Main Body

Chapter 5. Socialization


Figure 5.1. Socialization is how we learn the norms and beliefs of our society. From our earliest family and play experiences, we are made aware of societal values and expectations. (Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives/flickr)

Learning Objectives

5.1. Theories of Self Development

  • Understand the difference between psychological and sociological theories of self development
  • Explain the process of moral development

5.2. Why Socialization Matters

  • Understand the importance of socialization both for individuals and society
  • Explain the nature versus nurture debate

5.3. Agents of Socialization

  • Learn the roles of families and peer groups in socialization
  • Understand how we are socialized through formal institutions like schools, workplaces, and the government

5.4. Socialization across the Life Course

  • Explain how socialization occurs and recurs throughout life
  • Understand how people are socialized into new roles at age-related transition points
  • Describe when and how resocialization occurs

Introduction to Socialization

In the summer of 2005, police detective Mark Holste followed an investigator from the Department of Children and Families to a home in Plant City, Florida. They were there to look into a statement from the neighbour concerning a shabby house on Old Sydney Road. A small girl was reported peering from one of its broken windows. This seemed odd because no one in the neighbourhood had seen a young child in or around the home, which had been inhabited for the past three years by a woman, her boyfriend, and two adult sons.

Who was the mystery girl in the window?

Entering the house, Detective Holste and his team were shocked. It was the worst mess they’d ever seen, infested with cockroaches, smeared with feces and urine from both people and pets, and filled with dilapidated furniture and ragged window coverings.

Detective Holste headed down a hallway and entered a small room. That’s where he found the little girl, with big, vacant eyes, staring into the darkness. A newspaper report later described the detective’s first encounter with the child: “She lay on a torn, moldy mattress on the floor. She was curled on her side . . . her ribs and collarbone jutted out . . . her black hair was matted, crawling with lice. Insect bites, rashes and sores pocked her skin . . . She was naked—except for a swollen diaper. … Her name, her mother said, was Danielle. She was almost seven years old” (DeGregory 2008).

Detective Holste immediately carried Danielle out of the home. She was taken to a hospital for medical treatment and evaluation. Through extensive testing, doctors determined that, although she was severely malnourished, Danielle was able to see, hear, and vocalize normally. Still, she wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes, didn’t know how to chew or swallow solid food, didn’t cry, didn’t respond to stimuli that would typically cause pain, and didn’t know how to communicate either with words or simple gestures such as nodding “yes” or “no.” Likewise, although tests showed she had no chronic diseases or genetic abnormalities, the only way she could stand was with someone holding onto her hands, and she “walked sideways on her toes, like a crab” (DeGregory 2008).

What had happened to Danielle? Put simply: beyond the basic requirements for survival, she had been neglected. Based on their investigation, social workers concluded that she had been left almost entirely alone in rooms like the one where she was found. Without regular interaction—the holding, hugging, talking, the explanations and demonstrations given to most young children—she had not learned to walk or to speak, to eat or to interact, to play or even to understand the world around her. From a sociological point of view, Danielle had not had been socialized.

Socialization is the process through which people are taught to be proficient members of a society. It describes the ways that people come to understand societal norms and expectations, to accept society’s beliefs, and to be aware of societal values. Socialization is not the same as socializing (interacting with others, like family, friends, and coworkers); to be precise, it is a sociological process that occurs through socializing. As Danielle’s story illustrates, even the most basic of human activities are learned. You may be surprised to know that even physical tasks like sitting, standing, and walking had not automatically developed for Danielle as she grew. And without socialization, Danielle hadn’t learned about the material culture of her society (the tangible objects a culture uses): for example, she couldn’t hold a spoon, bounce a ball, or use a chair for sitting. She also hadn’t learned its nonmaterial culture, such as its beliefs, values, and norms. She had no understanding of the concept of “family,” didn’t know cultural expectations for using a bathroom for elimination, and had no sense of modesty. Most importantly, she hadn’t learned to use the symbols that make up language—through which we learn about who we are, how we fit with other people, and the natural and social worlds in which we live.

Sociologists have long been fascinated by circumstances like Danielle’s—in which a child receives sufficient human support to survive, but virtually no social interaction—because they highlight how much we depend on social interaction to provide the information and skills that we need to be part of society or even to develop a “self.”

The necessity for early social contact was demonstrated by the research of Harry and Margaret Harlow. From 1957 to 1963, the Harlows conducted a series of experiments studying how rhesus monkeys, which behave a lot like people, are affected by isolation as babies. They studied monkeys raised under two types of “substitute” mothering circumstances: a mesh and wire sculpture, or a soft terrycloth “mother.” The monkeys systematically preferred the company of a soft, terrycloth substitute mother (closely resembling a rhesus monkey) that was unable to feed them, to a mesh and wire mother that provided sustenance via a feeding tube. This demonstrated that while food was important, social comfort was of greater value (Harlow and Harlow 1962; Harlow 1971). Later experiments testing more severe isolation revealed that such deprivation of social contact led to significant developmental and social challenges later in life.


Figure 5.2. Baby rhesus monkeys, like humans, need to be raised with social contact for healthy development. (Photo courtesy of Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/flickr)

In the following sections, we will examine the importance of the complex process of socialization and how it takes place through interaction with many individuals, groups, and social institutions. We will explore how socialization is not only critical to children as they develop, but how it is a lifelong process through which we become prepared for new social environments and expectations in every stage of our lives. But first, we will turn to scholarship about self development, the process of coming to recognize a sense of self, a “self” that is then able to be socialized.

5.1. Theories of Self Development

When we are born, we have a genetic makeup and biological traits. However, who we are as human beings develops through social interaction. Many scholars, both in the fields of psychology and in sociology, have described the process of self development as a precursor to understanding how that “self” becomes socialized.

Psychological Perspectives on Self Development

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was one of the most influential modern scientists to put forth a theory about how people develop a sense of self. He believed that personality and sexual development were closely linked, and he divided the maturation process into psychosexual stages: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. He posited that people’s self development is closely linked to early stages of development, like breastfeeding, toilet training, and sexual awareness (Freud 1905).

Key to Freud’s approach to child development is to trace the formations of desire and pleasure in the child’s life. The child is seen to be at the centre of a tricky negotiation between internal, instinctual drives for gratification (the pleasure principle) and external, social demands to repress those drives in order to conform to the rules and regulations of civilization (the reality principle). Failure to resolve the traumatic tensions and impasses of childhood psychosexual development results in emotional and psychological consequences throughout adulthood. For example, according to Freud failure to properly engage in or disengage from a specific stage of child development results in predictable outcomes later in life. An adult with an oral fixation may indulge in overeating or binge drinking. An anal fixation may produce a neat freak (hence the term “anal retentive”), while a person stuck in the phallic stage may be promiscuous or emotionally immature.

Making Connections: Sociological Research

Sociology or Psychology: What’s the Difference?

You might be wondering: if sociologists and psychologists are both interested in people and their behaviour, how are these two disciplines different? What do they agree on, and where do their ideas diverge? The answers are complicated, but the distinction is important to scholars in both fields.

As a general difference, we might say that while both disciplines are interested in human behaviour, psychologists are focused on how the mind influences that behaviour, while sociologists study the role of society in shaping both behaviour and the mind. Psychologists are interested in people’s mental development and how their minds process their world. Sociologists are more likely to focus on how different aspects of society contribute to an individual’s relationship with the world. Another way to think of the difference is that psychologists tend to look inward to qualities of individuals (mental health, emotional processes, cognitive processing), while sociologists tend to look outward to qualities of social context (social institutions, cultural norms, interactions with others) to understand human behaviour.

