Sociologists agree that socialisation is about understanding what humans do, not through studying the biological or individual psychological make-up of individuals, but by examining the way that the society in which they live influences and shapes what they do.(Woodward, 2000) In the debate about whether humans behave 'naturally' or are 'nurtured', sociologists are firmly on the side of nurture. This is the central argument of sociology.
Societies work or function because of each individual member of that society plays particular roles and each role carries a status and the norms and values appropriate to them from those around us is called 'socialisation'. It takes place because people learn that social sanctions exist to encourage behaviour appropriate to their roles and to discourage inappropriate behaviour. These sanctions maybe negative or positive. Negative sanctions operate at a number of levels. Gender roles, for example, can be maintained informally by calling people names, such as 'tomboy' for girls and 'sissy' for boys.
Persistent offenders maybe ridiculed or even excluded by those around them. Positive sanctions can include praise for what is considered appropriate behaviour, remarking on a girl's pretty dress or a boy's toughness and determination. The most intensive period of socialisation occurs within the family and is called primary socialisation. It is in the family that, by imitation, babies learn to walk and talk, to act like mummy and daddy, and in the process take on the gender roles of those they identify with. In this way we learn to be human.
Different conceptions of what is meant by the term socialisation, and of how this process takes place, tells us much about the wider philosophical positions taken in sociology already outlined. In particular this debate concerns the question of whether a social identity is something that can be chosen and...