Socialisation – Culture and Identity

Lesson objectiveTo explore different types of identity
Lesson outcomes• Assess whether primary and secondary socialisation is more significant
• Evaluate the impact of socialisation
• Explain what socialisation is

What is socialisation?

Podder and Bergvall’s (2004) observation that culture “isn’t something we’re born with, it is taught to us. The human being is a social creature and we need rules for interaction with one another”. Since it can be argued that culture can lead to us creating our identity, the significance that socialisation can have on us is clear. Jenkins (2008) argues that identities are formed in the socialisation process.

There are two types of socialisation:

Primary – According to Cooley (1909), primary groups that contain intimate relationships and face to face are fundamental in creating the nature and ideals of an individual. The primary relationships we form is with our parents, followed by our peers and then with other adults e.g. marriage. Parsons (1951) states that primary socialisation is crucial in socialising newborns into being children who can function in society. This explains how people can interact with society e.g. saying please and thank you or how to eat. Primary socialisation is considered essential, otherwise, individuals could not integrate into society. Take a look at feral children which is an example of this.

Secondary – Berger and Luckmann (1967) note, by “a sense of detachment…from the ones teaching socialisation”. Secondary socialisation occurs when we don’t expect it or even recognise it e.g. indoctrination by the media. Individuals are not always passive regarding this and in fact, children may also receive contradictory socialisation messages from differing agents. Parsons (1951) states the purpose of secondary socialisation is to liberate the individual from a dependence upon the primary attachments and relationships formed within the family group. To summarise, to an individual’s social group needs to expand from primary agencies of socialisation e.g. family to secondary e.g. peers. A key part of transferring from primary socialisation to secondary is creating and testings instrumental relationships. This is assessing how to deal with people in terms of what they can do for us and what we can do for them in particular situations (this is the opposite of the effective relationships we find in primary groups). Berger and Luckmann (1967) suggest that the characteristic of primary socialisation is “emotionally charged identification” meaning the relationship involves using our emotions e.g. love for parents. On the other hand, secondary socialisation is characterised by “formality and anonymity”.


Each agency of socialisation has its own theatre. A theatre is an environment which a person operates. Each theatre has its own rules, which are called ‘doxas’. Doxas can change and are fluid and we measure our ability to survive in a theatre by our success in that environment e.g. if we have lots of friends and are popular, we could argue that we have mastered the doxas of the environment. Two types of doxas exist in an environment:

Formal controls – These generally consist of written rules of behaviour that, theoretically, apply equally to everyone in society (laws) or particular social group (rules). The police force is an example.

Informal controls – These aim to punish or reward behaviour which falls outside of the law. These rules can differ from person to person and group to group. Usually, rather than an authoritative figure punishing or rewarding, the group or individual does themselves e.g. ridicule, sarcasm, disapproving, violence.

There are also Sanctions which are used to enforce the controlling mechanisms above. There are two types:

  1. Positive sanctions (or rewards) are the way people are rewarded for their positive behaviour e.g. compliments or physical rewards. These usually fall into intrinsic (internal – making the person feel happy) and extrinsic rewards (external – giving someone money). Normally, intrinsic rewards are the most effective as they can permanently modify behaviour, unlike extrinsic.
  2. Negative sanctions (or punishments) are actions that try to punish individuals for their actions e.g. prison or bullying.

Primary Socialisation


Role: The family, is an important process in shaping an individual’s identity. This is because of the many stages that an individual goes through in their childhood (don’t forget that this is a social construct and therefore it changes from culture to culture). An individual starts with being a baby, then an infant, then a child finally a teenager, or young adult. This is called child development.

Values: Mead (1934) called parents and other immediate family members “Significant Others”. This is because of the importance that they have in shaping our identity e.g. knowing right from wrong creating our moral code.

Behaviour: Norms: Families have different norms and values, but, there are some which they might share. Although times and processes may differ, constants may be calling your parents Mum and Dad or eating at the table with your mouth closed. When individuals stray from these norms, sanctions may apply. Usually, these sanctions are informal but can be a mix of positive and negative.

Peer Groups

Peers are those individuals who tend to be the same age as yourself. This doesn’t have to be exact but from the same social group e.g. teenagers. Hughes et al (2002) define as “the models we use for appraising and shaping our attitudes, feelings, and actions”). Hughes continues in saying peer groups contain“both normative and comparative functions”. Normative – changes our behaviour e.g. if our friends smoke, so too do we. Comparative is where we compare ourselves and our identity to others. This can lead to normative changes, but not always.

