Understanding Socialization in Sociology

By Charlotte Nickerson, published July 12, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Socialization is the process whereby the young of society learn the values, ideas and practices and roles of that society.

The socialization process is a semi-conscious one, in that the primary agency of socialization, the family, would not necessarily see itself in this role, while some secondary socialization agencies such as education are deliberately set up for this purpose.

The socialization process is never total, as the young take on some lessons, but reject, adapt, or expand on others. In this way, societies retain some of the continuity but also progress.

One example of primary socialization is gender roles. Gender socialization is the process by which children learn about gender roles and come to understand what it means to be a boy or a girl. Children are taught about gender roles from a very early age, and these messages come from a variety of sources, including family, friends, teachers, the media, and religion.

For example, girls may be given baby dolls to care for while boys may be socialized to play with action or building-oriented toys. This ingrained gender socialization can continue into adulthood.

For example, as an adult learns and meets people who identify with alternate gender identities, they may become more accepting of the idea that genders are not necessarily only male or female (Cromdal, 2006).

What is Socialization?

  • Socialization is the process through which individuals become members of society. It includes the processes of acquiring knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors necessary to function within society. Socialization begins at birth and continues throughout life.
  • Children often copy the behavior they observe in others, but they are also active participants in the socialization process and are responsible for making choices about their own behavior.
  • There are a multitude of types of socialization, ranging from primary and secondary to developmental, anticipatory, desocialization, resocialization, organizational, and forced.
  • Sociologists have defined five stages of socialization: investigation, socialization, maintenance, resocialization, and remembrance.

The Purpose of Socialization

Socialization prepares individuals to participate in a group by illustrating the expectations of that group. Through socialization, people are taught the language, values, and behaviors that are accepted within a group and learn to control their natural impulses.

For example, a child may have the natural impulse to keep a toy, but learns through socialization that sharing is expected and beneficial behavior (Cromdal, 2006).

Socialization is essential to the development and functioning of societies because it is through socialization that we learn the norms and customs that hold society together. Furthermore, Socialization allows people to interact with others and form relationships necessary to acquire social capital and resources (Cromdall, 2006).

These sum up to three primary goals: teaching impulse control and developing a conscience, preparing people to perform certain social roles, and cultivating shared sources of meaning and value (Arnett, 1995).

While socialization is often thought of as something that happens to children, it is a lifelong process. Adults need socialization when they enter new groups or organizations.

For example, a woman who has been a stay-at-home mother for several years may feel uncomfortable and out of place when she enters the workforce. She will go through a period of socialization in which she learns the expectations and norms of her new workplace.

A similar process of socialization may happen when someone moves, for example, to a new country with a dramatially different culture. This ongoing, life-long process is generally considered to be secondary socialization (Cromdall, 2006).

Primary socialization occurs between the child and those people in his/her life with whom he/she has primary relationships. These people are usually parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers, coaches, etc. Secondary socialization occurs when we interact with people outside our family.

Primary Socialization

Primary socialization occurs between the child and those people in his/her life with whom he/she has a close, personal, and intimate face-to-face relationship.

For most people, the first primary relationships they form are with their parents, siblings, grandparents, and other family members. The family provides children with a sense of moral values, teaching the difference between right and wrong behavior, and how to relate appropriately to others (family, friends, strangers, etc.).

However, it is important not to see children as passive recipients of information, but instead as active participants in the creation of their own identity. Children are constantly making choices about what kind of person to become.

Parents play an important role in helping children to choose the right path. But parents cannot force their children to behave in certain ways. Instead, parents should help children to understand why they should behave in particular ways.

As children get older, they start forming primary attachments with friends and then with other adults through things like marriage, work, etc.

Secondary Socialization

Secondary socialization occurs between the individual and those people in their life with whom they have secondary relationships. A secondary relationship is one in which the individual does not have a close, personal, intimate or face-to-face relationship with the people that are responsible for the socialization process.

It is through secondary socialization that people learn how to behave in different situations and come to see themselves as members of specific groups, such as their religious community, their workplace, or their country.

Secondary relationships involve teachers, coaches, priests, television personalities, rock stars etc. These relationships help individuals understand what is expected of them, how to behave appropriately, and how to interact with others.

In some cases, such as school and teachers, we are in daily, face-to-face contact with the people who are socialising us without ever developing a primary attachment to them.

One example of secondary socialization is when a student enters college and must learn to navigate the new social and academic environment. This could include a new schedule, new ways of behaving in class, and ways of negotiating with and adjusting to classmates (Cromdal, 2006).

These forms of communication are not always direct, but they can influence us nonetheless. For example, when we watch a movie, we see someone else doing something and we imitate that behavior. When we listen to a song, we hear someone else singing and we mimic that behavior.

Secondary socialization is necessary because it represents the way that we start to learn about the nature of the social world beyond our primary contacts.

Secondary socialization is important because it teaches you how to interact with people who aren't emotionally close to you, which is the majority of the people we will come into contact with in our adult lives.

Developmental Socialization

Developmental socialization is a learning process wherein the focus in on developing social skills or on learning behavior within a social institution. For example, a shy person may go through developmental socialization in order to learn how to be more outgoing.

