1. Becoming a Member of Society
Socialization is the lifelong social experience by which people develop their human
potential and learn culture. Unlike other living species, whose behavior is mostly or
entirely set by biology, humans need social experience to learn their culture and to
survive. Social experience is also the foundation of personality, a person’s fairly
consistent patterns of acting, thinking and feeling (Macionis 2012: 102).
Another term for socialization is enculturation.
There are many theories on how the self, as a product of socialization, is formed. We will
examine the work of four researchers: Sigmund Freud, Charles Cooley, George Herbert
Mead, and Jean Piaget (Macionis 2012: 104–108).
Freud’s model of personality. Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) combined basic needs and
the influence of society into a model of personality with three parts: id, ego, and superego.
The id represents the human being’s basic drives, or biological and physical needs which
are unconscious and demand immediate satisfaction. In the human personality, the
superego refers to the cultural values and norms internalized by an individual. Society,
through its values and norms, opposes the self-centered id. The ego is, thus, a person’s
conscious efforts to balance innate pleasure-seeking drives (id) with the demands of
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. From his studies of human cognition, or how
people think and understand. Jean Piaget (1896–1980) identified four stages of cognitive
Stage one is the sensorimotor stage (first two years of life), the level of human
development at which individuals know the world only through the five senses. Stage two
is the preoperational stage (about age two to seven) at which individuals first use
language and other symbols. Stage three is concrete operational stage (between the
ages of seven and eleven) at which individuals first see causal connections in their
surroundings. The last stage is the formal operational stage (about age twelve) at which
individuals think abstractly and critically.
Mead’s theory of the social self. George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) For Mead, the self
is a part of our personality and includes self-awareness and self-image. It is the product
of social experience, and is not guided by biological drives (see Freud) or biological
maturation (see Piaget). According to Mead, the key to developing the self is learning to
take the role of the other. Infants can do this only through imitation and, without
understanding underlying intentions, have no self. As children learn to use language and
other symbols, the self emerges in the form of play. Play involves assuming roles modeled
on significant others, or people, such as parents, who have special importance for
socialization. Then, children learn to take the roles of several others at once, and move
from simple play with one other to complex games involving many others. The final stage
in the development of the self is when children are able to not only take the role of specific
2. people in just one situation, but that of many others in different situations. Mead used the
term generalized other to refer to widespread cultural norms and values we use as
references in evaluating ourselves.
Cooley’s Looking-glass Self. Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929) used the phrase
looking-glass self to mean a self-image based on how we think others see us. As we
interact with others, the people around us become a mirror (an object that people used to
call a “looking glass”) in which we can see ourselves. What we think of ourselves, then,
depends on how we think others see us. For example, if we think others see us as clever,
we will think of ourselves in the same way. But if we feel they think of us as clumsy, then
that is how we will see ourselves.
Agents of Socialization
Several settings have special importance in the socialization process. These include the
family, school, peer group, and the mass media. The family, usually the first setting of
socialization, has the greatest impact on attitudes and behavior. Schools teach
knowledge and skills needed for later life, and expose children to greater social diversity.
The peer group takes on great importance during adolescence. The mass media have a
huge impact on socialization in modern societies.
Values, Norms, Status, and Roles
Socialization is also defined as the process of preparing members for membership in a
given group in society. Through socialization, individuals learn the norms and values of
their society. Values are culturally defined standards that people use to decide what is
desirable, good, and beautiful and that serve as broad guidelines for social living. Norms
are the rules and expectations by which a society guides the behavior of its members.
Socialization prepares individuals to occupy statuses and roles (Macionis 2012: 127–
128). Status refers a social position that a person holds. An ascribed status is a social
position a person receives at birth or takes on involuntarily later in life. Examples of
ascribed statuses include being a daughter, a Filipino, a teenager, or a widower.
Achieved status refers to a social position a person takes on voluntarily that reflects
personal ability and effort. Achieved statuses include honors student, athlete, nurse,
software writer, and thief. Role refers to behavior expected of someone who holds a
Gender Role Socialization
Sex refers to the biological characteristics distinguishing male and female (Macionis
2012: 169). Sex is based on chromosomes, anatomy, hormones, reproductive systems,
and other physiological components.
Gender refers to those social, cultural, and psychological traits linked to males and
females through particular social contexts. Sex makes us male or female; gender makes
us masculine or feminine. All the major agents of socialization—family, peer groups,
schools, and the mass media—reinforce cultural definitions of what is feminine and
masculine. (Dionisio 1992: 1-2; Macionis 2012: 170).