Evaluating Perspectives on Socialisation

Evaluating Perspectives on Socialisation


Nature/Nurture Debate

  • this is the sociobiological perspective
  • how much of our behaviour is learnt?
  • how much of our behaviour is innate and genetic?
  • seen by some sociologists as not really being a sociological view at all


  • reject the functionalist view that socialisation into a fixed set of norms and values is a good thing
  • disagree with the view that socialisation produces a stable and fair society


  • agree with Marxists – from their conflict perspective they reject the consensus view of socialisation (as do the Marxists)


  • think functionalism over-simplifies the socialisation process


  • agree with interactionists – a single set of norms and values cannot possible explain an entire society in which individuals are free to develop their own diverse behaviours and values

General criticisms include

  • Functionalists may exaggerate the extent to which people conform to the socialisation process – what about those who rebel, often in large numbers?
  • Fine (2006) argues that peer groups may have an important role to play in the socialisation process – functionalists overlook this impact
  • Gouldner (1970) is highly critical of the functionalist view of socialisation on the grounds that it ignores the tense and conflict ridden experience of being a parent and raising children



  • Ideas may be outdated – boys and girls may be less socialised into boy/girl roles/values than used to be the case
  • girls now grow up observing more positive female models
  • distinction between girl/boy toys not as obvious
  • girls are now better educated and have full and varied careers
  • may now been seen as offensive to suggest women are easily manipulated
  • Feminism may be criticised by the socio-biologists on the grounds that gender roles are determined mainly by biology and have little to do with socialisation
  • postmodern feminists challenge the idea of ‘stereotypical’ women and point to the global diversity of the female experience


  • the world is more than just class and economics. They’re both important, but don’t explain the whole human experience
  • children are better educated and more critically aware than they used to be – Marxism may over-simplify the idea that individuals are passive and unquestioning
  • children ask questions, challenge authority and rebel – they may not be the ‘passive victims’ of socialisation that functionalism outlines
  • Willis (1971) challenges functionalist views in his study of working-class boys in Birmingham who reject the ‘con’ of education and meritocracy for their own cultures and peer-group acceptance (link here to studies in education)
  • socialisation may not work as effectively as either functionalists or Marxists like to think. Neo-Marxists argue that the working class may be indoctrinated into the beliefs of the ruling-class ideology but they may also reject the very same ideas

Evaluation & Criticisms: POSTMODERN THEORIES
  • no longer valid to claim society represents a single set of norms and values
  • no longer valid to claim that society represents a single dominant culture
  • therefore, no longer valid to see socialisation as representing a single process within societies that are complex, diverse, changing and that offer individuals a range of choices as to how they live their lives and frame their identities
  • people can now choose to resist the socialisation process (Lyotard)
  • no single set of norms and values can explain the world entire
  • no single idea/philosophy/ideology dominates the way people can choose to think
  • people are able to reject both religion and political ideologies
  • we make our own norms and values, we inform our own cultures
  • we develop unique ‘hybrid’ identities
  • no-one tells us how to live
  • socialisation as it once was no longer exerts the same influence on us

Evaluation & Criticisms: INTERACTIONIST THEORIES
  • some agreement with Functionalists (Mead) – behaviour is not innate or biological, we have to learn it
  • disagree with the Functionalists about the process of socialisation – we are not as passive, we are more active, we participate
  • agree with Functionalists about primary socialisation – where we imitate the behaviours around us
  • see secondary socialisation slightly differently: here, we develop a stronger sense of ‘self’ and begin the process of understanding the ways in which other people may see us
  • Functionalists are critical of interactionists – they don’t think enough attention is paid to the importance of social institutions (Marxists and Feminists agree, for similar reasons)
  • Functionalists (and others) are also critical of the lack of interactionist focus on social trends which appear to have a growing and important impact on how we develop as individuals
  • Marxists and Feminists criticise the interactionist lack of focus on gender and social class
  • Late modern sociologists (Giddens is a good example) make the point that both theories – structural and interactionist – have valuable things to say about the way we develop as humans and how the process of socialisation works
Gerald Handel (2006) important interactionist study
Socialisation –
not a one-way process
requires social interaction
children develop words / symbols
children go on to develop empathy
children also develop a sense of SELF

The idea of SELF is important – it’s how we learn to behave in particular ways because we start to imagine how we look to others and moderate our behaviour accordingly. We do this in an attempt to get what we want by making a good impression on people

Other approaches to the study of socialisation


  • Mass media in all forms – one of the most significant AGENCIES of socialisation
  • possibly the main agency of MODERN socialisation, emphasised since the 1990s by digital technology and the INTERNET(‘NEW MEDIA’)
  • massive influence  over NORMS and VALUES,  particularly on YOUNG people
  • the MAIN way young people make sense of the world around them
  • an increasingly important influence on how young people choose to live and the identities they choose

Marxism offers a critical perspective on the role of the mass media. Responsible for –

  • indoctrination of ruling class capitalist ideas
  • creating cheap, unintelligent mass culture – especially television and all forms of advertising
  • encouraging consumerism and ‘false needs’ (advertising, again)
  • keeping the workers content and incurious

Neo-Marxism offers another critical view of the mass media

  • Mass media is poor quality
  • •it’s ‘dumbed down’ – reality shows, soaps etc
  • •are we being SOCIALISED into not THINKING? (Barnett, Curry)

Evaluation of Marxist views on the mass media

  • What if we actually interpret the media in different ways?
  • What if we sometimes question what we see/read?
  • What if we actually SELECT what we see/read?
  • What if, we are actually an ACTIVE AUDIENCE?

Postmodern views on the media

  • Media does have a BIG influence on our socialisation
  • Research – attitudes to immigration, benefits, crime – strong influence of the media = SOCIALISATION
  • If the message is constantly repeated – it ‘lands’, it STICKS

Will the media continue to be a key agency of socialisation?

  • Marxists – YES – the ruling class will continue to influence the way the MASS are socialised
  • Feminists – YES – the media will continue to socialise us to accept gender inequalities
  • Functionalists – YES – the media may provide us with positive role models and may reinforce societies NORMS AND VALUES
  • Postmodernists – YES – the media remain a crucial part of the socialisation process, it helps SHAPE our IDENTITY
  • However – Postmodernists also emphasise the CHOICES we have in the media we expose ourselves to


  • Work is an important agency of socialisation
  • Work is an important agency of secondary socialisation
  • Work involves different forms of learning:
    • anticipatory socialisation (we already know something about the job)
    • re-socialisation (we begin work and learn new things and ways of behaviour
    • formal socialisation (we are trained, we learn new codes of conduct, dress code etc)
    • informal socialisation (we link to new peer groups and make new friends)


  • Interactionists such as Handel note that childhood socialisation can be viewed from 2 perspectives
    • the socialisation agents such as parents and teachers
    • the child who is being socialised – strong influence of peers, in which they socialise each other
  • Peer group socialisation can take several forms:
    • Different  activities – learn rules of games/sports through peers (gender roles)
    • Resistance and rebellion – resisting norms and values accepted as part of growing up; (sub cultures) 
    • Recognising similarity / similar interests – ‘cultural comfort zones’ 
    • Hierarchy – some individuals = higher status; act as role models
    • Peer group pressure – imitate group behaviour; conformity; failure to conform = rejection

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