How do we know that there are 'good' and 'bad' behaviours? How do we all agree that holding a door open for someone is considered 'good' and that taking money from your parents' wallets without telling them is 'bad'?

Socialisation Socialisation

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Table of contents

    This collective understanding of behaviours is due to socialisation. Socialisation plays a big part in our lives, whether we realise it or not. Let's look at socialisation from a sociological lens.

    • We will start with a definition of socialisation.
    • Then we will discuss primary socialisation and secondary socialisation.
    • It will be followed by an introduction to the factors of socialisation.
    • We will look at the sociological perspectives on socialisation, including the views of functionalists, Marxists, feminists, interactionists and postmodernists.
    • Finally, we will consider social control in relation to socialisation.

    Definition of socialisation

    The process through which an individual adapts to the distinctive norms and values of the society in which they live is called socialisation.

    Following the above definitions, socialisation is a process that enables the individual to fit into the ways of society's culture. Society and human beings are intricately intertwined. Individuals learn and understand the existing patterns of society and function accordingly.

    Socialisation is a lifelong process; it prepares individuals to meet social expectations at every stage of their lives.

    Socialise: meaning

    To socialise someone, therefore, is to help someone adapt to society's norms or to the surrounding environment.

    An example of this is socialising a prisoner into the world after they have served a lengthy sentence.

    Examples of socialisation

    There are different types of socialisation. The two basic types of socialisation are primary socialisation and secondary socialisation. We will go through these in turn and by the end, you should be able to understand the difference between the two.

    Primary socialisation

    Primary socialisation takes place during the early childhood years, when the infant learns basic skills (language and cognitive) and values from its primary relationships.

    Primary relationships are intimate relationships shared between the individual and their immediate caregivers, such as parents or guardians. They are the ones to initiate the process of socialisation.

    Socialisation, Young girl with laptop, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Primary socialisation at home with parents teaches children basic skills and values.

    Secondary socialisation

    The process of secondary socialisation takes place within a small group of people or communities (beyond the family) that are part of society.

    Educational (school, college, university), official (workplace) and formal (government) institutions, religion, as well as mass media can be identified as socialising agencies here.

    Socialisation at this stage goes beyond primary relationships. This might include an experience of interacting with people from different cultures at the workplace, or even dealing with a salesperson at a shop.

    Socialisation, Teacher and students in classroom, StudySmarterFig. 2 - School is a key institution of secondary socialisation.

    Factors of socialisation

    Gradually, individuals form relationships by developing attachments with people from other aspects of their life. These other aspects are referred to as agencies of socialisation, and they play an important part in shaping one's personality from birth until adulthood.

    The six agencies of socialisation are family, peer groups, mass media, religion, education and the workplace. We will go through each in turn.


    Family plays a crucial role besides contributing to socialisation. It serves as a natural channel between society and individuals. Parents (agents) use their values to teach children things like how to behave with family, friends, or strangers, and what type of behaviour is considered to be right or wrong. Before other agencies are involved, the family sets a foundation for the individual's behaviour and personality.

    We do not lie or steal because we are taught from a young age that it is 'bad' behaviour. We are also taught positive behaviours, such as helping others and sharing.

    Peer groups

    The growing child shares certain characteristics in their peer group such as gender, age, etc. As one shares a common stage of socialisation with their contemporaries (at school or in a playground), they view the world with shared attitudes and often withdraw from the family environment to get accepted by the peer group. With time, the peer group surpasses parental influence.

    Mass media

    The mass media of communication is an instrument of social power that influences the personality of the individual. It transmits the popular norms, values and opinions to the individual, encouraging them to support, oppose or change them. Television, radio, internet, etc can be categorised as the agents of socialisation here.

    Children may be tempted to buy certain toys/clothes/music if they are told it is a 'must-have' or a popular item. This may encourage children to identify with certain groups or subcultures.


    Religious organisations are popular agents of socialisation. Religion instils the idea of 'heaven and hell' in the individual so that they refrain from activities that are against religious beliefs, values and behaviour.

    If a child frequently visits religious institutions and is taught that dressing, speaking or acting in a certain way will reflect negatively on them according to God, they are likely to hold those values close to them throughout their life.


    The process takes place within the formalised agencies of education such as schools, colleges and universities. One does not just learn a language and interdisciplinary subjects but also acquires values of achievement, solidarity and civic ideals.

    Educational institutions also instil the concept of time management, punctuality, group activities and competition. It is an important socialiser that stands right next to the family for the socialisation process of a growing child.


    In the workplace, the individual adapts to their colleagues and environment to be accepted. One tries to make adjustments with others and in return learns cooperation, specialisation of tasks and the nature of class division.

