Category Archives: Agents of socialization

SOCIALIZATION

Every day we live in a world ticking on its own rhythm taking account of things that we consider normal functions of life in performing daily tasks. We are expected to behave in a certain way according to the perspectives of ourselves and others. From childhood through adulthood, we pass stages of life expecting that significant transitions are yet to come to be experienced in the course of our lives. The language we speak, the values we believe in, and the rules we follow shape us to become a unique individual within the society.

 

Such uniqueness of individual is defined as self. The self is the distinct sense of who we are that is developed from social interactions with other individuals which can be changed depending on our life experiences. According to American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self theory, a person’s self is shaped by the interaction with the important people around him/her. For example, I believe in Buddhism because my parents have been influential regarding religious aspects and beliefs from the earliest years of my childhood. Going to the temple, chanting Dhamma, listening to Dhamma talk from the Buddhist monks were our family’s outing on the weekends or occasionally other social meetings with people from the mutual society. Now, I think myself as an adult with my own perspective and beliefs, but I still believe in Buddhism and still perform those rituals. I follow Buddhism, not because I did not have an option to choose which religion to believe in, but because those experiences I had in the early years of my life shaped me and planted my belief in Buddhism first, prior to that of other religions. Also, it is because of the powerful influence of my parents, the schools I have gone to where there were occasional religious events held within the school facility and because the majority of friends and relatives have the same religious beliefs. Thus, my parents were significant in developing my beliefs.  School, friends and relatives were the agents of socialization that played an important role in shaping the self that I am today. Other common agents of socialization that exist within the society are family, cross-culture variation, the influence of race and gender, peer groups, mass media and technology, religion and the state, the work place and school.  This demonstrates the socialization process.

Socialization is a lifelong process that enables us to learn the attitudes, values, and behaviors appropriate for our culture. Noticing the word “lifelong” from the definition, we learn significant amounts from human interaction with others even before we can speak a word. American sociologist George Herbert Mead described the early childhood self-development in three stages:

Preparatory stage (birth – 3 years old)

In this stage, the children are engaged in social interaction with others by imitation. When I was working as a community interpreter for the InghamIntermediateSchool District for Early Childhood Development Program, I had to go for home visits with a parent educator for non-English speaking families from Myanmar. The parent educator would analyze and determine the level of development according to the behavior of children. The use of gestures, objects and eventually words to communicate or the use of symbols to interact with other is the goal of a three year old development. It was amazing to have seen that many children achieved this stage tremendously well even though they were raised in a different culture.

Play stage ( 3 years old – 5 years old)

Children are believed to learn self-development and interaction through pretend play in this stage. It is critical because the children learn to behave in a certain way only when they have experienced the similar experiences such as going to school, going to the doctor for medical checkup or to the dentist or to learn more about how the world works. These types of internalized role taking activities help the children to understand why we do things and how we do things and to have an expectancy of what kind of perspective they should have.

Game stage (6 years old – 9 years old)

This is the final stage where children begin to consider their role and their own position to represent their ‘self’. This is the stage where the child realizes how his/her attitudes and viewpoints are taken into account by the expectations of society as a whole.

As we grow older, constructing and maintaining our self has been far more influenced by others. A Canadian sociologist, Erving Goffman explained a viewpoint called dramaturgical approach where people are seen as theatrical performers. Each individual plays their own role in encountering social interactions. For example, a mom is expected to be responsible of taking care of her children and household, a teacher is expected to teach the students and also to use appropriate manner and behavior to strictly stick to the rules, a student is expected to put learning as his/her priority to have a good career. Mr. Goffman also referred to the methods called impression management and face-work. An example of impression management would be choosing or altering the right kind of clothing to wear to different places such as a dress for party, casual clothes for hanging out with friends. Face-work is initiating behavior that would maintain the image of self to avoid public embarrassment. For example, a college math teacher would not want his/her colleagues to know that he is practicing Hip hop dancing because he thinks this would put an inappropriate sense for his job being a college faculty.

