Examples of agents of socialization include the school, church, family, mass media, daycare, workplace, and sporting clubs.
An agent of socialization is anything that is influential in teaching social norms and rules to children (or adults). For example, school is an agent of socialization because it’s a place where we learn how to interact with others in socially appropriate ways.
What is Socialization?
Socialization refers to the ways society ‘teaches’ us how to behave. Through socialization, we learn norms of behavior and develop our own personal identities.
Because our identities are developed through interaction with society, sociologists say that our identities are ‘socially constructed’.
Socialization can be of several types:
- Primary socialization – Primary socialization occurs during the formative years of an individual’s life and is related to the construction of the most elemental aspects of an individual’s personhood.
- Secondary socialization – Secondary socialization occurs later on in life, and is affected by agents that are usually outside of the family, but still exert a considerable influence on their lives. Examples include the workplace, clubs, and fraternities.
- Developmental socialization – While most kinds of socialization are subtle, unconscious processes, developmental socialization is undertaken deliberately for the purpose of developing or enhancing certain skills. For instance, socialization undertaken to improve public speaking skills, or personality development programmes are developmental socialization.
- Anticipatory socialization – Anticipatory socialization is undertaken in the hope of acquiring the skills needed to be a part of a social group in the future. For instance, being a part of boy/girl scouts as preparation for a career in the armed forces later on in life. Unlike developmental socialization, anticipatory socialization may or may not be deliberate or premeditated.
- Resocialization – Resocialization is the process of shedding previously acquired social behavior and learning newer norms and behaviors. For most individuals, resocialization is a continuing, lifelong process. For instance, migrating to a new country or retiring from a career in the army and returning to civilian life all require varying degrees of resocialization.
The concept of socialization draws upon the theory of social behaviorism by George Herbert Mead (1863-1931). Mead proposed that the individual self is socially constructed through a process of social interaction with those around us.
The entity which interacts with and influences an individual in the process of socialization is called an agent of socialization.
Examples of Agents of Socialization
1. The Family
The American sociologist Talcott Parsons believed that the family is the single most important agent of socialization, playing a crucial role in the formation of an individual’s personality (Parsons & Bales, 1956).
It is from the family that a child acquires the most elemental knowledge of society and its institutions, and a familiarity with the norms and behaviors expected in such institutions (Freeman & Showel, 1951).
The role of the family as a socializing agent overlaps with psychological theories of cognitive and personality development such as the work of Jean Piaget (1896-1980) on early childhood development and that of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) on parental influence on child personality.
For example, it’s often in the family where a child first learns gender socialization, with gender roles in the domestic sphere modelled for the child from a young age.
2. The School
The school acts as an agent of socialization in 4 ways.
- First, by imparting curriculum-based education.
- Second, by teaching children moral values, the importance of obeying rules and regulations, and the consequences of transgressing them (often referred to as the hidden curriculum).
- Third, by acting as a site that enables social interaction between an individual and their peers, seniors, juniors, and teachers.
- Fourth, by allowing an individual to acquire an understanding of their position in the wider social and economic hierarchy.
Mass media is an agent of both primary and secondary socialization, exerting a powerful influence on both children and adults alike.
Mass media includes both traditional media such as television, cinema, newspaper, radio as well as newer, internet-based forms of media such as social networking platforms.
Numerous studies have reported that children are now increasingly spending more time online, thereby increasing their exposure to mass media. (Fairclough, 2021) Thus internet-based social interaction is increasingly becoming an important agent of socialization.
Mass media acts as an agent of socialization in 2 ways:
- By acting as a source of ideas, news, and information that shape an individual’s sense of the self.
- By providing a platform for individuals to create and ‘perform’ newer selves through social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Related: 21 Mass Communication Theories
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) believed that religion is an essential part of all societies because of a fundamental human concern with what happens after death.
As a result, religion exercises extraordinary control in shaping the collective beliefs of a society (Durkheim, 2001).
Religion also influences the manner in which an individual engages with other institutions of society such as the economy, the nation-state, and the family (Jelen & Wilcox, 1998).