    In this process, the individual acquires not only a source of income, but also a sense of identity and status in society. The individual learns about social rules and conforms to workplace norms.

    By working in a large office with several team members, an individual learns how to work well with others (cooperation), how to break down tasks into smaller activities (specialisation of tasks), and how the workplace hierarchy is structured (class division).

    Sociological perspectives of socialisation

    We'll now consider (in more detail) some sociological perspectives of socialisation. How do sociologists view the process of socialisation?

    Functionalist perspective of socialisation

    Talcott Parsons' works strongly emphasise the importance of the family's role in socialisation to attain social stability. He pointed out two irreducible functions of the family: primary socialisation and stabilisation of adult personalities.

    Primary socialisation specifically teaches children the norms and values that the family or local community hold. The stabilisation of adult personalities refers to how families help adults to continue to conform to society's norms and values.

    Its goal is to keep them out of deviant or anti-social behaviours, particularly when they are stressed. The family provides emotional support for its members to keep them out of 'trouble'.

    Through these functions, primary socialisation helps children to adapt to society's norms and values.

    Norms are enforced expectations within society which help us maintain accepted behaviours. For example, being raised with the notion that honesty is right is a common norm in most societies.

    Values are beliefs that society as a whole generally endorse as positive or worthwhile. For example, the value of human equality is believed in most societies.

    Functionalist view on agencies of socialisation

    Agencies of secondary socialisation further teach children how to become functioning adults that respect social norms and values. For example:

    • Education: children are taught values such as respect for hierarchy and discipline.
    • Religion: children are given moral norms and values that, when respected, help to bind society together.
    • Workplace: children turn into adults that understand their roles and functions in society. They work and help to keep society stable.

    Émile Durkheim explored the idea of collective conscience. This is in reference to the shared norms and values of our society; it's what we are collectively socialised to believe. Religion often perpetuates collective conscience.

    Primary and secondary socialisation is crucial, therefore, to create well-functioning and stable adults.

    Marxist perspective of socialisation

    Marx believed that our socialisation into society aided the bourgeoisie by keeping us in our proletariat roles. Learning the norms and values of our class from a young age ensures we remain in this role. Socialisation makes individuals understand their status in society.

    A status is defined by our social position in society. In a capitalist society, our status is defined by our socioeconomic position; namely, by factors such as our job and wealth.

    Marxist view on agencies of socialisation

    Eli Zaretsky saw the family as a tool for capitalism. The family socialises its children to obey society and consequently the commands of the bourgeoisie. From a young age, we become aware of our place in society because the family, as a primary agent of socialisation, teaches us that this is how society works.

    By learning this status at such a young age, we are far less likely to challenge it later in life. Therefore, during the process of secondary socialisation, the agencies of socialisation further perpetuate capitalist ideology. For example:

    • Education: children are prepared for the workforce, such as by being disciplined into punctuality, hierarchy and obedience.
    • Religion: religion tells the proletariat that the division in society is natural and therefore should be accepted.
    • Workplace: we are defined by our roles and productivity.

    Primary and secondary socialisation upholds capitalist ideology. As Marxists yearn for an uprising from the proletariat to overthrow the bourgeoisie, our socialisation of class halts this from occurring.

    Feminist perspective of socialisation

    Ann Oakley explored how unconscious stereotypes were taught through socialisation and ensured that we obeyed societal gender roles.

    Feminist view on agencies of socialisation

    Oakley found that the family, a primary agent of socialisation, socialised children in 3 main ways:

    • Gendered expectations

    Parents are likely to unconsciously push perceived gender roles onto their children. For example, they may believe that their son will be better at sport than their daughter and spend more time with him on this.

    • Parental punishment

    Oakley determined that parents were most likely to punish their children depending on their own personal norms and values. As parents have already been socialised to understand gender roles, they are likely to reinforce them in their children. For example, if their son picks out a typically feminine toy, he may be teased or told off.

    • Role models

    Children are often encouraged to strive to achieve similarity to a parent of the same sex. For example, if girls are encouraged to look up to the maternal figure in their life, they are more likely to recreate domestic tasks that women are too often forced into.

    Feminism and secondary socialisation

    During the process of secondary socialisation, these gender roles are further entrenched. For example:

    • Education: girls may be discouraged from STEM subjects as they are seen as too 'masculine'.
    • Religion: girls and boys are taught that hierarchy is God-given, which means girls may accept subordinate positions.
    • Workplace: women may be discouraged from applying to senior or managerial roles due to the perception of them as not being 'feminine'.

    Interactionist perspective of socialisation

    George Herbert Mead explored the idea of how our personality develops from socialisation. The main parts that he determined of ones 'self' are our self-awareness and self-image.

