socialization. A central concept, which in its widest application refers to all those complex and multi-faceted processes and interactions that transform the human organism into an active participating member of a society. In short the term refers to the ways in which we both become and are made social; White (1977), for example, suggests that it describes the 'long and complicated process of learning to live in society (p. 1). While many writers would agree on this general definition, the study of socialization is better viewed as a site for a number of problems and issues which are themselves the product of clashes between differing conceptions of the structure of societies, the nature of social and cultural relations, and the individual subject. The initial question to consider here is what individuals, or groups, are socialized into. This can be posed in a number of ways. First, what at birth do we or people enter into, into what cultures, sets of values, rules, ideologies and social conditions are we socialized, a process often referred to as cultural transmission? Second, either as a result or in reaction to this what do we become? This issue is interwoven with debates concerning the origins and development of our subjectivity, our sense of self and individual identity. These questions themselves serve to raise a further set of problems concerning the 'how' of socializationhow and by what agencies is such a process achieved? Is the process to be viewed as guided by an almost mechanical predefined social logic, which slots individual 'cogs' into the 'great machine' of society, or should we be more concerned to examine the negotiated development of self-consciousness and identity through ongoing interaction and the acquisition of language?
The intuitive, taken-for-granted view of socialization is that it essentially concerns children and childhood; it is a form of early 'total training' or 'moulding' that all children undergo. This view has in many ways underpinned traditional sociological and psychological approaches. It is however important to note the deterministic, machine-like, one-way process it often implies. Children, by definition immature and unregulated, posing as Campbell (1975) has noted 'immense, incalculable threats to the social order', are transformed into mature, competent and regulated social adults by means of a programmed system of instructions, rewards and punishments. Children are 'empty vessels', waiting to be filled by the social and cultural reservoirs of their society. If they are not 'filled' or socialized properly, so the argument goes, a defective or deviant product will result. This orthodox view of socialization has become increasingly criticized, contested and amended in recent years.
Primarily, the issue is one of determination and social continuity. Wrong (1961) has indicated that the orthodox functionalist view has tended to overplay the conservative function of socialization. He forcefully rejects the notion of 'society' preserving and reproducing 'itself', by simply and unproblematically 'fitting' individuals into pre-defined social roles. Terming this an 'oversocialized' view, he further suggests that it cannot adequately account for social change or individual variety. Devcloping out of this criticisrn is the issue of the active participation of the individual. Symbolic interactionists, such as Mead and Schutz, have argued that the individual involved in socialization is an active participant, increasingly capable of negotiating and redefining the boundaries and rules of the learning situation. This implies a considerable move from the passive 'absorption' model that has characterized traditional views of parent-child, teacher-child relationships.
A further logical move from this model is implicit in recent work. Within the orthodox view socialization is a process that gradually stops as the subject passes from childhood through youth to adulthood. The function of education has in many ways been identified as crucial, and finishing school is equated with the end of or at least a significant break in the process. Two questions are important here: should socialization be seen as a finite process, ending in advanced industrial societies in the late teens, or is it in fact a lifelong process, present in all interaction new and old, familiar and unfamiliar? Berger and Luckmann (1971), for example, have distinguished between primary and secondary forms of socialization, but in their discussion they note that: 'socialization is never total, never finished' (p. 157). Second, this issue in turn raises the problem of the relationship between early childhood socialization, and subsequent experience. To what extent are basic unalterable traits of behaviour and thought established in childhood? While this has been commonly claimed, work by Goffman (1968), for example, has demonstrated that certain processes of resocialization into occupations or institutional settings like prisons or mental asylums may drastically challenge and alter the individual's identity and sense of self.
Finally, most contemporary approaches consider the issue of power relations, suggesting that questions of inequality and social control have very often been eclipsed within orthodox approaches by assumed consensus. In this sense not only socialization, but also the whole concept of childhood and youth has undergone critical reexamination (Aries 1962; Murdock and McCron 1976). More specifically, relations between socializers and socialized - parents, teachers, children, and so on - have been placed in the context of class and gender relations. This emphasis has considerably redefined the functions of socialization in terms of the social and cultural reproduction of specific sets of values, ideas and activities that uphold and maintain social class, gender and other relations, hence serving to perpetuate the inequalities and ideologies that stem from them.
Socialization therefore is a term that needs careful consideration. Its implications may be usefully thought through in the context of these debates and differences of interpretation; it poses some fundamental problems. [from: O'Sullivan 1994]