Agents of socialization help a person to get socially involved and gain acceptance in the society he/she lives in. These agents form the very base of the social order, and it is with their aid that an individual and society interact with each other.
Sociologists, social psychologists, anthropologists, as well as educationists and politicians, use the word ‘socialization’ to refer to a process through which people inherit the norms and ideologies of the social order in which they live. Socialization, as a process, facilitates social interaction by means of give and take of common values, customs, traditions, languages, etc. It is an ongoing process which not only leads to the all-round development of an individual but also cultivates within him, a sense of belonging with regards to his family, friends, people and society as a whole.
In a society, an individual or an institution has the task of making a person worth being a part of it. These individuals or institutions are called agents of socialization. It is these agents that are responsible for educating an individual about the expectations of society from him, and how he should fulfill them. The transfer of rules, expectations and values is thus carried out by these agents, which in turn enables society to function smoothly. The agents of socialization are as under:
For most people, the process of socialization begins in the family. Family is their first source through which they commence their social communication. As a child, a person learns to see and interpret himself and society through the eyes and understanding of his parents and other elders of the family. It is with the aid of the older family members that he/she becomes familiar with social culture. It is through family that ‘socially acceptable’ ways of thinking and behaving are imparted to a child. Values such as sharing, honesty, idealism, discipline, etc., are also cultivated in a person through his family. Therefore, it is vital how parents treat their children, and also how parents behave in front of them because it is through these interactions that a child will perceive and develop a sense of ‘self’.
However, although belonging to the same society, every family is different. This difference ranges from ethnicity to religion to preferences (while some families might give more preference to education, others might emphasize more on discipline) and many more. So, the knowledge that children gain from their families, certainly cannot be uniform throughout. Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that family is the fountainhead of the socialization process.
A peer group is a group of people of approximately the same age, sharing similar interests and probably belonging to similar backgrounds. A person may belong to several peer groups at a single point in time. For instance, peer groups of a child may include his schoolmates, his friends at the sports’ club, and the children staying in his neighborhood. Even though all these groups are different, he may mingle with them every single day. What makes a peer group an important factor in socialization is that it enables a child to engage in experiences which he/she would otherwise never experience within his/her family. Things such as competition, conflict and cooperation as well as the concepts of hierarchy and egalitarianism can be learned and imbibed through a peer group.
Peer groups also, many times, promote the idea of independence from the thought process of the family. Individuals begin to think and act in different ways which may be, sometimes, completely opposite of their family values. Nevertheless, peer groups, as agents of socialization, are important entities granting social approval and support.
Children spend about seven to eight hours in school. So, there is no denying the fact that school has an important and lifelong impact on their socialization process. Apart from teaching children to read and write, and initiating them in subjects such as math, languages and science (which is schools’ main function), they also have a latent function of nurturing within the students, the value of teamwork, punctuality and following a set schedule. In other words, a lesson stressing on the need for discipline in doing one’s day-to-day activities is pinpointed. Schools also play a major role in fostering the values of national pride and citizenship in the children. For instance, school children in the United States have to take the Pledge of Allegiance.
In schools, children also learn about concepts such as gender and race, not only through their textbooks but also practically. For example, segregating the seating arrangements of boys and girls may affect their behavior with the opposite sex thus elevating gender differences. Also, school is technically the institution wherein a child is first exposed to a hierarchical bureaucratic setup under which everything takes place within a set framework of rules and regulations. This means that a child, in order to get something done, has to follow a certain procedure and that makes this kind of setup a basic factor for making the child understand the importance of social rules and regulations.
Workplace is another agent of socialization. Just as the children spend a significant part of day at their school, the adults spend much of their day at their workplace. At the workplace, a person meets people of different age groups and belonging to different social and cultural backgrounds. This makes him come in close contact with different thought processes, belief systems, etc. The interaction that then happens, helps a person to broaden his/her horizons in terms of social acceptance and tolerance towards the others. It also sometimes helps in changing the notions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. It makes him understand the true difference between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. The ‘other’ is only distinct from the ‘self’ but both are still ‘right’.
Apart from imbibing punctuality (e.g. target achievement) and following procedures (e.g. whether to approach the boss directly or not), a person also becomes well-versed with the importance of regularity in work and behaving mannerisms with respect to superiors as well as juniors and subordinates.
Religion is one of the most powerful agents of socialization which is linked with concepts and values people identify themselves with. At the same time, it is the most sensitive agent of socialization as well. People tend to develop their own religious beliefs from their parents, right from their inception. They begin to acquire knowledge of which god to believe in (or not?); when, where and how to pray; what rituals to follow; what to consume and what to avoid; etc., right from infancy, and it is these belief systems that evolve further and remain with them for the rest of their lives.
While the major function of religion in the process of socialization is teaching people, belonging to different religions, to be tolerant and respectful towards each other, things do not always work out as desired. Therefore, the power of religion as a socializing agent should be understood well, and any sort of misinterpretations need to be avoided.
Government or state is an indirect agent of socialization. This means, though we do not come in contact with the institution directly, it does have an impact on our social life and well-being. The government sets rules and regulations (most of which often become laws), which the people of the state/country need to follow, and breach of them often becomes not only a moral wrong but a social wrong as well. For instance, prohibition of drunk driving is a law passed by the state. Any person breaking it, not only commits a punishable offense but also puts others’ lives in danger.
Apart from setting various laws and laying sanctions on us, the government, as a socializing agent, also has a responsibility of assuring social security for people.
Mass media is the strongest and the most argued indirect agent of socialization. It puts across to us, lot of ideas and mannerisms without having any kind of interpersonal communication. Despite this, it influences our lives to a great extent, as we tend to learn a lot from mass media, which include newspapers, magazines, radio, Internet, video games and of course, the most dominant of them all, television. However, research shows that most people, adults and children alike, often tend to get so carried away by the influence of media that they get confused between the notions of ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’.
On the other hand, the amount of violence that is involved in case of the media might have an adverse effect on the people. For instance, children might behave more aggressively towards others, and this can make them ‘socially unacceptable’. Nevertheless, the fact is that mass media does help in building ideologies and beliefs of people and making them so strong and deep-rooted that they stay with them throughout their lifetime.
The agents of socialization, thus have a very profound effect on our personal and conceptual development. They help us interact and communicate with society and also to understand our social roles. However, the impact these agents have on our lives, and consequently on society, also depends largely on the parameters of time and space. For instance, these agents, though performing similar functions worldwide, may have contradicting impact on the mindset of the people of a country at war, as opposed to the one at peace.