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Essay on Socialization

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Nature versus nurture:
According to one side of the debate, individuals and social behavior are a product of heredity or nature. The others say that individual and social behavior are a product of experience and learning or nurture. Darwin pushed the nature viewpoint in his theory of evolution. “Humans are a product of natural processes”, he said. Evolutionary theorist used his theory to explain cross cultural differences and social inequalities. According to this, the dominant positions the Europeans occupied in the world was a result of natural selection – Asian, African and other people were regarded as biologically inferior. Within a group, people were believed to be rich and poor due to “survival of the fittest”. The concept of survival of the fittest was used to justify genocide.

In the 20th century the pendulum swayed toward “nurture”. Pavlov experimented to show that dogs could be taught to salivate even at the sound of a bell, Skinner showed that pigeons could be taught ping-pong. The experiments were done through “reward” and “punishment”. These social scientists argued that human mind is equally malleable. It was believed that human mind is tabula rasa, upon which experience writes.

Watson wrote: Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-informed, and my own specified world, to bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant chief and, yes, even beggar man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race.(1924). In other words, for behaviorists, socialization is everything.

According to sociobiology, biological principles may be used to explain social activities of social animals including humans. According to sociobiology, human sexual behavior and courtship are based on inborn traits. They point out that in most animals, males are much larger and more aggressive and tend to dominate the “weaker” sex and that is the reason in all human societies, males tend to hold positions of greater authority. However, these issues have remained highly controversial and have been much debated about.

Usually animals placed low on the evolutionary scale grow with little or no help from adults. Behavior of the “young” is more or less similar to the behavior of the “adults”. However, “higher” animals need to learn appropriate behavior. A human infant is most dependent of all. A child can not survive unaided for at least the first four to five years.

Socialization is the process whereby people learn the attitudes, actions and values appropriate to individuals as members of a particular culture. Ways in which people learn to conform to their society’s norms, values and roles. People learn to behave according to the norms of their culture. For example in the U.S., people grow up to view wealth as desirable and to blame the poor for their condition. Socialization occurs through human interaction, – family members, teachers, best friends and also the media and the Internet. Socialization helps us acquire a sense of personal identity and learn what people in the surrounding culture believe and how they expect one to behave. Socialization connects different generations to one another (Turnbull 1983). Birth of a child alters the lives of those who bring up the child. Thus learning and adjustment go on throughout the life cycle.

The process of socialization
Freud viewed socialization as a confrontation between the child and society. According to him there is constant struggle between the child driven by powerful, inborn sexual and aggressive urges and elders who try to impose on the child appropriate behavior. Other sociologists like Cooley and Herbert Mead view it as collaboration between the child and society. Freud’s theory has been largely criticized. Some have rejected the idea that infants have erotic wishes and that what happens during infancy and childhood has its impact throughout life and the feminists have criticized him for directing his theories too much toward male experience.

Mead’s ideas focus on symbolic interactionism. This is the notion that interactions between humans take place though symbols and interpretations of meanings. According to Mead, young children develop as social beings by imitating the action of those around them. In their play, small children often imitate the adults. Mead called this, “taking the role of another” – learning what it is like to be in the shoes of another. At this stage they acquire a sense of self.

Agents of Socialization
In all cultures, the family is the main source of socialization. Later in life, other agencies come into play. In modern societies, children spend most of their early years within a domestic unit consisting of mother, father and maybe siblings. In many cultures, uncles, aunts and grandparents do the caretaking of infants.

Another agency of socialization is peer group. This is a friendship group of children of a similar age (peer means equal). Peer relations are founded upon mutual consent and the relations are reasonable egalitarian. Schools are another agency of socialization. Alongside the formal curriculum there is also hidden curriculum. Children learn discipline. Mass media – newspapers, magazines, radio and TV have become important to our lives and hence important socializing agencies. Television violence leads to violence in some children but educational programs also teach children prosocial behaviors like sharing and getting along with others – Sesame Street, The Cosby show etc. Children are as susceptible to good TV messages as they are to bad ones. Work place involves learning to behave appropriately within a work environment. Socialization at work place represents the harsh reality and realization of an ambition.

Sesame Street Workshop for children

This is a TV workshop that brings certain messages to children and help bring about change in people’s attitudes. The messages help break stereotypes and bridge understanding between people. It teaches them to be respectful and tolerant of others.

CapeTown version of Sesame street is called Takalani Sesame. It has introduced an HIV positive character who is talented but tires very fast. This is done to ensure that kids do not demonize people with AIDS, to destigmatize AIDS victims and to make them socially acceptable. In an episode, when the muppet is asked what she wishes for, she says, “I wish that my mom was alive, that people were kind and that people were healthy”.

The Middle East version of Sesame Street is called Sesame Story. It emphasizes on peace education by connecting Palestinian and Israeli muppets. It narrates stories that humanize people around the world and enhances understanding between people.

“Unsocialized” children (feral or “untamed” children)
What would children be like if they were raised in the absence of adult humans. The story of “the wild boy of Aveyron” goes as follows – In early 1800, a strange creature emerged from the woods in southern France. He walked erect, but looked more animal than human. He spoke only strange sounding shrills. He had no sense of hygiene and relieved himself wherever he chose. He wore no clothes. He was brought to a police station and then taken to an orphanage. He refused to wear clothes, tore them off as soon as they were put on him and no parents came to claim him. After a thorough medical examination, no major physical abnormalities were found. Observation revealed that the boy was not completely without intelligence. Later he was toilet-trained and taught to wear clothes. He learned some human speech but made little progress and died around the age of 40 years.

In another case, a Californian girl named Genie, born with a defective hip was kept locked by her psychotic father for twelve years. Her mother who was blind and highly dependent was also locked up in isolation. The only contact they had with outside world was through a teenage son who went to school and did grocery shopping. Genie was not toilet trained. She had never heard anyone talk, had no toys and was kept tied up by her father who also beat her frequently. When the girl was around 12 years of age, her mother escaped with her and placed her in a rehabilitation center. Here she was toilet-trained, she learned to eat, talk and walk etc. Her mastery of the language never progressed beyond that of a 3 – 4 year old. She was a case of a child who had been deprived of social learning. She was alive but not a social being.

In both the cases of “feral” children, (raised without adults, and in isolation) by the time they came into contact with humans, children had grown beyond the age of learning language and other behaviors. This goes to show how limited our faculties would be in the absence of an extended period of early socialization. Even the most basic human traits depend upon socialization.

Need for love
All studies point to the undeniable need for nuturance in early childhood. Extreme isolation is related to profound retardation in acquisition of social and language skills.

Cross-cultural variations
Cross-cultural studies are also a good indication of the impact of socialization on human behavior. Margaret Mead (1935) conducted a classic study to find out whether women are nurturing by “nature” and men aggressive by “nature”? Her study in New Guinea showed that males proved as mild–mannered and nurturing as the females. Little boys treated infant girls like dolls. Men could not stand to hear a baby cry. Members of both sexes behaved in ways that we might call “feminine”. In another tribe she found that women were as hot-tempered, combative and uncaring as men were. Her work indicated that human behavior is largely learned.

Many adults and even adolescents experience the need to correct certain patterns of prior social learning that they and others find detrimental. Resocialization is a process whereby individuals undergo intense and deliberate socialization designed to change major beliefs and behaviors. Often aimed at changing behaviors like drinking, drug abuse, overeating etc.

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