Émile Durkheim (1958–1917) was the first to make this distinction in research, when he attributed differences in suicide rates among people to social causes (religious differences) rather than to psychological causes (like their mental well-being) (Durkheim 1897). Today, we see this same distinction. For example, a sociologist studying how a couple gets to the point of their first kiss on a date might focus her research on cultural norms for dating, social patterns of romantic activity in history, or the influence of social background on romantic partner selection. How is this process different for seniors than for teens? A psychologist would more likely be interested in the person’s romantic history, psychological type, or the mental processing of sexual desire.

The point that sociologists like Durkheim would make is that an analysis of individuals at the psychological level cannot adequately account for social variability of behaviours, for example, the difference in suicide rates of Catholics and Protestants, or the difference in dating scripts between cultures or historical periods. Sometimes sociology and psychology can combine in interesting ways, however. Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism (1979) argued that the neurotic personality was a product of an earlier Protestant Ethic style of competitive capitalism, whereas late, postindustrial consumer capitalism is conducive to narcissistic personality structures (the “me” society).


Psychologist Erik Erikson (1902–1994) created a theory of personality development based, in part, on the work of Freud. However, Erikson was also interested in the social dimension of Freud’s child development schema (1963). He noted that each stage of psycho-social child development was associated with the formation of basic emotional structures in adulthood. The outcome of the oral stage will determine whether someone is trustful or distrustful as an adult; the outcome of the anal stage, whether they will be confident and generous or ashamed and doubtful; the outcome of the genital stage, whether they will be full of initiative or guilt.

Erikson retained Freud’s idea that the stages of child development were universal, but that different cultures handled them differently. Child-raising techniques varied in line with the dominant social formation of their societies. So, for example, the tradition in the Sioux First Nation was not to wean infants, but to breastfeed them until they lost interest. This tradition created trust between the infant and his or her mother, and eventually trust between the child and the tribal group as a whole. On the other hand, modern industrial societies practised early weaning of children, which lead to a different, more distrustful character structure. Children develop a possessive disposition toward objects that carries with them through to adulthood, as the child is eager to get things and grab hold of things in lieu of the experience of generosity and comfort in being held. Societies in which individuals rely heavily on each other and on the group to survive in a hostile environment will handle child training in a different manner, and with different outcomes, than societies that are based on individualism, competition, self-reliance and self-control (Erikson 1963).

Jean Piaget (1896–1980) was a psychologist who specialized in child development, focusing specifically on the role of social interactions in their development. He recognized that the development of self evolved through a negotiation between the world as it exists in one’s mind and the world that exists as it is experienced socially (Piaget 1954). All three of these thinkers have contributed to our modern understanding of self development.

Sociological Theories of Self Development

One of the pioneering contributors to sociological perspectives on self-development was Charles Cooley (1864–1929). As we saw in the last chapter, he asserted that people’s self understanding is constructed, in part, by their perception of how others view them—a process termed “the looking glass self” (Cooley 1902). The self or “self idea” is thoroughly social. It is based on how we imagine we appear to others. This projection defines how we feel about ourselves and who we feel ourselves to be. The development of a self therefore involves three elements in Cooley’s analysis: “the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification.”

Later, George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) advanced a more detailed sociological approach to the self. He agreed that the self, as a person’s distinct identity, is only developed through social interaction. He further noted that the crucial component of the self is its capacity for self reflection, its capacity to be “an object to itself” (Mead 1934). On this basis, he broke the self down into two components or “phases,” the “I” and the “me.” The “me” represents the part of the self in which one recognizes the “organized sets of attitudes” of others toward the self. It is who we are in other’s eyes: our roles, our “personalities,” our public personas. The “I,” on the other hand, represents the part of the self that acts on its own initiative or responds to the organized attitudes of others. It is the novel, spontaneous, unpredictable part of the self: the part of the self that embodies the possibility of change or undetermined action. The self is always caught up in a social process in which one flips back and forth between two distinguishable phases, the I and the me, as one mediates between one’s own individual actions and individual responses to various social situations and the attitudes of the community.

This flipping back and forth is the condition of our being able to be social. It is not an ability that we are born with (Mead 1934). The case of Danielle, for example, illustrates what happens when social interaction is absent from early experience: she had no ability to see herself as others would see her. From Mead’s point of view, she had no “self.” Without others, or without society, the self cannot exist: “[I]t is impossible to conceive of a self arising outside of social experience” (Mead 1934).

How do we get from being newborns to being humans with “selves?” Mead developed a specifically sociological theory of the path of development that all people go through, which he divided into stages of increasing capacity for role play: the four stages of child socialization. During the preparatory stage, children are only capable of imitation: they have no ability to imagine how others see things. They copy the actions of people with whom they regularly interact, such as their mothers and fathers. A child’s baby talk is a reflection of its inability to make an object of itself through which it can approach itself. This is followed by the play stage, during which children begin to imitate and take on roles that another person might have. Thus, children might try on a parent’s point of view by acting out “grownup” behaviour, like playing “dress up” and acting out the mom role, or talking on a toy telephone the way they see their father do. However, they are still not able to take on roles in a consistent and coherent manner. Role play is very fluid and transitory, and children flip in and out of roles easily.

During the game stage, children learn to consider several specific roles at the same time and how those roles interact with each other. They learn to understand interactions involving different people with a variety of purposes. They understand that role play in each situation involves following a consistent set of rules and expectations. For example, a child at this stage is likely to be aware of the different responsibilities of people in a restaurant who together make for a smooth dining experience (someone seats you, another takes your order, someone else cooks the food, while yet another person clears away dirty dishes).

Mead uses the example of a baseball game. At one point in the life of children they are simply unable to play an organized game like baseball. They do not “get it” that when they hit the ball they need to run, or that after their turn someone else gets a turn to bat. In order for baseball to work, the players not only have to know what the rules of the game are, and what their specific role in the game is (batter, catcher, first base, etc.), but simultaneously the role of every other player on the field. The players have to be able to anticipate the actions of others and adjust or orient their behaviour accordingly.

Finally, children develop, understand, and learn the idea of the generalized other, the common behavioural expectations of general society. By this stage of development, an individual is able to internalize how he or she is viewed, not simply from the perspective of specific others, but from the perspective of the generalized other or “organized community.” Being able to guide one’s actions according to the attitudes of the generalized other provides the basis of having a “self” in the sociological sense. This capacity defines the conditions of thinking, of language, and of society itself as the organization of complex cooperative processes and activities.

Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

Moral development is an important part of the socialization process. The term refers to the way people learn what society considered to be “good” and “bad,” which is important for a smoothly functioning society. Moral development prevents people from acting on unchecked urges, instead considering what is right for society and good for others. Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987) was interested in how people learn to decide what is right and what is wrong. To understand this topic, he developed a theory of moral development that includes three levels: preconventional, conventional, and postconventional.

In the preconventional stage, young children, who lack a higher level of cognitive ability, experience the world around them only through their senses. It isn’t until the teen years that the conventional theory develops, when youngsters become increasingly aware of others’ feelings and take those into consideration when determining what’s “good” and “bad.” The final stage, called postconventional, is when people begin to think of morality in abstract terms, such as Americans believing that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At this stage, people also recognize that legality and morality do not always match up evenly (Kohlberg 1981). When hundreds of thousands of Egyptians turned out in 2011 to protest government corruption, they were using postconventional morality. They understood that although their government was legal, it was not morally correct.

