Agencies of social control

The term socialisation is a common term used by sociologists, psychologists, educationalists, anthropologists and political scientist to describe the lifelong process of learning values, norms and customs of a particular society. It provides individuals with skills and understanding that is necessary for conformity and survival.

There are five main groups that are responsible for the process of socialisation, which I will separately discuss in greater depth.

The family

The family is an example of primary socialisation, it is the earliest stage of a person’s learning about culture, for instance, how to eat with a knife and fork.

(Fact: culture is socially constructed – thus it varies from country to country. Example: Chinese culture teaches that it’s a norm to eat with chopsticks, whereas in Western countries (like the UK), children are taught to eat with a knife and fork.)

Through contact with family members, carers and other children (most likely to be siblings), the child learns basic norms and values of society. Also, what children learn varies according to social class, religion, ethnicity, and even the area in which they live. The family uses sanctions to encourage/discourage a child’s behaviour. For example, praise is given to children who say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, whereas bad behaviour is treated with negative sanctions, such as depriving children from what they enjoy, or being put on the ‘naughty step’.

Marxist theory: the family socialises children to comply with the unjust Bourgeoisie/Proletariat class system, commonly known as the ruling and working class. So whilst more affluent families educate their children to accept power and authority, the poorer families teach theirs to accept their role in the inferior class.

Feminist Theory: many feminists argue that the family reinforces gender roles through sanctions. They believe that parents are stricter with girls, which teaches them to be more obedient, while boys’ misbehaviours are largely ignored, brushing it off with language like ‘boys will be boys’. The feminist Ann Oakley points out that gender roles are introduced at an early age through dress code and toys. For instance, the girl is encouraged to wear pink and play with dolls and toy kitchens, whereas the boys are encouraged the wear blue and play with toy cars and action figures.

School

School is an agent of secondary socialisation which teaches pupils the norms and values of society in a formal and informal setting.

(Formal – meaning ‘proper’, or official. In context with this subject, formal education means curriculum-based subjects, which includes geography, Welsh, maths, etc.)

(Informal – meaning ‘improper’, or unofficial. Again, in context with this subject, informal education includes the ‘hidden curriculum’ –a student subconsciously picks up of the way a teacher may act or dress, which influences them to act in a certain way).

Pupils are sanctioned by using formal and informal social control. Formal social control is generally written through school rules, and when they are broken, official sanctions are applied, i.e. expulsion, detention. If a pupil is especially noted for good behaviour or achievements, official sanctions, in this case, could possibly consist of special privileges, praise assemblies etc.

Informal social control is essentially sanctioning, but with fewer, if any, consequences. For example, a pupil is taught that speaking in class is wrong through a verbal warning by a teacher. In the same way, good behaviour is encouraged by a nod of approval from a teacher.

Generally speaking, it is argued that formal social control has a bigger impact on the pupil’s education, yet informal social control still plays an essential part in influencing the pupil into a particular lifestyle and culture.

Lastly, school educates people on an intellectual level, in contrast to the family, who teaches it on an emotional level.

Peer groups

Peer groups consists of members with similar backgrounds or attributes. They tend to live in the same area and attend the same schools, which proves that peer groups can play a fundamental role on socialisation because they usually spend a great deal of time together.

The most obvious and well-known associated term would be ‘peer pressure’, meaning the the individual is under pressure to look and act in a certain way in order to be socially accepted by their peers. Rejection as a sanction is usually enforced when that member fails to conform to peer pressure.

Evans and Chandler once stated that peer pressure influences children to want the latest items, like Iphones and other expensive gadgets.

Often, peer groups can form subcultures that have norms and values that differ from mainstream society. Paul Willis’s study of working-class boys from London showed that they tended to form a ‘Lad-culture’ that rejected the ‘unfair’ class system and created alternative coping strategies to deal with educational failure, for instance, misbehaviour in class. So essentially, a person’s self-esteem, background or ideologies can influence which peer group they are attracted to, whether they have a negative or positive effect on that individual.

The workplace

Paid employment is a term that will play a significant role in nearly every person’s lives in our society. When a worker is new to a particular job, he/she must learn to conform to its norms, values and rules, or face (in)formal sanctions. This process is called re-socialisation.

Mass media

The mass media is a very prominent agency within society. Ranging from music, the internet, television, radio, magazines, newspapers and film, it allows mass communication and globalisation from all corners of the earth. As a result of the mass media being so large, it can influence and socialise people in more ways than any other social agency.

The mass media tends to focus on the distribution of role models that can have a positive and negative effect on the way males and females think and act. Bad role models, such as Kim Kardashian, can teach girls and boys to favour their looks and to destroy their self-esteem when they compare their lives to the (unrealistic) ones of the celebrities they admire.

The mass media also teaches social norms. For instance, the media tends to condemn murderers, which subconsciously teaches that it’s wrong and undesirable to copy it. Then again, especially with the popularity with gaming, games like GTA can potentially influence people to act in a negative way. For instance, the Norwegian serial killer, Anders Breivik, was allegedly playing hours and hours of violent video games before committing his atrocious crimes. On the other hand, some dispute that video gaming was no catalyst for his actions. Anders Breivik is rightfully demonised by the media, which reinforces the point that the mass media can influence one’s moral values.

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