What is Socialization?
Socialization is the process through which an individual gains an understanding of the rules and behavior of a society.
It also helps children develop an awareness of their own identity, or the “self”.
Socialization can be of several types:
- Primary socialization – Parents, Siblings and Grandparents.
- Secondary socialization – School, Church, Play Groups, Clubs, Sports Groups, Mass Media.
- Developmental socialization – Intentional and structured socialization in an educational setting.
- Anticipatory socialization – Learning the normative behaviors in anticipation of an upcoming job or role, e.g. occurring in an apprenticeship for a job.
- Re-socialization – Learning new social norms when you relocate to a new setting or try to adapt to new situations.
What is a Secondary Agent of Socialization?
The person or thing that interacts with and influences an individual in the process of socialization is called an agent of socialization.
Primary agents of socialization are the people within a child’s immediate sphere of influence. These include parents and siblings.
Secondary agents of socialization are one step removed and include teachers, church groups, and media.
While primary socialization occurs early on in the life of an individual, secondary socialization occurs among adolescents and adults.
Examples of Secondary Socialization
School is without a doubt the primary agent of secondary socialization in society. This is the first place children start to learn social norms that are not tightly controlled by the parent.
The types of socialization taught at school are often referred to as the ‘hidden curriculum’. These include learning to respect adults, use manners, and even how to stand in a line while waiting for a teacher.
There are other more insidious norms taught in schools as well, such as gender norms and social-class norms where we learn where we sit within the social hierarchy.
Religion is one of the strongest forces influencing human social behavior. Participation in religious ceremonies and being a part of the wider religious community shapes an individual’s outlook towards life and their sense of self.
Most organized religions of the world provide their adherents with philosophical, spiritual, and moral instruction. They may also a comprehensive code of conduct that governs all aspects of the individual’s everyday life.
For instance, religious texts such as the Bible and the Quran contain detailed instructions about the correct moral and spiritual conduct for their adherents.
This means that religion has a lasting influence on the manner in which an individual engages with other institutions of society such as the family, their workplace, and the nation-state. (Jelen & Wilcox, 1998)
3. Sporting Groups
When we sign up for a weekend sport, we are signing up to a community that will socialize us into a range of behaviors.
Team sports will teach us how to cooperate, collaborate, and do thing for the greater good. We will learn to follow the rules and accept the adjudication of a judge or referee.
You could also be socialized into more negative behaviors in a sporting group as well. In a bad setting, you may learn to value physical power over intellect too much, or you may learn to engage in anti-social “locker room talk” that promotes toxic masculinity.
4. Clubs, Fraternities, and Sororities
Fraternities and sororities are elite student clubs at North American universities often named using a combination of Greek Letters such as Phi Epsilon Kappa, and so on.
Membership to fraternities and sororities often begins with initiation rituals unique to each club. Members find themselves tied together by social and professional bonds that last well after school has ended. (Social networking, 2017)
Members of such clubs get socialized into the norms and behaviors appropriate to their social and professional status.
For instance, where on the one hand, members of such clubs use the networks formed there for professional and social advancement later on in life, fraternity and sorority membership has also been linked to higher rates of substance abuse (McCabe, et. al., 2005).
5. The Workplace
Transitioning from being a student or an apprentice to a productive, gainfully employed adult is a rite that requires learning the norms and behaviors of being a working professional.
The workplace is a completely different environment from a school or a college to which the individual had hitherto been used to.
There is a shift from being a consumer of knowledge to being a producer of goods or services. This shift is ‘learned’ through a process of socialization that involves interacting with mentors, colleagues, parents, and other adults in society.
Besides this generic transformation that is needed to transition to being a professional, there is another level of socialization which is specific to each workplace.
Every workplace -be it a corporate office, a small business, or even the home – requires a set of norms, behaviors, and rules that need to be adhered to. This is called the work culture of the place.
New employees in an office are often put through a process of orientation or onboarding that acquaints them with the work culture of the employer.
6. Mass Media
Mass media is one of the most powerful agents of socialization in society. This is on account of both the nature of the medium ( clever packaging, slick production values, subtle messaging ) as well as its ubiquity, which allows it to permeate every aspect of our lives.
