Socialization, the process by which an individual becomes integrated into a social group by adopting its values and attitudes.

The study of socialization draws on psychological accounts of social development and interpersonal relations by Sigmund Freud and Kurt Lewin, but its application to social and political processes draws on the work of the sociologist and philosopher Émile Durkheim. According to Durkheim, socialization ensures both the ordered running of society and individual freedom, because the individual submits to the values of society and in doing so, acquires a personal interest in obeying social rules. Sociologists since Durkheim have explored the social mechanisms by which this takes place, including the role of the family and of peer pressure in integrating individuals into society. Others, such as Erich Fromm, have investigated extremes of socialization in fascist societies.

Socialization mainly occurs early in life, when a child learns the values of society by responding to parental approval or discipline, and by imitating parents’ behaviour. However, it is also a lifelong experience: for example, socialization is a process of adaptation that takes place when an individual moves into a new environment, culture, or society. For example, when a person gets a new job, she or he becomes acclimatized to the rules and norms of organizations by responding to the criticism, approval, or examples of managers and colleagues.


Socialization may be difficult to achieve in people with certain disabilities, such as autism, as they are often unable to communicate or understand another person’s point of view. Some autistic people can be rehabilitated by teaching them socially acceptable behaviour, even if they do not understand the reasons for society’s expectations.


Socialization helps the individual to co-exist with other people and to become a well-adjusted, accepted member of society, although it may cause psychological problems if the individual feels pressurized to conform to patterns of behaviour (particularly expectations to do with gender or sexuality) which she or he feels unable to accept. Society benefits from socialization because it creates citizens who have a personal stake in maintaining the current social order. As such, it is a more effective way of maintaining order than social control, or punitive measures or sanctions. However, since families and local communities play a major role in socialization, children may acquire attitudes or demeanours (such as disaffection or crime) which are acceptable to the smaller group, but not to society in general. As such, socialization has failed to occur in these cases.


There are wide cultural variations in the ways in which socialization takes place. Patterns are more marked in cultures with rites of passage, which provide formal ways for society to recognize individuals as members and for individuals to accept the roles assigned to them. In strict families or in fundamental religious groups socialization may be enforced by ritual, sanctions, and sometimes punishment, including the threat of ostracization. In totalitarian societies, norms are created and disseminated by propaganda and censorship, and are enforced by police state methods.

Individuals in liberal democracies appear to have greater freedom of choice, but many studies suggest that their attitudes and behaviour, including their political attitudes and alignments, are determined by cultural factors. Consumerism and advertising, as well as the traditional work ethic, exert an increasingly persuasive effect on thought and behaviour by encouraging people to adopt lifestyle patterns, fashions, and so on, and by offering choice rather than definite rules. The power of the mass media, especially television, to influence people’s attitudes and behaviour has grown, partly by the transmission of opinion under the guise of information; this has the effect of establishing widespread norms and trends, particularly among young people, that may take the place of family or community values.


Contributed By:
Jane de Gay