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Primary Socialization: Agents, Definition and Theory

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  • 0:00 What Is Socialization?
  • 1:19 Agents of Socialization
  • 2:37 Theories About Primary…
  • 3:36 Secondary Socialization
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Through this lesson, you will be introduced to a sociological concept known as primary socialization, and you will gain insight into the theory and factors that contribute to our early social development. When you are through with the lesson, you can test your new knowledge with a brief quiz.

What is Socialization?

Over the course of our lives, we are constantly learning and evolving as we experience and interact with the world around us. In our families, we learn about relationships, bonding, and important concepts like love. Through our schooling, we form friendships that help us to understand other people and engage in education that provides us with information about the world in which we live. While this process of learning doesn't really ever end, it is in the earliest years of our lives that we learn the most and begin to build our understanding of culture and society.

This early period of learning through family relationships is what is known as primary socialization, which is the learning that we do by interacting and observing while we are young. Primary socialization tends to begin in the home and that is where we learn about social norms, such as how to behave in society, and cultural practices in which we will eventually participate.

For example, if you are out at a restaurant and the waiter informs you that they are out of what you had hoped to order, you would simply choose another menu item rather than stomp your feet and scream at him. Your response to the disappointment is the result of learning very early in life that it is unacceptable to have such outbursts in public, and it is generally polite to treat restaurant servers with respect.

Agents of Socialization

Unlike the learning that we receive through formal education or in our careers, socialization is less intentional and is generally the result of our interaction with family, friends, and the wider public. In sociology, these influential people are referred to as agents of socialization. Though these agents tend to be peers or people with whom we have established relationships, the media can also be considered an agent of socialization because it is one of the more influential means through which we acquire information about our culture and society.

In the context of primary socialization, agents tend to be limited to our immediate family members, or, depending on your family structure, certain members of our extended family. This is generally because as children, our lives are tightly controlled by our primary caregivers. It is through our interactions and observations of how they behave in the home and in public that we begin to shape our understanding of how we, too, should behave.

For example, if a person were raised by parents who possessed a white supremacist perspective, that person would likely be exposed to prejudices in the home, which they would likely then carry out into the world with them. Conversely, if they were raised by a family that valued equality and civil rights advocacy, they would likely carry those values as they moved forward in their life.

Theories about Primary Socialization

While there are many theories about socialization and cognitive development from a variety of different fields, among the earliest and most significant was from American sociologist Talcott Parsons. From Parsons' perspective, the primary function of the family - beyond providing the basic essentials - was to convey social and cultural standards to children so that they could effectively participate in that culture later in life. Equally important, however, is that a child should not only learns these standards, but is also able to internalize them and make them a fundamental part of their own identity.

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