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Introduction to Sociology

Ron Hammond, Paul Cheney, Raewyn Pearsey

Chapter 06 - Socialization

How Do We Become Human?

Socialization is simply the process by which we become human social beings. George Herbert Mead and Charles Cooley (from the "Chicago School") contributed the Symbolic Interactionism perspective-most widely used today by sociologists. Mead and Cooley focused on how all the symbol-based interactions we have with others shape and form our self, our roles, our becoming "human," and ultimately our experiencing socialization throughout our life stages. Socialization is the process by which people learn characteristics of their group’s norms, values, attitudes, and behaviors.

Newborns are not born human—at least not in the social or emotional sense of being human. They have to learn all the nuances of proper behavior, how to meet expectations for what is expected of them, and everything else needed to become a member of society. A newborn in the presence of others, interacting with family and friends typically acquires their socialization by the time they reach young adulthood.

From the first moments of life, children begin a process of socialization wherein parents, family, and friends establish an infant’s Social Construction of Reality is what people define as real because of their background assumptions and life experiences with others. An average US child’s social construction of reality includes: knowledge that he or she belongs, and depend on others to meet their needs, and has privileges and obligations that accompany membership in their family and community. In a typical set of social circumstances, children grow up through a predictable set of life stages: infancy, preschool, K-12 school years, young adulthood, adulthood, middle adulthood, and finally later-life adulthood. Most will leave home as young adults, find a spouse or life partner in their mid-to late 20s and work in a job for pay. To expect that of the average US Child is normal.

Three Levels of Socialization

Also when discussing the average US child, it’s safe to say that the most important socialization takes place early in life and in identifiable levels. Primary socialization typically begins at birth and moves forward until the beginning of the school years. Primary socialization includes all the ways the newborn is molded into a social being capable of interacting in and meeting the expectations of society. Most primary socialization is facilitated by the family, friends, day care, and to a certain degree various forms of media. Children watch about 3 hours per day of TV (by the time the average child attends kindergarten she has watched about 5,000 hours of TV). They also play video games, surf the Internet, play with friends, and read.

Children learn how to talk, interact with others, share, manage frustrations, follow the "rules", and grow up to be like older family and friends they know. When they live up to expectations they are "big boys and girls" when they don’t they are naughty. In the early years, tremendous attention is required in the safety and nurturance of infants. As they begin to walk and talk they learn to communicate their needs and wants and to feed and clothe themselves. Younger children do not have strong abstract reasoning skills until adolescence, so they rely heavily on the judgment of their caregivers. Most importantly, they form significant attachments to the older people who care for them.

Around age 4-5 pre-school and kindergarten are presented as expectations for the children. Once they begin their schooling, they begin another level of socialization. Secondary socialization occurs in later childhood and adolescence when children go to school and come under the influence of non-family members. This level runs concurrently with primary socialization. Children realize at school that they are judged for their performance now and are no longer accepted unconditionally. In fact, to obtain approval from teachers and school employees a tremendous amount of conformity is required—this is in contrast to having been accepted at home for being "mommy’s little man or woman." Now, as students children have to learn to belong and cooperate in large groups. They learn a new culture that extends beyond their narrow family culture and that has complexities and challenges that require effort on their part and that create stressors for the children. By the time of graduation from high school the average US child has attended 15,000 hours of school away from home. They’ve also probably watched 15,000 hours of TV, and spent 5-10,000 playing (video games, friends, Internet, text messaging, etc.).


Friends, class mates, and peers become increasingly important in the lives of children in their secondary educational stage of socialization. Most 0-5 year olds yearn for their parents and family member’s affection and approval. By the time of pre-teen years, the desire for family diminishes and the yearning now becomes for friends and peers. Parents often lament the loss of influence over their children once the teen years arrive. Studies show that parents preserve at least some of their influence over their children by influencing their children’s peers. Parents who host parties, excursions, and get-together’s find that their relationship with their children’s friends keeps them better connected to their children. They learn that they can persuade their children at times through the peers.