Gilligan’s Theory of Moral Development and Gender

Another sociologist, Carol Gilligan (1936–), recognized that Kohlberg’s theory might show gender bias since his research was conducted only on male subjects. Would females study subjects have responded differently? Would a female social scientist notice different patterns when analyzing the research? To answer the first question, she set out to study differences between how boys and girls developed morality. Gilligan’s research demonstrated that boys and girls do, in fact, have different understandings of morality. Boys tend to have a justice perspective, placing emphasis on rules and laws. Girls, on the other hand, have a care and responsibility perspective; they consider people’s reasons behind behaviour that seems morally wrong.

Gilligan also recognized that Kohlberg’s theory rested on the assumption that the justice perspective was the right, or better, perspective. Gilligan, in contrast, theorized that neither perspective was “better”: the two norms of justice served different purposes. Ultimately, she explained that boys are socialized for a work environment where rules make operations run smoothly, while girls are socialized for a home environment where flexibility allows for harmony in caretaking and nurturing (Gilligan 1982, 1990).

Making Connections: Sociology in the Real World

What a Pretty Little Lady!

“What a cute dress!” “I like the ribbons in your hair.” “Wow, you look so pretty today.”

According to Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, most of us use pleasantries like these when we first meet little girls. “So what?” you might ask.

Bloom asserts that we are too focused on the appearance of young girls, and as a result, our society is socializing them to believe that how they look is of vital importance. And Bloom may be on to something. How often do you tell a little boy how attractive his outfit is, how nice looking his shoes are, or how handsome he looks today? To support her assertions, Bloom cites, as one example, that about 50 percent of girls ages three to six worry about being fat (Bloom 2011). We’re talking about kindergarteners who are concerned about their body image. Sociologists are acutely interested in of this type of gender socialization, where societal expectations of how boys and girls should be—how they should behave, what toys and colours they should like, and how important their attire is—are reinforced.

One solution to this type of gender socialization is being experimented with at the Egalia preschool in Sweden, where children develop in a genderless environment. All of the children at Egalia are referred to with neutral terms like “friend” instead of “he” or “she.” Play areas and toys are consciously set up to eliminate any reinforcement of gender expectations (Haney 2011). Egalia strives to eliminate all societal gender norms from these children’s preschool world.

Extreme? Perhaps. So what is the middle ground? Bloom suggests that we start with simple steps: when introduced to a young girl, ask about her favourite book or what she likes. In short, engage her mind … not her outward appearance (Bloom 2011).


5.2. Why Socialization Matters

Socialization is critical both to individuals and to the societies in which they live. It illustrates how completely intertwined human beings and their social worlds are. First, it is through teaching culture to new members that a society perpetuates itself. If new generations of a society don’t learn its way of life, it ceases to exist. Whatever is distinctive about a culture must be transmitted to those who join it in order for a society to survive. For Canadian culture to continue, for example, children in Canada must learn about cultural values related to democracy: they have to learn the norms of voting, as well as how to use material objects such as a ballot. Of course, some would argue that it is just as important in Canadian culture for the younger generation to learn the etiquette of eating in a restaurant or the rituals of tailgate parties after softball games. In fact, there are many ideas and objects that Canadians teach children in hopes of keeping the society’s way of life going through another generation.

 Figure 5.3. Socialization teaches us our society’s expectations for dining out. The manners and customs of different cultures (When can you use your hands to eat? How should you compliment the cook? Who is the “head” of the table?) are learned through socialization. (Photo courtesy of Niyam Bhushan/flickr)

Figure 5.3. Socialization teaches us our society’s expectations for dining out. The manners and customs of different cultures (When can you use your hands to eat? How should you compliment the cook? Who is the “head” of the table?) are learned through socialization. (Photo courtesy of Niyam Bhushan/flickr)

Socialization is just as essential to us as individuals. Social interaction provides the means via which we gradually become able to see ourselves through the eyes of others, learning who we are and how we fit into the world around us. In addition, to function successfully in society, we have to learn the basics of both material land nonmaterial culture, everything from how to dress ourselves to what is suitable attire for a specific occasion; from when we sleep to what we sleep on; and from what is considered appropriate to eat for dinner to how to use the stove to prepare it. Most importantly, we have to learn language—whether it is the dominant language or one common in a subculture, whether it is verbal or through signs—in order to communicate and to think. As we saw with Danielle, without socialization we literally have no self. We are unable to function socially.

Nature versus Nurture

Some experts assert that who we are is a result of nurture—the relationships and caring that surround us. Others argue that who we are is based entirely in genetics. According to this belief, our temperaments, interests, and talents are set before birth. From this perspective, then, who we are depends on nature.

One way that researchers attempt to prove the impact of nature is by studying twins. Some studies followed identical twins who were raised separately. The pairs shared the same genetics, but, in some cases, were socialized in different ways. Instances of this type of situation are rare, but studying the degree to which identical twins raised apart are the same and different can give researchers insight into how our temperaments, preferences, and abilities are shaped by our genetic makeup versus our social environment.

For example, in 1968, twin girls born to a mentally ill mother were put up for adoption. However, they were also separated from each other and raised in different households. The parents, and certainly the babies, did not realize they were one of five pairs of twins who were made subjects of a scientific study (Flam 2007).

In 2003, the two women, then age 35, reunited. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein sat together in awe, feeling like they were looking into a mirror. Not only did they look alike, but they behaved alike, using the same hand gestures and facial expressions (Spratling 2007). Studies like these point to the genetic roots of our temperament and behaviour.

On the other hand, studies of identical twins have difficulty accounting for divergences in the development of inherited diseases. In the case of schizophrenia, epidemiological studies show that there is a strong biological component to the disease. The closer our familial connection to someone with the condition, the more likely we will develop it. However, even if our identical twin develops schizophrenia we are less than 50 percent likely to develop it ourselves. Why is it not 100 percent likely? What occurs to produce the divergence between genetically identical twins (Carey 2012)?

Though genetics and hormones play an important role in human behaviour, biological explanations of human behaviour have serious deficiencies from a sociological point of view, especially when they are used to try to explain complex aspects of human social life like homosexuality, male aggressiveness, female spatial skills, and the like. The logic of biological explanation usually involves three components: the identification of a supposedly universal quality or trait of human behaviour, an argument about why this behaviour makes it more likely that the genes that code for it will be passed successfully to descendents, and the conclusion that this behaviour or quality is “hard-wired” or difficult to change (Brym et al. 2012). However, an argument, for example, that males are naturally aggressive because of their hormonal structure (or other biological mechanisms) does not take into account the huge variations in the meaning or practice of aggression between cultures, nor the huge variations in what counts as aggressive in different situations, let alone the fact that many men are not aggressive by any definition, and that men and women both have “male” hormones like testosterone. More interesting for the sociologist in this example is that men who are not aggressive often get called “sissies.” This indicates that male aggression has to do more with a normative structure within male culture than with a genetic or hormonal structure that explains aggressive behaviour.

Sociology’s larger concern is the effect that society has on human behaviour, the “nurture” side of the nature versus nurture debate. To what degree are processes of identification and “self-fulfilling prophecy” at work in the lives of the twins Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein? Despite growing up apart do they share common racial, class, or religious characteristics? Aside from the environmental or epigenetic factors that lead to the divergence of twins with regard to schizophrenia, what happens to the social standing and social relationships of a person when the condition develops? What happens to schizophrenics in different societies? How does the social role of the schizophrenic integrate him or her into a society (or not)? Whatever the role of genes or biology in our lives, genes are never expressed in a vacuum. Environmental influence always matters.

