Resocialization refers to a learning process by which old roles and behaviors of individuals are replaced by new ones.
We find two types of resocialization: voluntary and involuntary:
- Voluntary resocialization happens by choice. A voluntary resocialization example is when people move countries and attempt to assimilate.
- Involuntary resocialization happens against a person’s will. An involuntary association example is when a person has to undergo a correctional program like the AA steps.
Whether voluntary of involuntary, it tends to differ from anticipatory socialization because it occurs through exposure to the group over time, rather than intentionally before entering the group.
Resocialization normally takes place in adulthood, and so it is sometimes called adult socialization.
Morrison provides the following scholarly definition of resocialization:
“Resocialization is a process of identity transformation in which people are called upon to learn new roles, while unlearning some aspects of their old ones. This process often requires an unlearning of internalized norms, values, beliefs, and practices, to be replaced by a new set which is considered appropriate to the new role” (Morrison, 2007:1)
This process normally occurs when an individual enters a new environment, and the old rules, those learnt through socialization, no longer apply.
The need to learn new roles, values and norms may be the result of a voluntary or involuntary change in a person’s life.
Resocialization ranges from small changes to an individual old role and values, for example when changing jobs and having to adjust to a new work environment.
But it can also mean major changes, for example when an individual enters prison or a mental health institution and needs to adapt to survive.
Major changes take place in what sociologist Erving Goffman (1961) calls total institutions, which are places where people who are in similar situation live or work, cut off from the rest of society for an extended period of time.
Examples of total institutions are jails, mental asylums, concentration camps, military boot camps, convents or monasteries.
- Moving to a new country, with a different culture than where a person was born and bred, and learning the new customs and norms is an example of resocialization.
- Starting a new job can also involve a process or resocialization as one has to learn the new workplace’s norms and rules.
- Joining the military, with its strict norms regarding, for example, uniforms and haircuts, military boot camps represent very well resocialization.
- Joining a religious order implies too resocialization as the individual has to dispose of old habits and beliefs, which are now seen deviant in their new situation.
- Concentration camps are the cruelest example of a place where resocialization, by means of extreme punishment and a complete stripping off people’s beliefs, takes place.
- Retirement is considered a life stage in which resocialization takes place, as an individual no longer has the status of worker and has to readapt to a new life and role.
- Becoming a prisoner is no doubt a way to go through a resocialization process, as deviant behaviors are corrected in prisons, and in some countries they are forced to wear a uniform.
- Being hospitalized for mental illness in psychiatric hospital or asylums, which were the object of study of Ervin Goffman, exemplifies resocialization as individuals have to live by the rules of those institutions.
- Marrying someone from the royal family, although rare, it can be considered a process of resocialization of the individual who now has to adapt to the values and norms of a higher class and live cut off from the rest of society.
- Being sent to a boarding school, with strict norms, uniforms and its day to day routine which happens all in-house, is also an example of resocialization.
With countries having different customs, traditions and norms (even when they are geographically close), moving from the place an individual has been born and bred supposes a period of resocialization.
Countries vary in things like their eating habits, not only in the foods they eat but also in how they eat them and when they have their meals.
Other differences may include issues around etiquette, like what people do when they are introduced: while in some countries people kiss on the cheeks, in other they shake hands or simply say hello.
This type of resocialization can be considered mild and voluntary.
Being part of a military boot camp is a very graphic example of resocialization in a total institution.
When joining the army, people have to leave their old selves behind and their actions are, from then on, determined and monitored by authority figures.
There is also some loss of decision-making and freedom. For example, soldiers cannot decide what to wear, as they have to dress in uniform. They cannot choose their haircut, as their heads are shaved.
To be promoted in the military one has to show that they have been resocialized and the military norms and values have been completely internalized.
The workplace is an agent of both socialization, where one learns norms and rules and general functioning of an organization or company, and of resocialization, when one changes jobs.
A new job brings, not only new workmates but also new norms and values. These include organizational aspects, such as when to arrive and leave, when to take a break or the use of equipment, like the coffee machine or kitchenette.
There are also other things, related to social life, for example, wether colleagues go out for lunch together or wether socialization happens outside of work, like going for drinks at the end of the day.
Resocialization in prisons is one of the most extreme examples of this process, with inmates being totally isolated from society and having to abide by strict institutional rules and norms.
How prisons work vary from country to country, with some being more strict than other when it comes to, for example, wearing uniforms. However, one thing that most prisons have in common is that prisoners have to give up their personal possessions.
In prison, resocialization also works based on a system of reward and punishment, under the surveillance of an authority figure, the prison ward. This system seeks conformity to rules, and means, for example, that obedient inmates are rewarded with access to a TV or a telephone.
The most cruel and violent form of resocialization are concentration camps, with many examples throughout history, both past and present.
One of the most historically well-known concentration camps are those run by Germany during World War II. Concentration camp inmates were stripped of their clothes, tortured and exterminated in the millions.
In these concentration camps people were given serial numbers, often tattooed on their are arms, instead of being called by their names. This represents the most extreme way of taking away someone’s identity.
Resocialization is a learning process that individuals undergo, either voluntarily or involuntarily, that entails replacing old roles and behaviors by new ones. This means unlearning values, behaviors, beliefs, norms or practices.
Voluntary socialization normally happens by choice, for example, when people change jobs and have to adapt how things work in their new organization. Involuntary socialization is forced upon people, for example, when entering prison.
Resocialization can mean small and mild changes, or it can entail more drastic ones.
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