This type of socialization can happen at any point in life, but is often thought of as happening during childhood and adolescence. It is during these years that children learn important social skills like how to communicate with others, how to resolve conflict, and how to make friends (Cromdal, 2006).

Anticipitory Socialization

Anticipatory socialization is the process by which people learn about future roles and expectations in order to prepare for them.

It often happens before a person enters into a new social situation, such as starting a new job. For example, imagine that someone is about to start working in an office for the first time. She may do some research on what to expect in order to anticipate the dress code, workplace culture and other aspects of her new environment.

Or, a child who is about to enter kindergarten may go to a "meet the teacher" day in order to learn about what will be expected of them in the classroom (Cromdal, 2006).

Differential Socialization

Differential socialization is the process by which people of different groups are socialized differently. This can be due to their class, race, or gender. For example, girls are often socialized to be more passive and nurturing, while boys are socialized to be more active and aggressive.

This can lead to different expectations and experiences for girls and boys as they grow up. This socialization occurs through a variety of agents, such as parents, teachers, the media, and peers.

It is important to note that differential socialization does not necessarily mean that one group is superior to another. Rather, it simply reflects the different expectations and behaviors that are associated with each group (Cromdal, 2006).

Desocialization Socialization

Desocialization is the process by which someone experiences role loss and an accompanying loss of associated power or prestige. It can happen when a person leaves a job, goes through a divorce, or retires.

For example, imagine that someone has just retired from a high-powered executive position. She may find herself feeling lost and without purpose, as she no longer has the same sense of importance or authority that she did in her previous role. This can be a difficult transition, as the person must learn to adjust to a new way of life (Cromdal, 2006).

Resocialization Socialization

Resocialization is the process by which someone learns new norms, values, and behaviors. Most typically, this involves partially or completely redefining the traits of the role that a person had previously occupied.

Resocialization often happens when a person enters into a new social situation, such as starting a new job. For example, imagine that a former business executive becomes a bakery owner. She will need to learn new norms, values, and behaviors in order to be successful in her new role. This could include learning how to bake, decorate cakes, and deal with customers (Cromdal, 2006).

Organizational Socialization

Organizational socialization is the process by which people learn about, adjust to, and change the knowledge, skills, attitudes, expectations, and behaviors needed for a new or changing organizational role. Business sociologists Bueuer et al. (2007) call this "the process by which newcomers make the transition from being organizational outsiders to being insiders" (Cromdal, 2006).

Organizational socialization can be characterized along six dimensions (Van Maanen & Schein, 1977):

  • collective or individual

  • formal or informal

  • sequential or random

  • fixed or variable sequencing: whether or not the socialization process has a stated timetable

  • serial or disjunctive: the degree to which existing workers help socialize and mentor newcomers

  • investiture or divestiture: the degree to which a newcomer’s identity is affirmed versus stripped away

Forced Socialization

Forced socialization is a type of socialization that happens when an individual is placed in an environment where they have no choice but to conform to the norms and values of the group.

This can happen through coercion, manipulation, or even physical force. For example, imagine that someone is kidnapped and taken to a foreign country. They may be forced to learn the language, customs, and values of their captors in order to survive This type of socialization can be very traumatic and lead to long-term psychological damage (O’Lynn, 2009).

Domestically, forced socialization often takes place in institutions such as prisons, mental hospitals, and military units.

What is an Agent of Socialization?

An agent of socialization is a person or group of people who teaches people the values, beliefs, and behaviors that are expected in their society. The family is usually the child's first and most important agent of socialization.

Children learn language, manners, and how to behave in their culture from their parents and other adults in the home. As they grow older, children are exposed to other agents of socialization, such as the media, schools, religious institutions, and peer groups.

Each of these agents plays a role in shaping the child's self-identity and worldview (Ochs, 1999). To take an example of a concept that agents of socialization can teach, consider gender.

Gender is the socially constructed notion of what it means to be a man or a woman. Children learn about gender roles and expectations from their parents, the media, their peers, and other adults in their lives.

Over time, they internalize these messages and use them to construct their own sense of self (Ochs, 1999).

Stages of Socialization

Investigation

The first stage of socialization is known as the investigation stage. This is when a person is exploring different groups and trying to figure out which one they want to belong to.

During this stage, people are more likely to conform to the norms and values of the group because they want to be accepted.

For example, imagine that a teenager is trying to decide whether to join a gang. They may try out different types of behavior to see if it gets them the approval of the group. If it does, they are likely to continue doing it, even if it goes against their personal values (Levine & Moreland, 1994).

Socialization

The second stage of socialization is, repetitively, called the socialization stage. This is when a person has decided which group they want to belong to and they start to conform to the norms and values of that group.

For example, imagine that a teenager has joined a gang. They will now start to dress like the other members of the gang, replicate their speech patterns, and behave in the ways that are expected of them — such as through committing acts of vandalism or refusing to develop relationships with opposing gang members (Levine & Moreland, 1994).

Maintenance

During the maintenance stage of socialization, the individual and the group negotiate what contribution is expected of members. This is called role negotiation.