The K-12 schooling years are brutal in terms of peer pressures. Often, people live much of their adult lives under the labels they were given in high school. Then it happens. You’ve probably already done this—graduation! Many new high school graduates face the strikingly harsh realities of adulthood shortly after graduation. Anomie often follows and it takes months and years at times for young adults to discover new regulating norms which ground them back into expectable routines of life.

The third level of socialization includes college, work, marriage-significant relationships, and a variety of adult roles and adventures. Adult socialization occurs as we assume adult roles such as wife/husband/employee/etc. We adapt to new roles which meet our needs and wants throughout the adult life course. Freshmen in college, new recruits in the military, volunteers for Peace Corps and Vista, employees, missionaries, travelers, and others find themselves following the same game plan that lead to their success during their primary and secondary socialization years—find out what’s expected and strive to reach those expectations.

Though we articulate an average life course as follows: infancy, preschool, K-12 school years, young adulthood, adulthood, middle adulthood, and finally later-life adulthood; few life paths conform perfectly to it. People die of heart disease, cancer, brain and lung diseases, and accidents. People marry and divorce, become parents, or finish raising their children. They start a career and change after 5-10 years to another, and later even another. They go bankrupt, win lotteries, or simply pay off their mortgages. In each change that comes into their life, they find themselves adapting to new roles, new expectations, and new limitations. Socialization is an ongoing process for everyone until the day they die.

What if Your Social Construction of Reality Is Not Average? Life is full of diversity and surprises. Not every socialization experience is normal, typical, or otherwise universally identical. A few groups of religious extremists were exposed in the manner in which socialized their children. Once it hit the national news, many were shocked by it.

Imagine a commune where 13-15 year old girls are married to men over twice their age, where 15-16 year old boys are kicked out, and where the average man has 3-6 wives. Who was the group? The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) which is a splinter group from the Mormons that has a history dating back to the 1890’s after Mormons stopped the practice of polygamy. The FLDS were originally excommunicated from the Mormon Church (officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), placing the word "Fundamentalist" in front of the Mormon Church’s name. Much of the FLDS is mimicry of the Mormon Church’s practices during the mid-1800’s. There are literally tens of Mormon splinter groups, most of which have splintered over polygamy or claims to original priesthood authority. The Mormon church has made concerted efforts to distance themselves from these splinter groups and their extreme behaviors.

I have a close personal friend who left a group formerly affiliated with the FLDS sect. They do not hold the current leader in a very high regard. Warren Jeffs is the FLDS leader in the news today. He followed in the role of his late father, Rulon Jeffs. Their version of polygamy and isolated communal living is open knowledge now. But that was not always the case. In 1890, polygamist who left the Mormon faith lived private lives, taught their own children, and created a sub-culture that was different, but rarely at odds with the main-stream culture.

The Short Creek raid of 1952 was a major turning point for American polygamists. The federal and state law enforcement agencies raided Short Creek, Utah taking custody of children and putting husbands in Jail. After the mothers were shown by national media as being martyr-like, all charges were dropped and the children were returned to their homes. Short Creek eventually became known as Hilldale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona (the current head quarters of FLDS members church; see Carter, M. Associated Press, 1998 at SOURCE). This raid proved to be the precipitating event in the eventual ultra-seclusion of the FLDS members. Most Americans are very leery of secretive actions by groups of people.

Because of an inability among FLDS members to agree upon the next prophet, they split into two groups. By 1968 Rulon Jeff’s (Warren’s father) became the self-declared and agreed upon FLDS prophet. At the time Rulon taught a strong anti-black theology that persists today. The FLDS group is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Laws Center ( Rulon Jeffs prophesied that he would live to be 350 years old and would turn the world over to God on his 350th birthday. The last decade of his life, Rulon became increasingly ill and died in 2002 (3 May, 2005, at SOURCE).