Newspapers, TV, cinema, pop music, social media platforms, etc. are all agents of socialization through which we not just learn the norms of behaviors of society, but also construct our sense of the self.
While mass media influences children and young adults in a process of primary socialization, its impact on adults is equally significant.
As an example, users of social media platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn create elaborate social profiles on these networks, carefully curating the content they put with the intention of presenting a specific image of their online “selves” to their followers.
In this process, they are essentially creating a new self on the social platform in a process of secondary socialization.
7. The State
The nation-state is a powerful, yet often overlooked agent of secondary socialization.
The state “creates” the individual through the most elementary acts of bureaucratic control such as controlling the production of passports, citizenship certificates, identity cards, social security numbers and other identity-related documents.
Michel Foucault used the term “governmentality” to describe the techniques through which people are governed by the everyday, mundane exercise of state power (Foucault, 1991). In a modern nation-state, an individual can only exist if they exist on government records.
Besides bringing the self into existence through identification documents, the state also shapes the individual self through education, instruction, and propaganda.
For instance, the singing of national anthems, recitation of oaths of allegiance, frequent re-enaction of key moments in nationalistic histories through plays, songs, and movies can all be forms of nationalistic propaganda.
These are all acts through which individuals are socialized into an affiliation for the nation, and by extension, helping create a notion of the self that is intimately tied to the nation-state.
It is due to this socialization that most of us, when we asked to define our “selves”, often begin by stating our nationality first. The idea of being American, Canadian, English, or French becomes entrenched into our idea of the self through secondary socialization.
8. Finishing Schools
Finishing schools first emerged in the 19th century as institutions where young women of the upper classes were taught how to comport themselves in society in accordance with the norms expected of them.
Emphasizing values such as social grace, and the social rites peculiar to upper class life, such schools socialized upper-class women into presenting a version of themselves that was consistent with the social norms of their community.
Finishing schools began to diminish in importance in the middle of the 20th century with a shift in the social roles of women.
However, beginning with the 21st century, finishing schools have re-emerged with an altered business model in which older, professional women attend such academies to acquire social skills expected of people in their position (Simonian, 2010).
Few events allow us the privilege of witnessing the process of secondary socialization at work than the act of moving to a new country.
Most of us become so accustomed to living in the countries of our birth that we begin to take its social setting for granted, not realizing that we have in fact been socialized into the culture, cuisine, and traditions of the place.
The act of migration peels back the layers of accumulated socialization, laying bare the socially constructed notion of the “home” and the “self”. It forces an individual to adapt to a new culture, requiring them to become accustomed to new languages, cuisines, social norms, and behaviors.
All this occurs through a process of first unlearning the old customs and learning the new through a process of getting socialized into the new society. Thus, migration acts as an agent of secondary socialization.
Secondary socialization is the form of socialization that occurs outside of the home. It’s the second type of socialization that occurs (after primary socialization in the home) and is a type of socialization that we’re all exposed to as a shared experience. The best examples include school, sporting groups, churches, and clubs.
Foucault, M. (1991). ‘Governmentality’, trans. Rosi Braidotti and revised by Colin Gordon,In G. Burchell, C.Gordon & P. Miller (Eds.), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (pp. 87–104). University of Chicago Press.
Jelen, T. G., & Wilcox, C. (1998). Context and Conscience: The Catholic Church as an Agent of Political Socialization in Western Europe. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37(1), 28–40. Doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/1388027
McCabe, S.E., Schulenberg, J.E., Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., Bachman, J.G., Kloska, D.D., (2005). Selection and socialization effects of fraternities and sororities on US college student substance use: a multi-cohort national longitudinal study. Addiction. 100(4), 512-24. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2005.01038.x
Simonian, H. (2010). Charm Academy: Switzerland’s last finishing school. Financial Times https://www.ft.com/content/aa30ac56-cc8d-11df-a6c7-00144feab49a#axzz3aojsijQy
Social networking and career connections in fraternities (2017) Cornell University Blog https://blogs.cornell.edu/info2040/2017/11/15/social-networking-and-career-connections-in-fraternities/
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. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]