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VALIDITY

The way in which people are influenced by society is a question many people ask to which many different answers are given. Of all the influences we can think of, one of the major influences affecting how people live their lives and act are due to the direct effect that research, its conclusions and its published findings have. Every single day we are bombarded with new statistics, numbers and correlations that researchers have published that can directly or indirectly create or mold societal values and even the degree to which something becomes a social norm. Whether it’s about the new fad diet that research has found to burn the most fat, or the newest correlation numbers have shown between the consumption of hormones and prevention of cancer over the past year, we are constantly flooded with this information from every resource of media someone can think of. As humans we are naturally attracted to facts and are quick to trust a claim backed up with statements like “researchers have found” or “lab scientists discovered” followed by numbers and percentages and bold word statements. As humans, we are addicted to new and latest information relative to our daily lives. Because of the need we express for new information and the trust that we give to it, we are reluctant to question the source and process from which this new knowledge has been acquired; this is what can make premature research and its published findings dangerous.

 

One of the most important questions to ask about published research is if it is valid. The validity of research is dependent on the degree to which the model, or measure is truly representative of what is under examination. It is easy to skew the results of research if one does not take into consideration the confounding variables, or variables that are not accounted for during research and can affect the validity of experiments. There are also issues such as the Hawthorne Effect where the influence of the researcher is directly imposed on the experiment and thus can drastically alter the outcome. To help level the playing field for researchers, a universal method used by researchers called the scientific method, provides a series of systematic and organized steps that allows a researchers to remain consistent in their exploration process. Methods like this help promote the validity of research and ensure that it is that much more reliable, or able to be repeated warranting the same results and minimize unwanted alterations. An example of invalid research from history stems from the election between Roosevelt and Landon when sampling error predicted that President Landon would win the election with over 55% of the vote. What the polling team did not take into consideration was that they sampled only people from an upper class population that were more likely to vote for Landon to begin with, and was not representative of the population as a whole. Roosevelt as we know had won the election.

Research of all categories is extensively funded and supported by government, non-profit organizations and communities looking for answers to unanswered questions, and regardless if a proper valid and reliable investigation was conducted, findings whether supportive of the researchers’s hypothesis or unsupportive, are published. Once published the public has access to review such conclusions and is instantly impacted by the information seen. Agents of socialization such as mass media and technology use information to appeal to the public eye and usually attempt to alter behaviors. For example, of all the magazines one can find on a grocery store shelf, how many of those magazine have a front cover advertisement promoting something “new” to help curb your appetite, or tell about five new exercises to protect your heart? In magazines and online articles where claims are not directly cited, sourced or backed up by valid research, it makes me wonder how much I can trust what is being circulated? A perfect example in history of bad research followed by manipulative publishing and the impact it had on society was something Newsweek (a trusted magazine by many Americans) called “The Marriage Crunch”. It was an issue that flew off the shelves in 1986 by college-educated single women across the United States. In short, the article supported that research showed that single women in 1986 in their early to late thirties were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than be married. The cover was donned with a fancy graph and exclusive numbers within the article to sell the point. As social intellectualist Joel Best puts it, social problem claims must compete for attention and when numbers have the weight of authority, through repetition regardless of how discredited a claim may be, it still has an impact on society (Best 2). With that the claim that women in their early to late thirties were more likely to be killed by a terrorist was highly discredited, but numbers have showed that the women of that time have very high percentages of marriage. My questioning wondered if there was an underlying motive that came with publishing the article. Is it possible that the adult women of 1986 read this article and instantly tied the knot as not to fall into a hopeless statistic? In the 80’s women continued to push changes in social roles which in time has led to social change. Was this poorly implemented and published research done purposefully to prevent deviance from traditional female roles in society?

 

When research is valid, the behavior changes associated with it are not always negative but positive. A perfect example of this is the conclusion scientist have made about the correlation between smoking cigarettes and developing cancer. Since discovered, published and made aware, many less Americans smoke today. But it is the research that is neither valid nor reliable and still published which has a very large impact on society- it becomes dangerous. As Americans, we put trust in the word research without questioning it, and when we are bombarded with numbers and statistics backed by said research, it is hard to deviate our thinking and we are altered by it. Though it is hard for an average American to determine what is valid research and what to believe and trust in without knowing the direct source, I personally believe it is healthy to question it every now and then. We have this contradicting belief that, “you can’t always believe what you hear in the news/internet/radio,” yet we cling to the information these sources provide to us without question. My suggestion to the information seekers out there is to be weary of sources that are not cited and stick to professional journals which most times allow the reader to review the research process and methods that was taken in collecting and interpreting data. Don’t be too quick to pay for preventative medication, buy a certain car, or move to a different state because of what poorly implemented research has done.  Lastly, my suggestion to the researchers out there, carry out your research precisely and effectively. Have multiple peer reviews and be sure that the methodology of your research eliminates as many confounding variables as possible because once the word is out, one can never truly determine how it may affect its observers.