His son Warren became extremely controlling and dissolved the 7-member priesthood leadership council, assuming sole control and bringing changes that have led to most of the current clashes with authority faced by the FLDS. Warren became even more extreme and isolationistic in his leadership including: the excommunication of nearly hundreds of teenage "lost boys" (Leaders claimed the inherent need to keep a 3-1 female to male ratio and the boys were inconvenient (because a man can’t get to heaven without 3 wives); excommunication of men from their wives, children, and faith with their families being given to other men; the marriage of very young girls to men in their mid-life stages of adulthood; and ultimately, the building of a receptacle for God’s coming to earth in the Yearning for Zion Ranch (YFZ) in Eldorado, Texas (about half of teen girls taken into custody in 2008 from the YFZ ranch were already mothers and polygamist wives: Google Search Warren Jeffs Images/Photos to see wedding photos of him with some very young brides). This, extreme isolation of church members from the main stream of society has included no outside contact, no newspapers or TV, no Internet, and a deeply held belief that Jesus Christ would return and rescue them from a fallen world (see Messianic Movement in the Collective Behaviors chapter).

Jeffs went onto the FBI’s most wanted list. After fleeing custody for a series of months, Warren was arrested on 28 August, 2006 on I-15 North of Vegas. The official media report was that good law enforcement led to his arrest (in fact the officer did practice remarkable calm and professionalism during the arrest). On a personal note, living in Utah for 20 plus years, I have interviewed a number of polygamist family members and have a few inside contacts today. Among them, the rumor is that Jeffs was "turned over to the justice of the land…and to God for all that he had done." In other words, among themselves, polygamists discuss the high probability that law enforcement received inside information about Jeff’s whereabouts from Polygamists themselves.

In September, 2007 Jeffs was convicted on 2 counts of rape as an accomplice for the forced marriage of a 16 year old girl to her relative. More charges and civil suits are pending in Arizona and Utah for similar allegations and many of the FLDS Lost Boys, who were put onto the streets, depended on welfare and the criminal justice system for sustenance. (20 May, 2008 from SOURCE).

In fact, Jeffs prophesized the end of the world 3 times (April 6, 2005 was the most recent; see 20 May, 2008 from SOURCE). On 27, March, 2007 Jeffs was recorded as admitting he was not a prophet and was not worthy of serving in that role since he’d had sex with his sister (taken 20 May, 2008 from SOURCE). But his followers continue forward in much of the same path that their socialization led them. They see themselves as members of an elite religious group, following God’s will, even when their leaders fall. Such devotion is rare unless group members are raised in social isolation from TV, media, and interactions with "outsiders." But for Rulon and Warren Jeffs this was accomplished by design not by accident. A small but devoted following of believers clings to their faith and lifestyle in spite of their leader’s demise, the loss of their sacred lands and buildings, and the decade of disruptions in their leadership.

Now that you’ve read a brief history of the YFZ, FLDS culture and socialization and recent history, contrast the average US child’s socialization into their life stages to an average FLDS Child’s. FLDS children might follow this course for females: infancy, preschool, home school years, teen marriage as second or third wife to middle-aged man, motherhood, 7-12 children by age 40, adulthood, middle adulthood, and finally later-life adulthood—with years as a widow since she might have been 16 when she married her 40 year-old husband and he would likely die 25 years later, leaving her a widow at 41. The life stages for males would be infancy, home school years, adolescences, and excommunication (from family, friends, church, and world taken for granted around age 15-16), abrupt dislocation from a familiar world-taken-for-granted into a strange and at time dangerous, work, then who knows after that.

Is It Nature or Nurture?


There has been much said and written about how important the socialization is to our eventual human adult natures. Historically, there has also been much research into the biological influence of who we eventually become. Think about this question, "how much of our socialization is influenced by our genetics and biology and how much is influenced by the social environment we are born into and in which we are raised?" Heritability is the proportion of our personality, self, and biological traits which stem from our genetic or socialization environmental factors. Nature versus Nurture is the debate over the influence of biological versus social influences in socialization.

