Theories of Socialization

Definition of Socialization

Socialization is a term we use to describe the way people learn to become members of their society. It’s like when a young tree is planted and needs to be supported and cared for until its roots are deep enough to support itself. In a similar way, when we are young, we need guidance and support from others around us to understand how to act, what to say, and what is important in the world we live in.

Imagine socialization as a bridge connecting an individual to the community. It spans from teaching a child how to communicate to helping an adult navigate a new job. Socialization isn’t about reading from a book or following a strict plan. It happens subtly, through everyday interactions and experiences, like playing games, chatting with friends, or even by watching how others behave and what consequences they face for their actions.

Types of Socialization

Just like there are many different occasions where we learn and grow, socialization can take several forms throughout our lives. Here are some main types:

  • Primary Socialization: This is the foundation – the first steps. It’s the process that teaches us the basics of how to interact with others, which happens during our early years mostly with our family.
  • Secondary Socialization: Building on the foundation, this occurs later on, such as during school years, where interactions with teachers, classmates, and friends further shape our social abilities.
  • Developmental Socialization: This is the ongoing learning that happens as we take on new roles through life, for instance, becoming a parent, starting a career, or retiring.
  • Anticipatory Socialization: Prior to stepping into a new role, we often begin to adopt and learn associated behaviors and mindsets. For example, a student teacher learning the ropes before officially taking charge of a classroom.
  • Resocialization: At certain times, we may need to unlearn old patterns and adjust to new ones, like someone moving to a different culture or undergoing a significant lifestyle change.

Examples of Theories of Socialization

  • The Looking-Glass Self: This theory tells us that we develop an image of ourselves based on how we think other people see us. When people react to us, whether they’re smiling or looking upset, it’s like we’re looking into a mirror that reflects back how we’re doing in social settings.
  • Role-Taking: Here, we imagine testing out different roles in society, similar to trying on costumes to find one that suits us best. As kids play make-believe games like ‘house’ or ‘doctor’, they are actually practicing understanding and navigating social roles.
  • Conflict Theory: Like a strategic board game, this theory suggests that those in powerful positions in society create rules to maintain their control. They might determine what is taught in schools or what behaviors are rewarded to keep the existing social structure in their favor.
  • Social Learning Theory: Have you ever noticed yourself picking up phrases or habits from your friends? That’s what this theory is all about. We observe others, and if we see them getting positive results, we might copy their behavior.
  • Symbolic Interactionism: This one is like learning a new language. When we talk to others, we’re not just using words; we’re using gestures, expressions, and symbols. The meanings we attach to these symbols are a large part of how we understand the world and our place in it.

Why is it Important?

Understanding socialization is key because it explains a lot about why people behave the way they do. For example, in some parts of the world, people bow instead of shaking hands. Why? These customs come from socialization. When we are aware of how socialization shapes us, we are better equipped to interact with those around us, improve our communities, and shape our individual journeys in life.

Knowing about socialization can also help us understand why we might feel nervous in new situations and how to overcome that. It’s about recognizing that these feelings are part of learning the social ropes and adjusting to the unwritten rules of our surroundings.


The concept of socialization has been pondered for centuries. Ancient philosophers like Plato understood the impact of teaching and learning on shaping both individuals and society. It wasn’t until much later, though, that experts in the fields of sociology, like Émile Durkheim, and psychology, like Sigmund Freud, made strides in explaining the nitty-gritty of how society molds us.


When talking about people and societies, there are bound to be differing opinions. One hot topic is the debate over nature versus nurture, where opinions are split about whether our biology or how we’re raised plays a more significant role in shaping us. Questions also arise about whether socialization processes are always fair and how much freedom we really have to choose our paths.

There’s also lively debate about which aspects of society, like families or educational systems, have the most significant influence on us. These discussions reveal that socialization is a complex and deeply intriguing subject that touches every aspect of our lives.

Related Topics

  • Cultural Norms: These are like the unspoken rules of a place, the shared expectations that people have about how everyone should act. Like leaving a tip at restaurants in the U.S., while it might be considered rude in Japan.
  • Identity Formation: This is the process of figuring out who we are. It’s like creating a personal brand, with influences from our culture, experiences, and the groups we belong to shaping who we become.
  • Peer Influence: This is how our friends and the people we hang out with shape what we like and do. For example, you might start skateboarding because it’s what your friends are into.
  • Group Dynamics: This refers to the way people act when they’re in a group. In a school project, for instance, you’ll notice that some take the lead while others follow, showing how groups can work together or sometimes clash.

Final Thoughts

The study of socialization opens a window into how people learn about and adapt to the various environments they belong to. It’s essential because it influences every interaction we have and every decision we make. Recognizing the impact of socialization helps us navigate the complexities of life and our relationships. In every aspect of life, from saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to understanding different cultural expectations, we’re engaged in a process that has been with us since the moment we started mimicking our parents’ smiles. So next time you catch yourself acting ‘just because’, remember, socialization has played a part in that, just like it influences everyone else, too.