 

Citation:

Joel Best, “Promoting Bad Statistics.” Society, March/April 2001:11-15.

NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION

Non-verbal communication is used in our daily lives. Non-verbal communication is the use of gestures, facial expressions, and other visual images to communicate. This way of communication is learned mainly through socialization. As we grow we learn most of our non-verbal communication from our society or culture that surrounds us. The things that influence this learning (such as family, media, and schools) are known as agents of socialization.  They influence how we view some non-verbal communication such as crying, holding hands, and kissing.

Since most non-verbal communication is learned from our society one problem that surfaces is the different meanings gestures have in different cultures. A certain gesture can be accepted in one culture but not another or that gesture can even have a completely different meaning. The video below shows some examples of different forms of non-verbal communication across the world.

As we grow older we learn what forms of non-verbal communications are, and are not, accepted in the society we are in. To avoid attention or embarrassment, people conform to the expectations in  certain situations. For example, in America we have an unspoken rule that men cannot cry in public because crying is a sign of weakness. Crying, a form of non-verbal communication demotes the man’s “manly status” and makes him appear weak. Non-verbal communication is also used in greetings, specific communications, and involuntary communications. An example of non-verbal communication in greetings is saying hello, or goodbye, to someone. Specific communications are certain gestures used by people on purpose; for example, gestures in a factory or sign language. Involuntary communications are gestures of facial expressions we cannot control; for example, tapping your finger when you are inpatient.

faceAs I stated earlier most non-verbal communications are taught to us by our surroundings, but some are instinctal and involuntary. The basic facial expressions surprisingly look the same no matter your race, culture, age, or sex. These involuntary facial expressions are known as micro-expressions and can convey sadness, anger, contempt, etc.

We use non-verbal communication to convey many messages, some on purpose and some by accident. Many forms of our non-verbal communication are taught and influenced by our surroundings, but some are involuntary. No matter what form of this communication is used we have a message that we want to convey, which is why non-verbal communication is so important and used daily.

RITE OF PASSAGE

Imagine that you’re a boy of the Algonquin Indian tribe from Quebec. When you reached the age of 13 you would be taken to a secluded area, probably caged, and given a very strong hallucinogen, called Wysoccan, which is said to be 100 times stronger than LSD. After being given this drug, the boys are forced to stay secluded for 20 days and fend for themselves. This drug was meant to force all of the childhood memories out of your head. In some cases taking this drug caused the boys to lose memories of their families, their identities, the ability to speak, and sometimes it even caused death. If one of the boys came back with some of their childhood memories left, they were sent back and given a second lethal does and forced to try and cheat death a second time. This is a very extreme example of something that is known as a rite of passage, and it is seen only in this culture. A rite of passage is a ritual or event that marks a transition from one social position to another.

There are many different types of cultures throughout the world. Culture is the characteristics of a specific group of people, such as language, religion, social habits, music, and arts. The Rites of Passage that a person will go through during their life is very dependent on their culture. Different cultures have their own special rites of passage that people must go through at various times in their life. The ritual that I talked about above is a very good example of how different cultures have different rites of passages. Taking a child to a secluded area and giving them drugs that could possibly kill them would be very frowned upon by an American ethnocentric point of view, but it is seen as necessary to become a man within the Algonquin tribe.

Ethnocentrism is the judging of someone else’s culture based only on the views and standards of your culture. When people from the American culture look at the Algonquin ritual they are only looking at it based on their beliefs about drugs and children. To avoid ethnocentrism, people should try and open up their minds while looking at different cultures. People need to realize that some of the behaviors and activities that we participate in within American also look weird to people from other countries. For example, there are a few religions who view cows as sacred creatures and slaughtering one is seen as a taboo.   They would see the way that Americans eat beef as very offensive, but it is just part of our normal lives.