In the history of social science the Blank Slate Theory was widely accepted. Tabula Rasa is Latin for Blank Slate. It was a theoretical claim that humans are born with no mental or intellectual capacities and all that they learn is written upon them by those who provide their primary and secondary socialization (this claim was for 100% nurture in how we become human). Most social scientist reject any notion of 100 percent nurture, simply because the research does not support the theory. Socialization alone does not explain adult outcomes.

But, is our socialization 100 percent biology? Not really. In the biological sciences, geneticists have regal position on the nature argument. Their studies of heritability have yielded overriding conclusion that biological factors alone do not explain socialization outcomes. Biological and socialization factors are both influential, yet neither are deterministic. In 2004, Steven Pinker argued that the brain is the core issue in understanding how biology and social environment interact in the process of how we become human. He argues that current scientific knowledge has articulated much of the biological factor and some of the sociological factor, but fail to consider the brain’s influence in how a child becomes an adult wherever she grows up in this world. He states in his conclusion:

"The human brain has been called the most complex object in the known universe."

No doubt hypotheses that pit nature against nurture as a dichotomy or that correlate genes or environment with behavior without looking at the intervening brain will turn out to be simplistic or wrong. But that complexity does not mean we should fuzz up the issues by saying that it’s all just too complicated to think about, or that some hypotheses should be treated a priori as obviously true, obviously false, or too dangerous to mention. As with inflation, cancer, and global warming, we have no choice but to try to disentangle the multiple causes ("Why Nature and Nurture Won’t Go Away" in Dædalus, Fall 2004, pages 1-13)."

Musical talents, genius intelligence levels, athletic abilities, various forms of intelligence, homosexuality, heterosexuality, conformity, and other traits have been correlated with biological and environmental factors. Most scientists can conclude at this time is that the biological factors are only correlated to, not causally deterministic to any adult outcomes. From the sociological perspective, the focus is heavily on environmental factors which account for conflict, functional, symbolic Interactionism, and social exchange theoretical underpinnings of nature versus nurture studies. In other words, it’s very important to consider socialization (nurture) because biologists have yet to find any causal factors in our human natures that can be applied to raising children into adults in society that will manifest desired traits.

In Figure 1 you can see three photos of a boy’s birth and childhood. "DJBirth" is a photo if his first few seconds of life. In this picture he has not yet taken his first breath. His bluish color is there because of his still getting his oxygen through the umbilical cord. In "DJwithDad" this is me as a new father, lying beside him. Not only is his primary socialization in full swing, his father is experiencing rather dramatic adult socialization in terms of becoming a good Father. In "DJwithsis" he is shown on the first day of first grade with his little sister (kindergartner).

Figure 1. Photo Montage of DJ and His Sister
© 2009 Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

Secondary socialization was on when this picture was taken. Both have graduated high school and are in college now. In "DJearnsbike" he is shown with a bike he earned over three months at 25 cents per chore. He earned half and we paid the other half. He not only learned to work but he learned to be a consumer and he learned how crime can occur to him. This bike was stolen twice and destroyed on the second theft (he earned another one). In Figure 2, DJ is shown in his childhood and young adulthood. "DJGoldminingwithDad" he is shown in Fairbanks Alaska at a tourist gold mining camp. When our children turn 12 years old we take them on a trip somewhere in the country. DJ and I panned about ½ an ounce of gold together and made awesome memories. In "DJwatchesUncleflirt" we were visiting the Alaska pipeline when DJ’s uncle started flirting with a college student who was working in Alaska to save money for college. DJ observed and later imitated his Uncle’s flirting skills. In "DJsnowboarding" and "DJ4wheeler" we see him in his adult roles where he is self-taught in snowboarding and in 4-wheeling in the Utah sand dunes. He holds a solid job, attends college, and has a hectic social life (like most of you). His adult socialization has been varied and ongoing.