Roles: It could be argued that as part of the peer group phase we learn to categorise individuals e.g. giving people ranks – friends, acquaintance, a nobody. This skill is carried over to your adult life for use in the wider world e.g. workplace.

Values: This is intrinsically linked to roles as the next step is that we add value to those ranks e.g. friends spend more time with us and are liked more.

Sanctions: Peer groups mostly use informal methods to control members. This creates a degree of conformity by adhering to a hidden social code.

The Education System

Behaviour: The function of the education system differs from perspective to perspective – you will learn more about this when studying education.

One function of the education system is to teach the skills and knowledge required for adult life. e.g. learning British Values and particular skills, such as learning to read and write or solve mathematical problems. This is called the manifest function of education, however, there also exists latent functions e.g. learning how to make friends, being on time, being hardworking. This is sometimes linked to the hidden curriculum.

Roles: From day one, students learn roles e.g. teachers have higher authority than students. This teaches individuals their place in society whether it be a good thing (Functionalist) or bad (Marxist). These labels are often exerted and are intrinsically linked to modifying behaviour e.g. expecting a teenager to change their behaviour by calling than a young adult.

Norms: Bowles and Gintis (1976) suggest, there is a correspondence between school norms and workplace norms. As they argue (2002) “schools prepare people for adult work rules by socialising people to function well, and without complaint, in the hierarchical structure of the modern corporation”. This Correspondence Principle is seen in schools each day e.g. taking registers, measuring behaviour and performance.

Sanctions: Positive sanctions include the gaining of grades, qualifications and other monetary mechanisms e.g. winning prizes. On the negative side, teachers use sanctions like detentions, suspensions and exclusions to equally control students and their behaviour.

The workplace

The workplace: Roles: There are two main workplace roles of employer and employee. However, the range of jobs in these two categories are vast e.g. being a professor to a dog walker. Either way, individuals often have their status creating depending on their profession e.g. a doctor may have a higher status than a cleaner and thus have more responsibilities given to him by society.

Values: Because of capitalism, we believe that work and money are linked. One should not happen without the other. However, there are other values such as being happy in work and wanting to work hard or wanting a promotion etc.

Norms: We expect to be paid for working (although some types of work, like housework and voluntary work, don’t involve money). As stated, the education system is linked to the workplace as there are common norms and values that are shared e.g. attendance, hard work etc.

Sanctions: Employers can use both positive and negative sanctions e.g. Pay rise or docking of pay.

The Media

There is an ongoing debate surrounding the impact of the media (explored more in the topic media). To what extent media can influence individuals on a short and long term basis is subject to debate. That said, however, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that an individual’s behaviour can be affected by the media. Examples of the way our behaviour is affected by exposure to the media might include areas like sexuality – magazines aimed at teenagers arguably perform a socialising role in terms of understanding sexual relationships.

In summary:

The Glasgow Media Group (1982) have argued that the media have an agenda-setting role – they will show news on the media that attracts attention (to sell newspapers), therefore other news might be hidden. This potentially allows them to indoctrinate individuals – think about Joseph Goebbels.

Values: The values of the media can often shape our own. The article below demonstrates how individuals can be manipulated by the media.

To quote the GMG – “…television… has a profound effect, because it has the power to tell people the order in which to think about events and issues. In other words, it ‘sets the agenda’, decides what is important and what will be featured. More crucially it very largely decides what people will think with; television controls the crucial information with which we make up our minds about the world”.

Norms: Durkheim (1912) stated that the media promotes “boundary marking”. By publicising behaviour, both good and bad, it has the ability to modify society’s behaviour e.g. showcasing that smoking was cool in the 20th century, but now bad in the 21st.

Sanctions: Positive sanctions may involve the use of positive language, praise and so forth, whereas negative sanctions may involve being criticised in magazines or being labelled e.g. immigrants being targetted by newspapers promoting Brexit.


Behaviour: Generally, religion plays a peripheral role in most people’s life (religious beliefs are not central to their personal value system). Indirectly, however, religions play an important socialising role in terms of both influencing general social values and performing certain ceremonial functions (such as marriages, christenings and funerals). This has changed somewhat with globalisation as religiosity is weakening in society.

Values: Morals are a major part of religion e.g. the 10 commandments, capital punishment. Religion often has shaped law e.g. murder is illegal, so too is stealing. Religion mostly uses negative sanctions to shape behaviour e.g. an individual not going to Heaven.

Althusser (1971) saw religion as an ideological state apparatus where individuals are indoctrinated by the dominant ideology.

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