    These aspects all come together to determine our behaviours and consciousness. Mead argued that this was not something we were born with, but that we are socialised to develop.

    Interactionist view on agencies of socialisation

    Erving Goffman explored his idea of dramaturgy. This concept suggested that everybody in our society can be seen as an actor in a role and that society is our stage to play on.

    A role refers to the expected behaviours associated with our social status. For example, the King of England has a very specific role which requires many actions.

    During the process of socialisation, we are taught exactly how to play our roles. We have assigned roles from birth, e.g. female, working-class, heterosexual, and the norms and values we are socialised into teaching us how to appropriately act as this character.

    Furthering this, he explored the ideas of front and backstages.

    The front stage represents all parts of society where we must interact and 'act' in front of other members. This is most of what we experience in society.

    But backstage is when are experience moments of privacy with ourselves, at which point we can let our act slip before preparing to enter the front stage again.

    Postmodernist perspective of socialisation

    Jean-François Lyotard explored the concept of a metanarrative. He described this as an overarching idea that is believed to be 'universally true'.

    It can be a difficult term to get your head around, so it's good to explore an example.

    A well-known example of a metanarrative is the concept of the human evolutionary process. This is something which the majority of society accepts as true, without necessarily questioning its origins.

    In sociology, the theories of functionalism, Marxism and feminism are also considered to be metanarratives as they all make big claims about society and its members.

    Metanarratives can often be related to religious or scientific ideas, as these are mostly treated as 'universally true' in society. They are rarely questioned by the collective conscience of society because we are socialised to believe them from a young age. They are often the cornerstone of our deep beliefs about life.

    Socialisation, Sunrise over planet Earth, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Metanarratives are seen as 'universally true'.

    Socialisation and social control

    The process of socialisation involves social control to create order, stability and predictability in the behaviour of its members. It is through this process that society maintains its culture and passes it further from generation to generation.

    Society uses formal and informal agencies of social control to make people conform to societal expectations. Not all agree with or follow the rules according to the expectations of the society; in this case, formal agents of social control (such as the criminal justice system) use social sanctions to control behaviour.

    Sanctions are divided into two categories; reward (positive sanction) and punishment (negative sanction). These exist to control 'unacceptable' behaviour (what sociologists call deviance).

    Formal and informal agencies of social control

    Prime examples of formal agencies of social control are the police, government and military authorities. The rules of behaviour are based upon formal, legal norms enforced by relevant institutions (university, workplace, courts).

    Family, media, peer groups and religion can be identified as informal agencies of social control. Though the rules of behaviour differ vastly from society to society, it usually involves disapproving looks, sarcasm, scolding and reward and punishment.

    Socialisation as a lifetime process

    As society moves forward, societal challenges and expectations continue to present themselves. Due to this, adults engage in anticipatory socialisation, which is a self-directed process that involves preparing for future life roles. One can engage in this process while entering a new phase of life such as a new position/job, parenthood or old age (planning for retirement).

    When an individual unlearns behaviour that has become customary to them, they enter the process of resocialisation. This process can take place when a person moves to a facility centre or institution like a prison. In this process, people are isolated from society and are expected to conform to new rules (of the institution).


    Socialisation - Key takeaways

    • Socialisation is a lifelong process; it prepares the individual (from birth, through adolescence and continues throughout life) to meet social expectations at every stage of their lives.
    • The two major forms of socialisation are primary and secondary socialisation.
    • The six agencies of socialisation are the family, peer groups, mass media, religion, education and the workplace.
    • Sociological perspectives of socialisation include the functionalist, Marxist, feminist, interactionist and postmodernist perspectives.
    • There are formal and informal agencies of socialisation.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Socialisation

    What is primary socialisation?

    Primary socialisation is a stage which takes place during the early childhood years. During this time the infant learns skills (language and cognitive) and values from its primary relationships. These are intimate relationships shared between the individual and their immediate caregivers.

    What are the 4 types of socialisation?

    Out of the 4 types, the two important types of socialisation are primary and secondary socialisation. The other two types of socialisation are anticipatory socialisation and resocialisation. 

    What does socialisation mean?

    The process through which an individual adapts to the distinctive norms and values of the society in which they live is called socialisation.

    What are the 6 agents of socialisation?

    The six agencies are the family, peer groups, mass media, religion, education and the workplace.

    What is socialisation in sociology?

    In sociology, socialisation is the process through which an individual adapts to the distinctive norms and values of the society in which they live. Theoretical perspectives such as functionalism, Marxism and feminism talk about socialisation.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which one of the following is not a secondary agent of socialisation?

    Which one of the following is a formal agency of social control?

    Socialisation is not a lifelong process; it doesn't prepare individuals to meet social expectations at every stage of their lives. True or false?

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