects for Future Development in Socialization Theory

Social interaction has seen tremendous changes due to the development of the Internet. The rise in virtual communities on the World Wide Web has posed several challenges for society. Without question, the Internet is both enabling—and radically altering—traditional social interactions. Yet studies on the Internet and socialization processes remain relatively underdeveloped. The Internet empowers self- and anticipatory socialization because of how readily available and easily accessible information has become, and these Net-based socialization modes demand enquiry.

The new age of virtual connection and instantaneous access is also indelibly changing personal orientation, if we are to believe the social psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton (1993). The cybernetic age is one that demands, according to Lifton (1993), a protean personality that is fluid and nebulous just like the contours of late-modern society. This proteanism has multiple personas that adapt easily to the ever-shifting social landscape of a late-modern world that is, itself, amorphous. In a sense, Lifton’s ideas are not at all new. Sociology is the science of the industrial age; its first concern was to understand the changes wrought by the shift from a Gemeinschaften to a Gesellschaften social order (Toennies [1887] 1988), from a quantitative to a qualitative individualism (Simmel 1950). Social changes affect culture and the socialization that individuals receive. Lifton’s theory on the development of a postmodern proteanism is not out of step with sociological observations from the last great social change, the Industrial Revolution. Sociology can make an important contribution by studying the “new” protean socialization throughout the life course.

The role of children as an important socializing agent for other children, and increasingly for parents, is a phenomenon that deserves greater attention (see J. F. Peters 1985). How are parents socializing children to meet the demands of a late-modern culture and society that is marked by cultural, political, economic, and moral globalization? Moreover, how are children assisting the socialization of their parents into this milieu? The old assumption of a unidirectional socialization becomes increasingly farcical in late modernity where, because of technological interventions, parents seem to be exercising less direct control over their children’s interactions. Sociology needs more exploration on how communication technologies are influencing the socialization of children and adolescents, as well as how their own selfsocialization is taking place through the use of these media (see Arnett 1995). Finally, there is a need for cross-cultural and longitudinal studies on how the new technologies are changing socialization throughout the life course. Is there a McDonaldization (Ritzer 1993, 1998) effect on socialization processes because of the changes imposed by technocultural forces? How is globalization affecting the socialization of individuals throughout the life course? Without question, these are important areas of future analysis for the sociology of socialization.


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