 

The way that we look at different rituals preformed in different places around the world also depends a lot on Socialization. Socialization is the way in which people learn their culture and the appropriate way to act within that culture. Another big factor in deciding the rites of passage that we will go through in our life are agents of socialization. Agents of socialization are the people and groups that influence the way that people learn their culture. This includes family, religion, mass media, and peers. The two biggest agents of socialization for the boys of the Algonquin Indian tribe would be family and religion. When a boy reaches the age of 13 he is pressured by his family to take place in this ritual. His father did it and so did his grandfather, so it’s mandatory for him to do so too. Religion also plays a big role in the socialization of this ritual. When the ritual first took place it was built on strong religious beliefs.

Two other good examples of rites of passages are high school graduation and wedding ceremonies. High school graduation marks a very important time in a person’s life where they are switching roles between being a child to being an adult.   This rite of passage has been taking place in American since 1821 at the first public high school, The English High School. Wedding ceremonies are also a very important rite of passage that marks the transition from being single to being part of a married couple. Both of these rites of passages have been put into place so that family and friends can help celebrate and show their support during these important steps in life.

RESOCIALIZATION

Socialization is the way in which we learn our culture, and the norms of that culture.  Behavioral expectations are referred to as norms.  Violating or deviating from these norms leads to negative sanctions.  Obeying these norms leads to positive sanctions.  We learn the socialization of our culture through various people and groups that are called agents of socialization.  These can include the media, our peer groups around us, our workplace, family, and even governments.  For example, young children may learn some manners from a children’s media show.  Their family may reinforce the socialization of manners with negative or positive sanctions for following or not following these norms of culture.

 

In contrast to socialization, resocialization is getting rid of old behavior patterns and accepting new ones as a part of a new life transition.  Resocialization occurs best in a total institution setting.  In this setting, a single authority figure inside the institution will decide what activities will be conducted by individuals during the day and when.  The people inside the total institutions have almost their every move set out for them.  If they do not comply to these orders by authority figures, than they will face consequences.  These are some of the factors that make a place a total institution.  Another factor is having every aspect of life within the institution be related towards the goals of the organization.  Examples of total institutions include mental institutions, the military, convents, and prisons.  In a prison institution, the prisoners are forced to dress very similary, do the same activities as other inmates, and share their living spaces with others.  They are stripped of their identities, and are forced to conform to the way everyone else acts and appears because they have no other choice.  Isolation occurs for some

In a penitentiary institution, a degredation ceremony begins to resocialize the prisoners into the institution.  They are stripped of all of their personal belongings including phones, clothes, jewelry, etc.  They are then forced to wear clothes similar to everyone else.  They may begin to lose their sense of self during this degredation ceremony.  From this point on, they have scheduled daily activities and routines that allow for little time to themselves.  Everything they do is based upon the goals of the total institution.

 

After these degredation ceremonies, prisoners will learn to discard their deviance for the law and take on new behaviors and new social roles inside of the institution.  They may have a daily job to perform, and are made to model the ways in which they are expected to act in the workplace in an effort to resocialize them into a working class society inside of the institution. Agents of socialization that may influence them during this time include family encouragement, media role models, and government counseling programs inside the prisons.  There are also educational programs inside the prisons to help them develop important skills.  For instance, in the following video, inmates work with shelter dogs in an effort to help train them to be more pleasurable to families that will then adopt them.  Caring for these animals also helps to reduce tension within the institution for the inmates.

 

Resocialization also exists in the form of new life changes.  The disengagement theory discusses the ways in which older people should sever their personal social relationships and give up their social roles that they hold within society.  They are discarding old behaviors such as talking with their friends or going to work every day, for a new role in society.  Their new role in society is to prepare for death.  Some are even forced into retirement homes.  Some cultures practice a more extreme form of disengagement theory.  For example, the Fulani people of Africa force their older people to live next to the graveyard and prepare for death.  They consider them to be already socially dead.  Many people disagree with the disengagement theory, and believe it to be unhealthy for anyone to sever their personal relationships.  Although many believe that older people will be more comfortable if they are retired from their working role in society, most agree that they should still stay active within society.