Making Connections: Careers in Sociology

The Life of Chris Langan, the Smartest Man You’ve Never Heard Of

Bouncer. Firefighter. Factory worker. Cowboy. Chris Langan spent the majority of his adult life just getting by with jobs like these. He had no college degree, few resources, and a past filled with much disappointment. Chris Langan also had an IQ of over 195, nearly 100 points higher than the average person (Brabham 2001). So why didn’t Chris become a neurosurgeon, professor, or aeronautical engineer? According to Macolm Gladwell (2008) in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Chris didn’t possess the set of social skills necessary to succeed on such a high level—skills that aren’t innate, but learned.

Gladwell looked to a recent study conducted by sociologist Annette Lareau in which she closely shadowed 12 families from various economic backgrounds and examined their parenting techniques. Parents from lower-income families followed a strategy of “accomplishment of natural growth,” which is to say they let their children develop on their own with a large amount of independence; parents from higher-income families, however, “actively fostered and accessed a child’s talents, opinions, and skills” (Gladwell 2008). These parents were more likely to engage in analytical conversation, encourage active questioning of the establishment, and foster development of negotiation skills. The parents were also able to introduce their children to a wide range of activities, from sports to music to accelerated academic programs. When one middle class child was denied entry to a gifted and talented program, the mother petitioned the school and arranged additional testing until her daughter was admitted. Lower-income parents, however, were more likely to unquestioningly obey authorities such as school boards. Their children were not being socialized to comfortably confront the system and speak up (Gladwell 2008).

What does this have to do with Chris Langan, deemed by some as the smartest man in the world (Brabham 2001)? Chris was born in severe poverty, moving across the country with an abusive and alcoholic stepfather. Chris’s genius went greatly unnoticed. After accepting a full scholarship to Reed College, his funding was revoked after his mother failed to fill out necessary paperwork. Unable to successfully make his case to the administration, Chris, who had received straight A’s the previous semester, was given F’s on his transcript and forced to drop out. After enrolling in Montana State, an administrator’s refusal to rearrange his class schedule left him unable to find the means necessary to travel the 16 miles to attend classes. What Chris had in brilliance, he lacked practical intelligence, or what psychologist Robert Sternberg defines as “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect” (Sternberg et al. 2000). Such knowledge was never part of his socialization.

Chris gave up on school and began working an array of blue-collar jobs, pursuing his intellectual interests on the side. Though he’s recently garnered attention from work on his “Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe,” he remains weary and resistant of the educational system.

As Gladwell concluded, “He’d had to make his way alone, and no one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone” (2008).



Figure 5.4. Identical twins may look alike, but their differences can give us clues to the effects of socialization. (Photo courtesy of D. Flam/flickr)

Sociologists all recognize the importance of socialization for healthy individual and societal development. But how do scholars working in the three major theoretical paradigms approach this topic? Structural functionalists would say that socialization is essential to society, both because it trains members to operate successfully within it and because it perpetuates culture by transmitting it to new generations. Without socialization, a society’s culture would perish as members died off. A critical sociologist might argue that socialization reproduces inequality from generation to generation by conveying different expectations and norms to those with different social characteristics. For example, individuals are socialized differently by gender, social class, and race. As in the illustration of Chris Langan, this creates different (unequal) opportunities. An interactionist studying socialization is concerned with face-to-face exchanges and symbolic communication. For example, dressing baby boys in blue and baby girls in pink is one small way that messages are conveyed about differences in gender roles

5.3. Agents of Socialization

Socialization helps people learn to function successfully in their social worlds. How does the process of socialization occur? How do we learn to use the objects of our society’s material culture? How do we come to adopt the beliefs, values, and norms that represent its nonmaterial culture? This learning takes place through interaction with various agents of socialization, like peer groups and families, plus both formal and informal social institutions.

Social Group Agents

Social groups often provide the first experiences of socialization. Families, and later peer groups, communicate expectations and reinforce norms. People first learn to use the tangible objects of material culture in these settings, as well as being introduced to the beliefs and values of society.


Family is the first agent of socialization. Mothers and fathers, siblings and grandparents, plus members of an extended family, all teach a child what he or she needs to know. For example, they show the child how to use objects (such as clothes, computers, eating utensils, books, bikes); how to relate to others (some as “family,” others as “friends,” still others as “strangers” or “teachers” or “neighbours”); and how the world works (what is “real” and what is “imagined”). As you are aware, either from your own experience as a child or your role in helping to raise one, socialization involves teaching and learning about an unending array of objects and ideas.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that families do not socialize children in a vacuum. Many social factors impact how a family raises its children. For example, we can use sociological imagination to recognize that individual behaviours are affected by the historical period in which they take place. Sixty years ago, it would not have been considered especially strict for a father to hit his son with a wooden spoon or a belt if he misbehaved, but today that same action might be considered child abuse.

Sociologists recognize that race, social class, religion, and other societal factors play an important role in socialization. For example, poor families usually emphasize obedience and conformity when raising their children, while wealthy families emphasize judgment and creativity (National Opinion Research Center 2008). This may be because working-class parents have less education and more repetitive-task jobs for which the ability to follow rules and to conform helps. Wealthy parents tend to have better educations and often work in managerial positions or in careers that require creative problem solving, so they teach their children behaviours that would be beneficial in these positions. This means that children are effectively socialized and raised to take the types of jobs that their parents already have, thus reproducing the class system (Kohn 1977). Likewise, children are socialized to abide by gender norms, perceptions of race, and class-related behaviours.

In Sweden, for instance, stay-at-home fathers are an accepted part of the social landscape. A government policy provides subsidized time off work—68 weeks for families with newborns at 80 percent of regular earnings—with the option of 52 of those weeks of paid leave being shared between both mothers and fathers, and eight weeks each in addition allocated for the father and the mother. This encourages fathers to spend at least eight weeks at home with their newborns (Marshall 2008). As one stay-at-home dad says, being home to take care of his baby son “is a real fatherly thing to do. I think that’s very masculine” (Associated Press 2011). Overall 90 percent of men participate in the paid leave program. In Canada on the other hand, outside of Quebec, parents can share 35 weeks of paid parental leave at 55 percent of their regular earnings. Only 10 percent of men participate. In Quebec, however, where in addition to 32 weeks of shared parental leave, men also receive five weeks of paid leave, the participation rate of men is 48 percent. In Canada overall, the participation of men in paid parental leave increased from 3 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2006 because of the change in law in 2001 that extended the number of combined paid weeks parents could take. Researchers note that a father’s involvement in child raising has a positive effect on the parents’ relationship, the father’s personal growth, and the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of children (Marshall 2008). How will this effect differ in Sweden and Canada as a result of the different nature of their paternal leave policies?


Figure 5.5. The socialized roles of dads (and moms) vary by society. (Photo courtesy of Nate Grigg/flickr)

Peer Groups

A peer group is made up of people who are similar in age and social status and who share interests. Peer group socialization begins in the earliest years, such as when kids on a playground teach younger children the norms about taking turns or the rules of a game or how to shoot a basket. As children grow into teenagers, this process continues. Peer groups are important to adolescents in a new way, as they begin to develop an identity separate from their parents and exert independence. Additionally, peer groups provide their own opportunities for socialization since kids usually engage in different types of activities with their peers than they do with their families. Peer groups provide adolescents’ first major socialization experience outside the realm of their families. Interestingly, studies have shown that although friendships rank high in adolescents’ priorities, this is balanced by parental influence.