Figure 2. Photo Montage of DJ’s Childhood and Young Adulthood
© 2009 Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

As was mentioned, part of the socialization is the development of self-concept in each of us. It begins at birth and continues dramatic development through the school years, with slight modifications throughout the adult years. Your Self is at the core of the personality, representing the individuals conscious experience of having a separate and unique identity. Your Self-concept is the sum total of your perceptions and beliefs about yourself. It is crucial to note that your self-concept is based heavily on your social construction of reality—that means others influence your perception of your self-worth and definition.

Wild Human Children/Animals

We need to discuss one extremely rare and harsh environment children grow up in—feral childhood. Feral Children are wild or untamed children who grow up without typical adult socialization influences. They are rare because most human newborns will not typically survive if they are not cared for by an older individual. One of the earliest documented sociological studies of an isolated feral child was reported on by Kingsley Davis in 1940. He discussed two similar cases of Anna and Isabelle. Anna was a five year old girl when she was discovered. She lived for years isolated in an attic and kept barely alive. Anna only learned a few basic life skills before she died at age 10. Isabelle was also isolated, but in her case she had the company of her deaf and mute mother. When Isabelle was discovered at age six she quickly learned the basic human social skills needed and was able to eventually attend school. Davis attributes the difference in outcome to nutrition and the fact that Isabelle had at least some social interaction with her mother. (See Davis, K. 1940 "Extreme Social Isolation of A Child" in The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Jan., 1940), pp. 554-565 Published by: The University of Chicago Press; Davis, K. 1949 "Human Society by McMillan Pub. New York; and Davis, K. (1993, "Final Note on a Case of extreme Isolation" Irvington Pub. CA.)

In rare cases, human feral children have survived and documentation of their feral childhood is available. A number of Websites on Feral children come and go on the Internet. But, you might find some interesting information and links on Wikipedia’s . This website discusses three categories of feral children: 1) Children raised in isolation; 2) children raised in confinement; and 3) children raised by animals (much less common). They also refute hoaxes of feral children which are not true. To grow up feral is perhaps the cruelest version of child abuse because the crucial primary socialization does not occur. This means that pubescent feral children: lack a sense of self-concept; a pattern of multiple attachments and significant others; probable lack of awareness of self, others, groups, and society; and ultimately a void where socialization and acculturation should be.

A few movies are available that portray the complications of being a feral child, especially when he or she tries to interact with socialized members of society. Nell is based on a true about a Girl who grew up alone in the Carolina back woods after her mother and sister died. The Young Savage of Aveyron (France), is a true story about a French boy discovered in the woods and taken into the care of a physician. Tarzan and Jungle Book is believed to be inspired by true accounts of feral children raised by animals. For example, in Figure 3, Amala (8 years old) and Kamala (1 ½ years old) were discovered living with wolves (I know it sounds fantastic, but go with me on this) in Mindapore, India in 1920. Photographs are available in various text and Websites. I’ve included an artist sketch below.

Figure 3. Artist Caricature of Amala (8 years old) and Kamala (1 ½ years old)
© 2009 Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

You already know that most humans can’t co-exist with wolves and other carnivorous animals. It is rare to survive such an encounter, especially for 18 month old children. Yet, cross-species nurturing has been documented from time to time (IE: dogs nurtured kittens and pigs).

As a side note on human-carnivorous animal co-habitation in the wild, there’s a true account of a heart-rending story of a naturalist and Grizzly activist, Timothy Treadwell and his partner Amie Huguenard who moved to Alaska and lived with Grizzly Bears, as though he’d become one of them. It has been made into a documentary and TV Series. Timothy documented his success in living among and with the bears. But, he was killed in 2003 by a rogue Grizzly. (movie called "Grizzly Man", 2005).

Another Feral child was discovered in 1970 in a Los Angeles suburb. A neighbor reported that a child was locked in the back of a house. Police discovered a girl that was eventually nicknamed "Genie" (a genie pops out of a bottle and emerges into society without having really been raised in society). IN Figure 4, you can see a sketch of Genie was about 12. Nova created a documentary on her called "Genie, Anatomy of a Wild Child." In it you see what Feral really means in the deprivation of acting, understanding, experiencing, and living without having been socialized. I’ve included an artist sketch of Genie.