While many people stay in this stage until their membership in a gorup ends, some individuals are not satisfied with their role in the group or fail to meet the group's expectations. This is called divergence (Levine & Moreland, 1994).

For example, imagine that a member of a gang wants to leave because they are tired of the violence. The gang may try to convince them to stay, but ultimately it is up to the individual to decide whether to stay or leave.

If they do leave, they may find it difficult to readjust to life outside of the gang because they have lost their previous community and close social ties.

Resocialization

If a group member reaches the divergence point during the maintenance stage of socialization, the former group member may take on the role of a marginal member and must be resocialized. This is when a person leaves a group and then joins another group.

For example, imagine that a person has left a gang and is now trying to join the military. They will have to go through a period of resocialization where they learn the norms and values of the military.

There are two possible outcomes of resocialization: differences can be resolved and the individual becomes a full member again, or the group expels the individual or the individual decides to leave. The first of these is called convergence, and the second, exit (Levine & Moreland, 1994).

Remembrance

Finally, during the rememberance stage of socialization, former members talk about their memories of the group and come to make sence of their departure. This is a process of reminiscing and self-reflection.

For example, imagine that a person has left a gang and is now trying to join the military. They may talk about their experiences in the gang with their friends and family, and reflect on what they have learned from the experience. If the group of ex-group members reaches a consensus on their reasons for departure, conclusions about the overall experience of the group become part of its tradition (Levine & Moreland, 1994).

What is the difference between formal and informal socialization?

Formal socialization is the process by which people learn the values, beliefs, and behaviors that are expected of them in their culture.

This type of socialization usually takes place in institutions, such as schools, religious institutions, and the military. For example, children learn how to read and write in school, and they learn about their country's history and government, as well as how they should interpret and react to that history (Ochs, 1999).

In contrast, informal socialization is the process by which people learn the values, beliefs, and behaviors that are not formally taught but that are transmitted through everyday interactions with others. For example, children learn how to speak and behave through their interactions with their parents and other adults in their lives.

Similarly, they learn about the roles and expectations of their social class through their exposure to the media, their peers, and other aspects of popular culture (Ochs, 1999).

What is the Difference Between Socialization and Enculturation?

Enculturation is the process by which people learn the norms and values of their culture. It is a type of socialization that occurs as people grow up and come into contact with their culture's customs and beliefs.

Socialization, on the other hand, is a much broader concept that refers to all the ways in which people learn to become members of their society. This includes learning not just the norms and values of one's culture, but also the skills and knowledge needed to function in society (Tan, 2014).

While enculturation is a relatively passive process that happens without much conscious effort, socialization is the active process of acquiring culture in general. For example, parents may actively enculturate their children into the norms and values of their culture through stories, traditions, and religion as part of socialization.

What is the Difference Between Socialization and Education?

Socialization is the process of learning the norms and values of one's culture. Education, on the other hand, is the process of learning academic knowledge and skills.

While socialization is necessary for the stability and survival of any society, education is necessary for the advancement of society (Cromdal, 2006).

People can be socialized by the process of education. As they acquire knowledge and attitudes, they may also learn the norms, beliefs, values, and standards of society.

For example, in a math class, students might learn the correct way to solve a problem, but they might also learn that it is important to be precise and justify one's reasoning when making arguments. The first of these is education, and the second is socialization.

when does socialization begin

The family is traditionally considered to be the first agent of socialization. This is because it is the first group that a child interacts with and learns from.

The family teaches children basic norms and values, such as how to speak, behave, and think. It is also the first group to provide emotional support and care.

About the Author

Charlotte Nickerson is a member of the Class of 2024 at Harvard University. Coming from a research background in biology and archaeology, Charlotte currently studies how digital and physical space shapes human beliefs, norms, and behaviors and how this can be used to create businesses with greater social impact.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Nickerson, C. (2022, July 12). Understanding Socialization in Sociology. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/socialization.html

References

Arnett, J. J. (1995). Adolescents' uses of media for self-socialization. Journal of youth and adolescence, 24(5), 519-533.

Baumrind, D. (1980). New directions in socialization research. American psychologist35(7).

Bugental, D. B., & Goodnow, J. J. (1998). Socialization processes.

Cromdal, J. (2006). Socialization.

Grusec, J. E., & Lytton, H. (1988). Socialization and the family. In Social development (pp. 161-212). Springer, New York, NY.

Levine, J. M., & Moreland, R. L. (1994). Group socialization: Theory and research. European review of social psychology, 5(1), 305-336.

Maccoby, E. E. (2007). Historical overview of socialization research and theory. Handbook of socialization: Theory and research1, 13-41.

Mortimer, J. T., & Simmons, R. G. (1978). Adult socialization. Annual review of sociology, 421-454.

Ochs, E. (1999). Socialization. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 9(1/2), 230-233.

O'Lynn, C. (2009). Who is in need of socialization?. Journal of Nursing Education, 48(4), 179.

Tan, L. Y. C. (2014). Enculturation.

Van Maanen, J. E., & Schein, E. H. (1977). Toward a theory of organizational socialization.