Institutional Agents

The social institutions of our culture also inform our socialization. Formal institutions—like schools, workplaces, and the government—teach people how to behave in and navigate these systems. Other institutions, like the media, contribute to socialization by inundating us with messages about norms and expectations.


Most Canadian children spend about seven hours a day, 180 days a year, in school, which makes it hard to deny the importance school has on their socialization. In elementary and junior high, compulsory education amounts to over 8,000 hours in the classroom (OECD 2013). Students are not only in school to study math, reading, science, and other subjects—the manifest function of this system. Schools also serve a latent function in society by socializing children into behaviours like teamwork, following a schedule, and using textbooks.


Figure 5.6. These kindergarteners aren’t just learning to read and write, they are being socialized to norms like keeping their hands to themselves, standing in line, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. (Photo courtesy of Bonner Springs Library/flickr)

School and classroom rituals, led by teachers serving as role models and leaders, regularly reinforce what society expects from children. Sociologists describe this aspect of schools as the hidden curriculum, the informal teaching done by schools.

For example, in North America, schools have built a sense of competition into the way grades are awarded and the way teachers evaluate students. Students learn to evaluate themselves within a hierarchical system as “A,” “B,” “C,” etc. students (Bowles and Gintis 1976). However, different “lessons” can be taught by different instructional techniques. When children participate in a relay race or a math contest, they learn that there are winners and losers in society. When children are required to work together on a project, they practise teamwork with other people in cooperative situations. Bowles and Gintis argue that the hidden curriculum prepares children for a life of conformity in the adult world. Children learn how to deal with bureaucracy, rules, expectations, waiting their turn, and sitting still for hours during the day. The latent functions of competition, teamwork, classroom discipline, time awareness and dealing with bureaucracy are features of the hidden curriculum.

Schools also socialize children by teaching them overtly about citizenship and nationalism. In the United States, children are taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Most districts require classes about U.S. history and geography. In Canada, on the other hand, critics complain that students do not learn enough about national history, which undermines the development of a sense of shared national identity (Granatstein 1998). Textbooks in Canada are also continually scrutinized and revised to update attitudes toward the different cultures in Canada as well as perspectives on historical events; thus, children are socialized to a different national or world history than earlier textbooks may have done. For example, information about the mistreatment of First Nations more accurately reflects those events than in textbooks of the past. In this regard, schools educate students explicitly about aspects of citizenship important for being able to participate in a modern, heterogeneous culture.

Making Connections: the Big Pictures

Controversial Textbooks

On August 13, 2001, 20 South Korean men gathered in Seoul. Each chopped off one of his own fingers because of textbooks. These men took drastic measures to protest eight middle school textbooks approved by Tokyo for use in Japanese middle schools. According to the Korean government (and other East Asian nations), the textbooks glossed over negative events in Japan’s history at the expense of other Asian countries (The Telegraph 2001).

In the early 1900s, Japan was one of Asia’s more aggressive nations. Korea was held as a colony by the Japanese between 1910 and 1945. Today, Koreans argue that the Japanese are whitewashing that colonial history through these textbooks. One major criticism is that they do not mention that, during World War II, the Japanese forced Korean women into sexual slavery. The textbooks describe the women as having been “drafted” to work, a euphemism that downplays the brutality of what actually occurred. Some Japanese textbooks dismiss an important Korean independence demonstration in 1919 as a “riot.” In reality, Japanese soldiers attacked peaceful demonstrators, leaving roughly 6,000 dead and 15,000 wounded (Crampton 2002).

Although it may seem extreme that people are so enraged about how events are described in a textbook that they would resort to dismemberment, the protest affirms that textbooks are a significant tool of socialization in state-run education systems.

The Workplace

Just as children spend much of their day at school, most Canadian adults at some point invest a significant amount of time at a place of employment. Although socialized into their culture since birth, workers require new socialization into a workplace, both in terms of material culture (such as how to operate the copy machine) and nonmaterial culture (such as whether it is okay to speak directly to the boss or how the refrigerator is shared).

Different jobs require different types of socialization. In the past, many people worked a single job until retirement. Today, the trend is to switch jobs at least once a decade. Between the ages of 18 and 44, the average baby boomer of the younger set held 11 different jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010). This means that people must become socialized to, and socialized by, a variety of work environments.


While some religions may tend toward being an informal institution, this section focuses on practices related to formal institutions. Religion is an important avenue of socialization for many people. Canada is full of synagogues, temples, churches, mosques, and similar religious communities where people gather to worship and learn. Like other institutions, these places teach participants how to interact with the religion’s material culture (like a mezuzah, a prayer rug, or a communion wafer). For some people, important ceremonies related to family structure—like marriage and birth—are connected to religious celebrations. Many of these institutions uphold gender norms and contribute to their enforcement through socialization. From ceremonial rites of passage that reinforce the family unit, to power dynamics which reinforce gender roles, religion fosters a shared set of socialized values that are passed on through society.


Although we do not think about it, many of the rites of passage people go through today are based on age norms established by the government. To be defined as an “adult” usually means being 18 years old, the age at which a person becomes legally responsible for themselves. And 65 is the start of “old age” since most people become eligible for senior benefits at that point.

Each time we embark on one of these new categories—senior, adult, taxpayer—we must be socialized into this new role. Seniors, for example, must learn the ropes of obtaining pension benefits. This government program marks the points at which we require socialization into a new category.

Mass Media

Mass media refers to the distribution of impersonal information to a wide audience, via television, newspapers, radio, and the internet. With the average person spending over four hours a day in front of the TV (and children averaging even more screen time), media greatly influences social norms (Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout 2005). People learn about objects of material culture (like new technology and transportation options), as well as nonmaterial culture—what is true (beliefs), what is important (values), and what is expected (norms).

Making Connections: Sociology in the Real World

Girls and Movies


Figure 5.7. Some people are concerned about the way girls today are socialized into a “princess culture.” (Photo courtesy of Emily Stanchfield/flickr)

Pixar is one of the largest producers of children’s movies in the world and has released large box office draws, such as Toy Story, Cars, The Incredibles, and Up. What Pixar has never before produced is a movie with a female lead role. This changed with Pixar’s movie Brave in 2012. Before Brave, women in Pixar served as supporting characters and love interests. In Up, for example, the only human female character dies within the first 10 minutes of the film. For the millions of girls watching Pixar films, there are few strong characters or roles for them to relate to. If they do not see possible versions of themselves, they may come to view women as secondary to the lives of men.

The animated films of Pixar’s parent company, Disney, have many female lead roles. Disney is well known for films with female leads, such as Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Mulan. Many of Disney’s movies star a female, and she is nearly always a princess figure. If she is not a princess to begin with, she typically ends the movie by marrying a prince or, in the case of Mulan, a military general. Although not all “princesses” in Disney movies play a passive role in their lives, they typically find themselves needing to be rescued by a man, and the happy ending they all search for includes marriage.

Alongside this prevalence of princesses, many parents are expressing concern about the culture of princesses that Disney has created. Peggy Orenstein addresses this problem in her popular book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Orenstein wonders why every little girl is expected to be a “princess” and why pink has become an all-consuming obsession for many young girls. Another mother wondered what she did wrong when her three-year-old daughter refused to do “non-princessy” things, including running and jumping. The effects of this princess culture can have negative consequences for girls throughout life. An early emphasis on beauty and sexiness can lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and risky sexual behaviour among older girls.