Figure 4. Artist Caricature of "Jeanie"
© 2009 Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

Genie’s hair was cut short to keep her from eating it. Even though she was chained to a potty chair her entire life, she needed to wear diapers. She spat, clawed, rubbed, and self-groomed more like an animal than a human. She had to be taught the basics of everything and she did learn, but nowhere near at the capacity of an average child.

George Herbert Mead argued that the self emerged out of social interactions as a result of countless symbolic interactions with other human beings. To Mead, play and playful interactions laid the foundation of becoming human and gaining our sense of self. Knowing that, how troubling must it be for children kept in isolation to play, gain the experiences through interaction, and come to know their self?

To better understand "Feral" by contrasting it to the animal kingdom, check out the American Humane Society where they address the issue of non-human feral animals SOURCE . They assist in the rescue of hundreds of thousands of animals each year, many of which were born without families or owners and therefore behave more instinctively than trained.

Self-Concept: Who Are You?

Feral children lack a sense of self, in part because they’ve not had interactions with others with whom they could distinguish themselves. They also have not had feedback on their value, performance, talents, strengths, and weaknesses. Sociologists using concepts from Cooley and Mead have identified an insightful way of understanding our self-concept. Looking-Glass Self is the reflection of who we think we see by observing the treatment and behaviors of others towards us.

The metaphor used in this concept is a mirror—we see ourselves reflected in the actions and behaviors of those around us (like we see ourselves in a mirror). The Looking Glass Self has three distinct steps to it:

Steps to the Looking-glass self:

  1. We imagine how we appear to others
  2. We imagine and interpret their judgment of us
  3. We react positively or negatively to that perceived judgment while developing a self-concept

Yes, we do watch how others react to us and how they might judge us. But, not everyone in our lives are equal in their potency of evaluation and how we respond to them. Let me show you what I mean. Make a list of the 10 closest people to you in your life. Once you’ve made the list then put a star beside the 3 with whom you feel the closest bond—you really value their opinion and are connected to them and Vice Versa. These top ten and top three represent your significant others.

Significant others are those other people whose evaluation of the individual are important and regularly considered during interactions. Strangers you see on campus and in the grocery store do not have the same importance as roommates, close friends, parents, and others you listed. And not all significant others are valued equally. Your fraternity brothers’ or sorority sisters’ opinion of your Halloween costume probably means more than your younger sibling’s opinion.

The process leading up to a self-concept is easy to grasp. I’ve taught my students for decades to think of how they get feedback from others and watch others to get an idea of their expectations in a given role as though they were a weight lifter (see Figure 5). The key to understanding self-concept is to understand that balanced self-concept works the same way as balanced weights. Ever try to lift a set of weight with 30 pounds on one side and only 20 pounds on the other? Please Don’t! This would prove to be destructive to your physical health.

The same can be said of those who try to balance too high of an "Ideal" expectation in a role, because they’re most likely to perform less than expected in their "Actual" performance in this role. Again, the balance between "Ideal" and "Actual" is crucial. In this example, imagine that you are looking at the self-concept formed by a young female college graduate. She has been accepted into a prestigious corporate internship role and has actually been labeled the "Intern."

Figure 5. Self-Concept and the New College Graduate—Corporate Intern

Once on the job she asked her supervisors, co-workers, and former interns what was expected of her—this information provided the "Ideal" side of the weights. She wrote down her ideal expectations and decided that to perform well and later be considered for full-time employment she should: be on time; be prepared for every meeting; be zealous about doing specifically what her direct supervisor requested; and try to solve at least one lingering corporate problem related to her tasks.

By the end of her first year, she had established a strong pattern of being on time; had come to meetings prepared with additional information to supplement the agenda of the meeting; had accomplished every assignment given to her by her supervisor; but had not solved any lingering corporate problem. She did though discuss a lingering problem with her supervisor and volunteered for an inter-departmental ad hoc committee to study the issue and look for solutions.

