Agents of socialization: Groups or social contexts within which processes of socialization take place.
Sociologists often speak of socialization as occurring in two broad phases, involving numerous agents of socialization – that is, groups or social contexts in which significant processes of socialization occur. Primary socialization, which occurs in infancy and childhood, is the most intense period of cultural learning. It is the time when children learn language and basic behavioural patterns that form the foundation for later learning. The family is the main agent of socialization during this phase. Secondary socialization occurs later in childhood and in maturity. In this phase, other agents of socialization, such as schools, peer groups, organizations, the media, and the workplace, become socializing forces. Social interactions in these contexts help people learn the values, norms, and beliefs of their culture.
Identity: The distinctive characteristics of a person or group’s character that relate to who he is and what is meaningful to him. Some of the main sources of identity include gender, sexual orientation, nationality or ethnicity, and social class.
Social identity: The characteristics that are attributed to an individual by others.
The Teenager: The biological changes involved in puberty (the point at which a person becomes capable of adult sexual activity and reproduction) are universal. Yet in many cultures, these do not produce the turmoil and uncertainty often found among young people in modern societies.
Young Adulthood: Young adulthood seems increasingly to be a stage in personal and sexual development in modern societies. Particularly among affluent groups, people in their early twenties take the time to travel and explore sexual, political, and religious affiliations. The importance of this postponement of the responsibilities of full adulthood is likely to grow, given the extended period of education many people now undergo.
Mature Adulthood: Some of the strains we experience now were less pronounced in previous times. People usually maintained a closer connection with their parents and other kin than in today’s mobile populations, and their work routines were the same as those of their forebears. In current times, major uncertainties must be resolved in marriage, family life, and other social contexts. We have to make our own lives more than people did in the past. The creation of sexual and marital ties, for instance, now depends on individual initiative and selection rather than being fixed by one’s parents. This represents grater freedom for the individual, but the responsibility can also impose difficulties.
Old Age: In traditional societies, older people were accorded great respect. In industrialized societies, by contrast, older people tend to lack authority within both the family and the social community. Having retired from the labor force, they may be poorer than ever before in their lives.
Self-consciousness: Awareness of one’s distinct social identity as a person separate from others. Human beings are not born with self-consciousness but acquire an awareness of self as a result of early socialization. The learning of language is of vital importance to the processes by which the child learns to become a self-conscious being.
A stage of human cognitive development in which the child’s awareness of its environment is dominated by perception and touch.
Preoperational stage (from two to seven)
A stage of cognitive development, in Piaget’s theory, in which the child has advanced sufficiently to master basic modes of logical thought.
Concrete operational stage (from seven to 11)
A stage of cognitive development, as formulated by Piaget, in which the child’s thinking is based primarily on physical perception of the world. In this phase, the child is not yet capable of dealing with abstract concepts or hypothetical situations.
Formal operational stage (from 11 to 15)
A stage of cognitive development at which the growing child becomes capable of handling abstract concepts and hypothetical situations.
Gilligan’s Theory: Carol Gilligan (1982) further developed Chodorow’s analysis, concentrating on the images adult women and men have of themselves and their attainments. Women, she agrees with Chodorow, define themselves in terms of personal relationships and judge their achievements in terms of their ability to care for other. Women’s place in the lives of men is traditionally that of caretaker and helpmate. But the qualities developed in these tasks are devalued by men, who see their own emphasis on individual achievement as the only form of success. Women’s concern with relationships appears to men as a weakness rather than as the strength that in fact it is.
The women were more tentative in their moral judgments than the men, seeing possible contradictions between following a strict moral code and avoiding harming others. Gilligan suggests that this outlook reflects the traditional situation of women, anchored in caring relationships, rather than the outward-looking attitudes of men. Women’s views of themselves are based on successfully fulfilling the needs of others, rather than on pride in individual achievement.
Many women who complied with the pressure to stay at home and raise children in the 1950s and 1960s have struggled with their sense of self-worth as they watched their daughters enter the workforce.
Social changes since the late 1960s have created a new normative context in which women and men are expected to be both successful workers and involved parents. Given this shift, midlife women who complied with the mid-twentieth century expectation that they should stay home with their children (rather than work for pay outside the home) may suffer regret or self-criticism, especially if they use the contemporary cultural idea as the standard for evaluating their past decisions and experiences.
Moreover, the scientists believed that several of their other findings were much more important, First, they found that children who were in high-quality child-care settings went on to have higher vocabulary scores than other children. Second, they found that the quality of parenting mattered much more than where a child was cared for. The authors wrote that “parenting quality significantly predicted all the development outcomes and much more strongly than did any of the child care predictors.” One reason parents matter more than child-care arrangements is that they are an enduring presence in the children’s lives, while day care is often just a short-term experience.
Children’s toys, picture books, and television programs all tend to emphasize male and female attributes. Toy stores and mail-order catalogues usually categorize their products by gender.
The activities of males and females also differed. The males engaged in adventurous pursuits and outdoor activities demanding independence and strength. When girls did appear, they were portrayed as passive and were confined mostly in indoor activities. Girls cooked and cleaned for the males or awaited their return. Much the same was true of the adult characters. Women who were not wives and mothers were imaginary creatures such as witches and fairy godmothers.
Studies of mother-infant interaction show differences in the treatment of boys and girls even when parents believe their reactions to both are the same. Adults asked to assess the personality of a baby given different answers according to whether they believe the child is a girl or a boy. In one experiment, five young mothers were observed interacting with a six-month-old called Beth. They smiled at her often and offered her dolls to play with. She was seen as “sweet”, and as having a “soft cry.” The reaction of a second group of mothers to a child the same age, named Adam, was noticeably different. They offered him a train or other “male” toys to play with. Beth and Adam were actually the same child, dressed in different clothes.