What should we expect from Pixar’s Brave, the first starring a female character? Although Brave features a female lead, she is still a princess. Will this film offer any new type of role model for young girls? (Barnes 2010; O’Connor 2011; Rose 2011).


5.4. Socialization Across the Life Course

Socialization isn’t a one-time or even a short-term event. We are not “stamped” by some socialization machine as we move along a conveyor belt and thereby socialized once and for all. In fact, socialization is a lifelong process.

In Canada, socialization throughout the life course is determined greatly by age norms and “time-related rules and regulations” (Setterson 2002). As we grow older, we encounter age-related transition points that require socialization into a new role, such as becoming school age, entering the workforce, or retiring. For example, the Canadian government mandates that all children attend school. Child labour laws, enacted in the early 20th century, nationally declared that childhood be a time of learning, not of labour. In countries such as Niger and Sierra Leone, however, child labour remains common and socially acceptable, with little legislation to regulate such practices (UNICEF 2011).

Making Connections: the Big Pictures

Gap Year: How Different Societies Socialize Young Adults

Prince William photo from Alexandre Goulet used Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license

Figure 5.8. Prince William, who took a gap year after secondary school. (photo courtesy of Alexandre Goulet/wikimedia commons)

Have you ever heard of gap year? It’s a common custom in British society. When teens finish their secondary schooling (i.e., high school), they often take a year “off” before entering college. Frequently, they might take a job, travel, or find other ways to experience another culture. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, spent his gap year practising survival skills in Belize, teaching English in Chile, and working on a dairy farm in the United Kingdom (Prince of Wales 2012a). His brother, Prince Harry, advocated for AIDS orphans in Africa and worked as a jackeroo (a novice ranch hand) in Australia (Prince of Wales 2012b).

In Canada, this life transition point is socialized quite differently, and taking a year off is generally frowned on. Instead, Canadian youth are encouraged to pick career paths by their mid-teens, to select a university or college and a major by their late teens, and to have completed all university schooling or technical training for their career by their early 20s.

In other nations, this phase of the life course is tied into conscription, a term that describes compulsory military service. Egypt, Austria, Switzerland, Turkey, and Singapore all have this system in place. Youth in these nations (often only the males) are expected to undergo a number of months or years of military training and service.

How might your life be different if you lived in one of these other countries? Can you think of similar social norms—related to life age-transition points—that vary from country to country?


Many of life’s social expectations are made clear and enforced on a cultural level. Through interacting with others and watching others interact, the expectation to fulfill roles becomes clear. While in elementary or middle school, the prospect of having a boyfriend or girlfriend may have been considered undesirable. The socialization that takes place in high school changes the expectation. By observing the excitement and importance attached to dating and relationships within the high school social scene, it quickly becomes apparent that one is now expected not only to be a child and a student, but a significant other as well. Graduation from formal education—high school, vocational school, or college—involves socialization into a new set of expectations.

Educational expectations vary not only from culture to culture, but from class to class. While middle- or upper-class families may expect their daughter or son to attend a four-year university after graduating from high school, other families may expect their child to immediately begin working full-time, as many within their family have done before.

Making Connections: Sociology in the Real World

The Long Road to Adulthood for Millennials

Millennials, sometimes also called Gen Y, is a term that describes the generation born during the early 1980s to early 1990s. They are the generation that is currently between the ages of 18 and 33. While the recession was in full swing, many were in the process of entering, attending, or graduating from high school and college. With employment prospects at historical lows, large numbers of graduates were unable to find work, sometimes moving back in with their parents and struggling to pay back student loans.

According to the New York Times, this economic stall is causing the Millennials to postpone what most North Americans consider to be adulthood: “The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary … jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life” (Henig 2010).

In Canada:

  • 30 percent of Millennials find it difficult to support themselves on their low wages
  • 44 percent find it difficult to pay for their education
  • 38 percent are strapped by loan payments
  • 51 percent still live with their parents
  • 90 percent feel overwhelmed and experience excessive stress (Tsintziras 2013)

The five milestones, Henig writes, that define adulthood, are “completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child” (Henig 2010). These social milestones are taking longer for Millennials to attain, if they’re attained at all. Sociologists wonder what long-term impact this generation’s situation may have on society as a whole.


In the process of socialization, adulthood brings a new set of challenges and expectations, as well as new roles to fill. As the aging process moves forward, social roles continue to evolve. Pleasures of youth, such as wild nights out and serial dating, become less acceptable in the eyes of society. Responsibility and commitment are emphasized as pillars of adulthood, and men and women are expected to “settle down.” During this period, many people enter into marriage or a civil union, bring children into their families, and focus on a career path. They become partners or parents instead of students or significant others.

Just as young children pretend to be doctors or lawyers, play house, and dress up, adults also engage anticipatory socialization, the preparation for future life roles. Examples would include a couple who cohabitate before marriage, or soon-to-be parents who read infant care books and prepare their home for the new arrival. As part of anticipatory socialization, adults who are financially able begin planning for their retirement, saving money and looking into future health care options. The transition into any new life role, despite the social structure that supports it, can be difficult.

Socialization is ongoing throughout adulthood in another sense as well. The study of contemporary society reveals an increasing fluidity of roles, as opposed to previous eras when one could expect to be married only once, live in one location, or to have a single career. This experience is part of what Zygmunt Bauman has called liquid modernity. As opposed to previous eras when one could expect to have a career that spanned one’s entire working life, the expectation today is that the individual will experience an increasing fluidity of roles. It is more difficult to view socialization as a smooth and uninterrupted process. Rather, life is increasingly fragmented, “cut into a succession of ill-connected episodes” (Bauman 2004). As a result, social identities have become more flexible, more adaptable to unpredictable transitions, and more open to taking on new roles or picking and choosing from a globalized palette of cultural values and practices.


In the process of resocialization, old behaviours that were helpful in a previous role are removed because they are no longer of use. Resocialization is necessary when a person moves to a senior care centre, goes to boarding school, or serves time in jail. In the new environment, the old rules no longer apply. The process of resocialization is typically more stressful than normal socialization because people have to unlearn behaviours that have become customary to them.

The most common way resocialization occurs is in a total institution where people are isolated from society and are forced to follow someone else’s rules. A ship at sea is a total institution, as are religious convents, prisons, or some cult organizations. They are places cut off from a larger society. The 15,000 Canadians who lived in federal prisons or penitentiaries at the end of 2012 are also members of this type of institution (Sapers 2013). As another example, every branch of the military is a total institution.

Many individuals are resocialized into an institution through a two-part process. First, members entering an institution must leave behind their old identity through what is known as a degradation ceremony. In a degradation ceremony, new members lose the aspects of their old identity and are given new identities. The process is sometimes gentle. To enter a senior care home, an elderly person often must leave a family home and give up many belongings which were part of his or her long-standing identity. Though caretakers guide the elderly compassionately, the process can still be one of loss. In many cults, this process is also gentle and happens in an environment of support and caring.

In other situations, the degradation ceremony can be more extreme. Goffman refered to the process of being stripped of ones external identity as a “mortification of the self” (Goffman 1961). New prisoners lose freedom, rights (including the right to privacy), and personal belongings. When entering the army, soldiers have their hair cut short. Their old clothes are removed and they wear matching uniforms. These individuals must give up any markers of their former identity in order to be resocialized into an identity as a “soldier.”


Figure 5.9. In basic training, soldiers are taught to walk, move, and look like each other (Photo courtesy of Staff Sergeant Desiree N. Palacios, U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons)

After new members of an institution are stripped of their old identity, they build a new one that matches the new society. In the military, soldiers go through basic training together, where they learn new rules and bond with one another. They follow structured schedules set by their leaders. Soldiers must keep their areas clean for inspection, learn to march in correct formations, and salute when in the presence of superiors.

