Culture and Socialization

OpenStax, Chapter 3

Project 1 asked you to find culture in everyday social life. Culture is a total way of life. It is created and learned. Sociology, to this extent, does not see culture as biological, although it is predicated on biological make-up. For example, human beings do not speak a language without social intervention. Language is created through social interaction, and in order to facilitate social interaction. That is to say, it is not innate. This topic focuses not on the creation of culture but its transmission – on socialization. Socialization refers to the process of cultural learning. This ensures that what has been created will not be unlearned. Consider the pattern of ethnic assimilation whereby immigrant languages erode and even disappear among American-born generations.

Socialization is the process of learning culture in order to fit into society. It describes the ways that people come to understand societal norms and expectations, to accept society’s beliefs, and to be aware of societal values. Socialization is not the same as socializing (interacting with others, like family, friends, and coworkers); to be precise, it is a sociological process that occurs through socializing. As the story of Danielle in Openstax Chapter 3 illustrates, even the most basic of human activities are learned. Even physical tasks like sitting, standing, and walking had not automatically developed for Danielle as she grew. And without socialization, Danielle hadn’t learned about the material culture of her society (the tangible objects a culture uses): for example, she couldn’t hold a spoon, bounce a ball, or use a chair for sitting. She also hadn’t learned its nonmaterial culture, such as its beliefs, values, and norms. She had no understanding of the concept of “family,” didn’t know cultural expectations for using a bathroom for elimination, and had no sense of modesty. Most importantly, she hadn’t learned to use the symbols that make up language—through which we learn about who we are, how we fit with other people, and the natural and social worlds in which we live.

Sociologists have long been fascinated by circumstances in which a child receives sufficient human support to survive, but virtually no social interaction—because they highlight how much we depend on social interaction to provide the information and skills that we need to be part of society or even to develop a “self.” We will return to the latter below for the second option in this section.

Socialization is critical both to individuals and to the societies in which they live. It illustrates how completely intertwined human beings and their social worlds are. First, it is through teaching culture to new members that a society perpetuates itself. If new generations of a society don’t learn its way of life, it ceases to exist. Whatever is distinctive about a culture must be transmitted to those who join it in order for a society to survive. For U.S. culture to continue, for example, children in the United States must learn about cultural values related to democracy: they have to learn the norms of voting, as well as how to use material objects such as voting machines. Of course, some would argue that it’s just as important in U.S. culture for the younger generation to learn the etiquette of eating in a restaurant or the rituals of tailgate parties at football games. In fact, there are many ideas and objects that people in the United States teach children about in hopes of keeping the society’s way of life going through another generation.

From this perspective, we have not been effectively “socialized” for this moment in history defined by a global pandemic. Indeed, we have to create or invent new ways to continue our culture and be our collective and individual selves. We are struggling to do this. A lot of Americans are unwilling to comply with scientific directives to wear masks and socially distance; political leadership has been seriously flawed in this regard. Without a vaccine, what American life will look like going forward is up in the air. Remote college classes like this one is an example of how we have to adapt under new circumstances. Adaption will also mark other institutions – the economy, politics and government, health care, entertainment, the family. Socialization is anticipatory. In the midst of the pandemic, we are anxious about what the future looks like.

You have 2 options for Project 2: 1) Agents of Socialization, or; 2) The Social Self. As with Project 1, the research projects are based on case studies that comprise your everyday life in society.

1 Agents of Socialization

  • What is socialization? When does it matter most in the life-course? Why is it important for 1) the individual and 2) the society?
  • What is an agent of socialization? What are the dominant agents of socialization in American society?
  • Interview an adult, someone who has been socialized or “positioned” for adulthood (e.g., married, parenting, gainfully employed).
  • Following the model developed in this class, how have “agents of socialization” influenced your subject’s social placement (e.g., more educated parents in Lareau’s study are more likely to socialize children for academic success).
  • Assess the relative importance of these socialization influences. Distinguish between “primary” and “secondary” influences. How were they complimentary and how did they conflict?
  • Were there occasions when your subject rebelled against any of these influences? To what extent was this a function of socialization conflict (i.e., learned)?
  • The Social Self
    • Sociology maintains that the “self” is a social product. Evaluate this position by considering how you have learned to “see yourself” by internalizing a shared culture, what G.H. Mead regards as the “point of view” of “significant others” (e.g., family, teachers, age peers, media others).
    • Use actual experiences to evaluate Goffman’s point that the individual can shape what others “see” via the “management of impressions” and “expressions”.
    • What self do you “present” to others? How does this vary from one situation to another?
    • How is the “self” constructed in relation to the “personal fronts” which we “wear like masks”?
    • Have you ever acted in ways that contradict the “self” that you present?
    • Has the “self” you present ever been challenged as “inauthentic” (by others or even by you)? How have you defended your “self” against these claims?

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