Because her ideals closely matched with her actual performance, she had a fairly balanced perception of her self-concept. Regardless of the corporation decision to hire or not hire her, she finished her internship and felt good about herself in the process (a balanced self-concept). Another intern might have set far too low of goals for her expectations or far too high. She might also have given herself little credit and under-evaluated her own performance based on comparisons of other interns who’ve worked there. In either case the imbalance typically shows up in imbalanced self-concept.

In the next example, a freshman student who desperately wanted to fit in and be accepted into a fraternity set way too high of goals in his college student expectations (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Self-Concept of A Distracted Fraternity Pledge
© 2009 Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

Once on campus he registered for pre-law. He wanted to be a lawyer like his father. He also pledged into a fraternity. Being young, and not knowing his own limitations, he took very tough GE courses yet spent over half his waking time supporting fraternity activities. By the end of his first term he failed 4 out of 5 classes. But, he was a member of the fraternity. His father and he had a long talk over the winter holiday break. In either case, assessing too high or low of ideals or too high or low of actual performance leaves a person imbalanced in their self-concept.

Please notice I have not spoke about a high self-esteem. Self-esteem is the pride in oneself, a positive self-regard, an inordinately high positive self-regard, or a high self-respect. This concept originated in Psychological research and has lost popularity among psychologists and sociologists because a high-self esteem is often found among individuals who misbehave in their communities and relationships. Search self-esteem and narcissism on the Internet for more information about the complexities of self-esteem.

As far as our self-concept is concerned we learn early on that we must perform to a certain level if we are to receive the much desired approval from others. As children grow up and into adolescence they begin to develop their abstract reasoning skills. Eventually they develop the ability to sympathize with others. Taking the role of other is when children put themselves in someone else's shoes, understand how he/she feels, and anticipate how he/she will act. This happens frequently when children hear sad news about other children. They can put themselves in those circumstances to a certain degree.

George Herbert Mead’s Mind Self, and Society discusses the fact that we do take the role of others and by so doing begin to see the "other" within our own selves. By doing so, we conform, fit in, and criticize ourselves when we fall short of the expectations we perceive in the "other" (see Mind, Self, and Society, ed. C.W. Morris; University of Chicago 1934; and Blumer, Herbert. "Sociological Implications of the Thought of G.H. Mead," American J. of Sociology, 71 (1966): 535-44 or Blumer, Herbert. "Mead & Blumer: Social Behaviorism & Symbolic Interactionism," American Sociological Review, 45 (1980): 409-19).

In the Symbolic Interactionism perspective, the average person has a common perspective on what they think other members of society expect, do, and think. When we imagine what an average person would do in a situation we take on the perspective of the generalized other. Generalized other are classes of people with whom a person interacts on the basis of generalized roles rather than individualized characteristics. Mead also believed that it is through role playing as children that we learn to take on the role of other. This helps us to imagine and visualize the perspective of others in various groups. In other words, without really becoming a terrorist, we can imagine their point of view—like the role of fundamentalism with religious terrorists who blew up a federal building in Oklahoma or the World Trade Towers in New York (see Mead, G. H. and C. W. Morris (1934) Mind, Self, and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist, University of Chicago Press, Chicago).

As children grow into young adulthood they prepare for significant roles. They may focus heavily on their athletic talents and grades so they can attend college on a scholarship. They might join the Junior ROTC so they can become a military officer. They might volunteer for Peace Corps (see or some other charitable service mission. In either case, they are practicing anticipatory socialization. Anticipatory socialization is practice in advance for some future role.