Learning to deal with life after having lived in a total institution requires yet another process of resocialization. In the Canadian military, soldiers learn discipline and a capacity for hard work. They set aside personal goals to achieve a mission, and they take pride in the accomplishments of their units. Many soldiers who leave the military transition these skills into excellent careers. Others find themselves lost upon leaving, uncertain about the outside world, and what to do next. The process of resocialization to civilian life is not a simple one.

Key Terms

anticipatory socialization when we prepare for future life roles

degradation ceremony the process by which new members of a total institution lose aspects of their old identity and are given new ones

game stage  the stage in child development in which children begin to recognize and interact on the basis of fixed norms and roles

generalized other the common behavioural expectations of general society

hidden curriculum the informal teaching done in schools that socializes children to societal norms

I and me the two components or phases of the self-reflective self

liquid modernity the fluid and transitory nature of modern life, which is increasingly fragmented and cut into a succession of ill-connected episodes

looking glass self the self or self-image that arises as the reaction to the judgment of others

mass media the distribution of impersonal information to a wide audience via television, newspapers, radio, and the Internet

moral development the way people learn what is “good” and “bad” in society

nature the influence of our genetic makeup on self development

nurture the role that our social environment plays in self development

peer group a group made up of people who are similar in age and social status and who share interests

play stage a time when children begin to imitate and take on roles that another person might have

preparatory stage a time when children are only capable of imitation and have no ability to imagine how others see things

resocialization the process by which old behaviours are removed and new behaviours are learned in their place

self a person’s distinct sense of identity as developed through social interaction

socialization the process wherein people come to understand societal norms and expectations, to accept society’s beliefs, and to be aware of societal values

stages of child socialization the four stages of child development (preparatory, play, game, and generalized other) in which the child develops the capacity to assume social roles

total institution an institution in which members are required to live in isolation from the rest of society

Section Summary

5.1. Theories of Self Development
Psychological theories of self development have been broadened by sociologists who explicitly study the role of society and social interaction in self development. Charles Cooley and George Mead both contributed significantly to the sociological understanding of the development of self. Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan developed their ideas further, researching how our sense of morality develops. Gilligan added the dimension of gender differences to Kohlberg’s theory.

5.2. Why Socialization Matters
Socialization is important because it helps uphold societies and cultures; it is also a key part of individual development. Research demonstrates that who we are is affected by both nature (our genetic and hormonal makeup) and nurture (the social environment in which we are raised). Sociology is most concerned with the way that society’s influence affects our behaviour patterns, made clear by the way behaviour varies across class and gender.

5.3. Agents of Socialization
Our direct interactions with social groups, like families and peers, teach us how others expect us to behave. Likewise, a society’s formal and informal institutions socialize its population. Schools, workplaces, and the media communicate and reinforce cultural norms and values.

5.4. Socialization across the Life Course
Socialization is a lifelong process recurring as we enter new phases of life, such as adulthood or senior age. Resocialization is a process that removes the socialization we have developed over time and replaces it with newly learned rules and roles. Because it involves removing old habits that have been built up, resocialization can be a stressful and difficult process.

Section Quiz

5.1. Theories of Self Development
1. Socialization, as a sociological term, describes:

  1. how people interact during social situations
  2. how people learn societal norms, beliefs, and values
  3. a person’s internal mental state when in a group setting
  4. the difference between introverts and extroverts

2. The Harlows’ study on rhesus monkeys showed that:

  1. rhesus monkeys raised by other primate species are poorly socialized
  2. monkeys can be adequately socialized by imitating humans
  3. food is more important than social comfort
  4. social comfort is more important than food

3. What occurs in Lawrence Kohlberg’s conventional level?

  1. Children develop the ability to have abstract thoughts.
  2. Morality is developed by pain and pleasure.
  3. Children begin to consider what society considers moral and immoral.
  4. Parental beliefs have no influence on children’s morality.

4. What did Carol Gilligan believe earlier researchers into morality had overlooked?

  1. The justice perspective
  2. Sympathetic reactions to moral situations
  3. The perspective of females
  4. How social environment affects how morality develops

5. What is one way to distinguish between psychology and sociology?

  1. Psychology focuses on the mind, while sociology focuses on society.
  2. Psychologists are interested in mental health, while sociologists are interested in societal functions.
  3. Psychologists look inward to understand behaviour while sociologists look outward.
  4. All of the above.

6. How did nearly complete isolation as a child affect Danielle’s verbal abilities?

  1. She could not communicate at all.
  2. She never learned words, but she did learn signs.
  3. She could not understand much, but she could use gestures.
  4. She could understand and use basic language like “yes” and “no.”

5.2. Why Socialization Matters
7. Why do sociologists need to be careful when drawing conclusions from twin studies?

  1. The results do not apply to singletons.
  2. The twins were often raised in different ways.
  3. The twins may turn out to actually be fraternal.
  4. The sample sizes are often small.

8. From a sociological perspective, which factor does not greatly influence a person’s socialization?

  1. gender
  2. class
  3. blood type
  4. race

9. Chris Langan’s story illustrates that:

  1. children raised in one-parent households tend to have higher IQs
  2. intelligence is more important than socialization
  3. socialization can be more important than intelligence
  4. neither socialization nor intelligence affects college admissions

5.3. Agents of Socialization
10. Why are wealthy parents more likely than poor parents to socialize their children toward creativity and problem solving?

  1. Wealthy parents are socializing their children toward the skills of white-collar employment.
  2. Wealthy parents are not concerned about their children rebelling against their rules.
  3. Wealthy parents never engage in repetitive tasks.
  4. Wealthy parents are more concerned with money than with a good education.

11. How do schools prepare children to one day enter the workforce?

  1. with a standardized curriculum
  2. through the hidden curriculum
  3. by socializing them in teamwork
  4. all of the above

12. Which one of the following is not a way people are socialized by religion?

  1. People learn the material culture of their religion.
  2. Life stages and roles are connected to religious celebration.
  3. An individual’s personal internal experience of a divine being leads to their faith.
  4. Places of worship provide a space for shared group experiences.

13. Which of the following is a manifest function of schools?

  1. understanding when to speak up and when to be silent
  2. learning to read and write
  3. following a schedule
  4. knowing locker room etiquette

14. Which of the following is typically the earliest agent of socialization?

  1. school
  2. gamily
  3. mass media
  4. workplace

5.4. Socialization across the Life Course
15. Which of the following is not an age-related transition point when Canadians must be socialized to new roles?

  1. Infancy
  2. School age
  3. Adulthood
  4. Senior citizen

16. Which of the following is true regarding Canadian socialization of recent high school graduates?

  1. They are expected to take a year “off” before college.
  2. They are required to serve in the military for one year.
  3. They are expected to enter college, trade school, or the workforce shortly after graduation.
  4. They are required to move away from their parents.

Short Answer

5.1. Theories of Self Development

  1. Think of a current issue or pattern that a sociologist might study. What types of questions would the sociologist ask, and what research methods might he or she employ? Now consider the questions and methods a psychologist might use to study the same issue. Comment on their different approaches.
  2. Explain why it’s important to conduct research using both male and female participants. What sociological topics might show gender differences? Provide some examples to illustrate your ideas.