Max Weber (1864-1920), in his classic work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,demonstrated how religion shapes the collective thought of a society, and thus influences other social institutions such as the economy (Weber, 2010).
Similarly, religious nationalism is a phenomenon which arises out of the interaction of religious belief with an individual’s sense of ethnic and national identity.
In this case, the individual is socialized into constructing a sense of the self which is inextricably linked with their religious identity, and thus results in a desire to create a social order in which religion is the basis of the nation-state.
For more on Durkheim, read our overview of his concept of social facts.
5. The Workplace
The workplace can be a site for several kinds of socialization.
When we absorb the work culture, norms, and rules of a workplace over time, it is considered secondary socialization.
On occasions when an employee is required to upskill or reskill to advance to a different role within the organization, it becomes a case of developmental socialization.
When we switch to a different job that has very little in common with the previous job, it is a case of resocialization.
6. The State
The state acts as an agent of socialization in several ways.
- By controlling the creation of identity documents such as passports and citizenship certificates which, in most nation-states, are the fundamental proof of an individual’s existence. The state, thus, in a way, creates the subject’s self.
- By controlling education and thus ensuring that the self, once brought into existence by the state, is socialized into becoming a certain kind of citizen that is desired by the state.
- By encouraging nationalism through both education and propaganda, to ensure that loyalty to the nation state becomes an inextricable part of an individual’s idea of the self.
Thus, an individual is socialized into acquiring an idea of the self that is centered on the nation-state they are born into and raised in.
When people emigrate to other countries, they have to resocialize themselves by giving up this old self, and acquiring the norms, behaviors, customs, etc. of the new country.
7. Youth Organizations
Youth organizations are sites for socializing youth, especially students, into specific political and social roles.
For instance, Model United Nations (MUN) is a popular educational simulation in which students attempt to solve global issues through diplomacy and negotiation. It socializes students into acquiring an understanding of the system of nation-states as a globalized, interconnected space, and often acts as a stepping stone for youth looking for a career in international relations or diplomacy.
Similarly Young Men’s Christian Association( (YMCA), Boy and Girl Scouts, etc. are also well-known youth organizations that socialize their members into particular ideologies and ways of life.
8. Military High Schools
Military high schools are schools offering elementary, junior, and secondary level education with an added emphasis on military training curriculum.
They are different from military academies that prepare selected candidates to be commissioned into the armed forces. Alumni of a military high school may or may not join the armed forces after graduating.
They are, however, socialized into a military culture during their formative years that often stays with them for life.. Students at such schools typically live in military style barracks, with prominent buildings and landmarks in the school campus being named after military heroes or famous battles.
This is a form of anticipatory socialization.
Prominent examples of military high schools include the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in the UK, Carson Long Military Academy in the United States, the Robert Land Academy in Canada, and the network of Sainik Schools in India.
In Australia, the Australian Army Cadets (AAC) is an organizational program that similarly socializes school students across various schools into acquiring an interest in joining the armed forces.
9. Sporting Clubs
When a young person joins a sporting club, they are socialized into both formal rules of sports and sporting culture.
Many parents believe sports to be great for their children because they learn soft skills like teamwork, following rules, accepting the adjudication of a referee, and taking on leadership roles.
However, there are often ‘toxic’ sports cultures that can also socialize young men into ‘locker room’ behavior that involves anti-social gender-based attitudes. Thus, this can be both a positive and negative source of socialization.
According to sociology and psychology, individual selves are socially constructed through interaction with agents of socialization. Such agents of socialization are numerous, and encountered in all walks of life. Socialization is thus an elementary and continuing process that remains at work as long as we remain a part of society.
Durkheim, E. (2001). The elementary forms of religious life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fairclough, S.J. (2021). Adolescents’ digital screen time as a concern for health and well-being? Device type and context matter, Acta Paediatrica (110), 1985-86. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/apa.15843
Freeman, H.E., & Showel, M. (1951). The role of the family in the socialization process. The Journal of Social Psychology. 37(1), 97-101. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.1953.9921873
Parsons, T., & Bales, R.F. (1956). Family, socialization and interaction process. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Weber, M. (2010). The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.