Term of Art: Socialization

“Socialization is the process by which we learn to become members of society, both by internalizing the norms and values of society, and also by learning to perform our social roles (as worker, friend, citizen, and so forth).

There is an ongoing dispute about the relative importance of nature versus nurture (or hereditary and environment) in human development. A related debate concerns the extent to which humans are over-socialized. Are humans ruled by their social manners and role-playing skills to the extent that basic human instincts are eradicated? This debate pits the psychological perspective of Freud, which views socialization as working against our natural inclinations and drives, against the functionalist perspective that sees socialization as essential for the integration of society. Recent studies have focused on social class differences in socialization, some of which have to do with language (see B. BernsteinClass, Codes, and Control, 1971), others . of which are more concerned with differences in value orientation (see M. KohnClass and Conformity1969).

Socialization is no longer regarded as the exclusive preserve of childhood, with the primary agents being the family and school. It is now recognized that socialization continues throughout the life-course. It is also recognized that socialization is not simply a one-way process, in which individuals learn how to fit into society, since people may also redefine their social roles and obligations. Any understanding of socialization must therefore take account of how the process relates to social change. In this sense, some schools of sociological theory imply an allegedly ‘over-socialized conception of man in society,’ in that they overstate the extent to which values are internalized and action is normative in orientation–a charge often leveled, for example, against normative functionalism (See D. Wrong, ‘The Oversocialized Conception of Man,’ American Sociological Review1961).”

Excerpted from: Matthews, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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