5.2. Why Socialization Matters

  1. Why are twin studies an important way to learn about the relative effects of genetics and socialization on children? What questions about human development do you believe twin studies are best for answering? For what types of questions would twin studies not be as helpful?
  2. Why do you think that people like Chris Langan continue to have difficulty even after they are helped through societal systems? What is it they’ve missed that prevents them from functioning successfully in the social world?

5.3. Agents of Socialization

  1. Do you think it is important that parents discuss gender roles with their young children, or is gender a topic better left for later? How do parents consider gender norms when buying their children books, movies, and toys? How do you believe they should consider it?
  2. Based on your observations, when are adolescents more likely to listen to their parents or to their peer groups when making decisions? What types of dilemmas lend themselves toward one social agent over another?

5.4. Socialization across the Life Course

  1. Consider a person who is moving into residence, or attending university or boarding school, or even a child beginning kindergarten. How is the process the student goes through a form of socialization? What new cultural behaviours must the student adapt to?
  2. Do you think resocialization requires a total institution? Why or why not? Can you think of any other ways someone could be resocialized?

Further Research

5.1. Theories of Self Development
Lawrence Kohlberg was most famous for his research using moral dilemmas. He presented dilemmas to boys and asked them how they would judge the situations. Visit to read about Kohlberg’s most famous moral dilemma, known as the Heinz dilemma.

5.2. Why Socialization Matters
Learn more about five other sets of twins who grew up apart and discovered each other later in life at

5.3. Agents of Socialization
Most societies expect parents to socialize children into gender norms. See the controversy surrounding one Canadian couple’s refusal to do so at

5.4. Socialization across the Life Course
Homelessness is an endemic problem among veterans. Many soldiers leave the military or return from war and have difficulty resocializing into civilian life. Learn more about this problem at or


5. Introduction to Socialization
DeGregory, Lane. 2008. “The Girl in the Window.” St. Petersburg Times, July 31. Retrieved January 31, 2012 (

Harlow, Harry F. 1971. Learning to Love. New York: Ballantine.

Harlow, Harry F. and Margaret Kuenne Harlow. 1962. “Social Deprivation in Monkeys.” Scientific American November:137–46.

5.1. Theories of Self Development
Bloom, Lisa. 2011. “How to Talk to Little Girls.” Huffington Post, June 22. Retrieved January 12, 2012 (

Cooley, Charles Horton. 1902. “The Looking Glass Self.” Pp. 179–185 in Human Nature and Social Order. New York: Scribner’s.

Durkheim, Émile. 2011 [1897]. Suicide. London: Routledge.

Erikson, Erik. 1963. Childhood and Society. New York: W.W. Norton.

Freud, Sigmund. 2000 [1905]. Three Essays on Theories of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.

Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gilligan, Carol. 1990. Making Connections: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Haney, Phil. 2011. “Genderless Preschool in Sweden.” Baby & Kids, June 28. Retrieved January 12, 2012 (

Kohlberg, Lawrence. 1981. The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. New York: Harper and Row.

Lasch, Christopher. 1979. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: W. Norton and Co.

Mead, George H. 1934. Mind, Self and Society, edited by C. W. Morris. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Piaget, Jean. 1954. The Construction of Reality in the Child. New York: Basic Books.

5.2. Why Socialization Matters
Brabham, Denis. 2001. “The Smart Guy.” Newsday, August 21. Retrieved January 31, 2012 (

Brym, Robert, Lance W. Roberts, John Lie, and Steven Rytina. 2013. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World, 4th ed. Toronto: Nelson.

Carey, Nessa. 2012. The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance. New York: Columbia University Press.

Flam, Faye. 2007. “Separated Twins Shed Light on Identity Issues.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 9. Retrieved January 31, 2012 (

Gladwell, Malcolm. 2008. “The Trouble With Geniuses, Part 2.” Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Spratling, Cassandra. 2007. “Nature and Nurture.” Detroit Free Press. November 25. Retrieved January 31, 2012 (

Sternberg, R.J., G.B. Forsythe, J. Hedlund, J. Horvath, S. Snook, W.M. Williams, R.K. Wagner, and E.L. Grigorenko. 2000. Practical Intelligence in Everyday Life. New York: Cambridge University Press.

5.3. Agents of Socialization
Associated Press. 2011. “Swedish Dads Swap Work for Child Care.” The Gainesville Sun, October 23. Retrieved January 12, 2012 (

Barnes, Brooks. 2010. “Pixar Removes Its First Female Director.” The New York Times, December 20. Retrieved August 2, 2011 (

Bowles, Samuel and Herbert Gintis. 1976. Schooling in Capitalistic America: Educational Reforms and the Contradictions of Economic Life. New York: Basic Books.

Crampton, Thomas. 2002. “The Ongoing Battle over Japan’s Textbooks.” New York Times, February 12. Retrieved August 2, 2011 (

Granatstein, J.L. 1998. Who Killed Canadian History? Toronto: HarperCollins.

Kohn, Melvin L. 1977. Class and Conformity: A Study in Values. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.

Marshall, Katherine. 2008. “Fathers’ use of paid parental leave.” Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-001-X. Retrieved February 23, 2014 (

National Opinion Research Center. 2008. General Social Surveys, 1972–2006: Cumulative Codebook. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.

O’Connor, Lydia. 2011. “The Princess Effect: Are Girls Too ‘Tangled’ in Disney’s Fantasy?” Annenberg Digital News, January 26. Retrieved August 2, 2011 (

OECD. 2013. Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators. OECD Publishing. Retrieved February 23, 2014 (

Roberts, Donald F., Ulla G. Foehr, and Victoria Rideout. 2005. “Parents, Children, and Media: A Kaiser Family Foundation Survey.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved February 14, 2012 (

Rose, Steve. 2011. “Studio Ghibli: Leave the Boys Behind.” The Guardian, July 14. Retrieved August 2, 2011 (

The Telegraph. 2001. “South Koreans Sever Fingers in Anti-Japan Protest.”  Retrieved January 31, 2012 (

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2010. “Number of Jobs Held, Labor Market Activity, and Earnings Growth Among the Youngest Baby Boomers.” September 10. Retrieved January 31, 2012 (

5.4. Socialization across the Life Course
Bauman, Zygmunt. 2004. Identity: Conversations with Benedetto Vecchi. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Goffman, Irving. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. New York: Anchor Books.

Henig, Robin Marantz. 2010. “What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?” New York Times, August 18. Retrieved December 28, 2011 (

Prince of Wales. 2012a. “Duke of Cambridge, Gap Year.” Retrieved January 26, 2012 (

Prince of Wales. 2012b. “Prince Harry, Gap Year.” Retrieved January 26, 2012 (

Sapers, Howard. 2013. Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator: 2012-2013. The Correctional Investigator Canada. Retrieved February 23, 2014 (

Setterson, Richard A., Jr. 2002. “Socialization in the Life Course: New Frontiers in Theory and Research.” New Frontiers in Socialization, Vol. 7. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science Ltd.

Tsintziras, Aya. 2013. “Millennials and Anxiety: Is Generation Y Anxious?” Huffington Post. July 26. Retrieved February 23, 2014 (

UNICEF. 2011. “Percentage of Children Aged 5–14 Engaged in Child Labour.” Retrieved December 28, 2011 (

Solutions to Section Quiz

1. B | 2. D | 3. C | 4. C | 5. D | 6. A | 7. D | 8. C | 9. C | 10. A | 11. D | 12. C | 13. B | 14. B | 15. A | 16. C

Image Attributions

Figure 5.8. Prince William by Alexandre Goulet ( used Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license (