Larger Social Issues

Let's shift the focus of attention away from the socialization of individuals and towards the larger socialization picture. In every society in the world today, there are both agents and agencies of socialization. In the US our agents include parents, other family, friends, day care employees, teachers, religious leaders, bosses, and peers. Our agencies include the family, religion, daycare, schools, and employment. The cultures vary dramatically between the US and Darfur, but the structure of agents and agencies is very similar. In Darfur, "homeland of the Peasants," agents are parents, other family, friends, Sheppard’s, farmers, military leaders, religious leaders, and tribal leaders. The agencies also include the family, religion, clan or tribe, military, and political structures. In general Agents are people involved in our socialization while Agency's represents the organizations involved in our socialization.

Many members of society experience a total institution and the intense socialization that come with them. Total Institution is an institution that controls almost all aspects of its member’s lives and all aspects of the individual life is controlled by those in authority in the institution. Boarding schools, orphanages, military branches, juvenile detention, and prisons are examples of total institutions. To a certain degree sororities and fraternities mimic the nature of a total institution in their strict rules and regulations required if members chose to remain members. A core difference among these total institutions is the fact that some are voluntary while others are mandated.

Erving Goffman was a well-published Canadian Sociologist who lived from 1922-1982. Among his many studies of society was a monograph entitled, "Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and other Inmates" (1961’ NY Doubleday). Goffman defines total institutions as places where "like-situated individuals are cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life…page xiii." He also suggested that total institutions have a method of depriving individuals of their former life. The recruit comes into the establishment with a conception of himself made possible by certain stable social arrangements in his home world. Upon entrance, he is immediately stripped of the support provided by these arrangements. In the accurate language of some of our oldest total institutions, he begins a series of abasements, degradations, humiliations and profanations of self. His self systematically, if often unintentionally, mortified…Page 14."

Finally there is an important socialization issue that has emerged over the last 20-30 years called emerging adulthood. Emerging adulthood is the time in a late teen’s life when they transition into adult roles and adult attitudes. Decades ago, 18 year olds had many options of adult roles they could take on (military, volunteering, college, vocational training, manual-labor employment, marriage, etc.). Today these roles are not so easily transitioned into, because 68 percent of the jobs available to all US young adults, but especially available to young men are in the service sector of the economy (retrieved 11 June 2014 from SOURCE One recent US Trade report stated that, "Service industries account for 68 percent of U.S. GDP and four out of five U.S. jobs. This dynamic services economy generates the largest services trade in the world, with exports of $606 billion dollars in 2011 and a trade surplus of $179 billion. Services supplied abroad by U.S. affiliates accounted for another $1.1 trillion in revenue in 2010."

Additional Reading

Search Internet for

The Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood is a great place to start your research if you are curious or would like to learn more about careers as researchers who teach about and study emerging adulthood issues in our day (LINK)

  • John B. Watson
  • behaviorism
  • Harry and Margaret Harlow
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Jean Piaget
  • Lawrence Kohlberg
  • Carol Gilligan
  • Erik Erikson
  • hidden curriculum
  • peer group
  • mass media
  • Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  • resocialization
  • social environment
  • social inequality
  • manifest function
  • latent function
  • corridor curriculum
  • anticipatory socialization
  • status set
  • status inconsistency
  • social integration
  • mechanical solidarity
  • gemeinschaft
  • gesellschaft
  • impression management
  • role performance
  • role conflict
  • role strain
  • face-saving behavior
  • Thomas theorem
  • social reproduction
  • agents of socialization
  • age-grades
  • social roles
  • identity
  • social identity
  • self-identity
  • cognition
  • social self
  • self-consciousness
  • Chodorow’s theory
  • gender roles
  • impression management
  • face-work
  • cognitive theory of development
  • rites of passage
  • life course approach
  • sandwich generation
  • cross-cultural variation
  • disengagement theory
  • activity theory
  • Looking-glass self
  • Significant symbol
  • Impression management
  • Primary Socialization
  • Reverse Socialization
  • Reciprocity
  • Sociobiology
  • Impression Management
  • Social Construction
  • Agents of Socialization
  • Total Institution
  • Ascribed status
  • Embodied Status
  • Achieved Status
  • Master status
  • Saturated Self
  • Mediating Interaction.

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