Agents of Socialization

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Agents of Socialization is a sociological concept that specifically regards the areas within our lives that we are exposed to other people within the context of an institution, area of life, or otherwise group that invariably teaches a person about their specific rules, sanctions, and culture.[1] Within an agent of socialization, a person will be exposed to one or more people whom they recognize is like them, and will teach them about the conventions of the given area that they find themselves in. The enforcement type and level on the social conventions that exist greatly shape the way that people operate within their sphere, and can result in the macro shaping of a society if the agent itself is widespread enough. Thus, the analysis of a large agent of socialization on people is a great tool to determine what types of thoughts and beliefs becomes widespread and accepted.

One additional important thing regarding agents of socialization is analyzing the various spheres of everyday social life and how they either cohere or conflict with one another to create a complete picture of an individual's social life. By understanding consistent norms across multiple agents of socialization vs. conflicting rules and regulations between areas of life, you can make better predictions as to the attitudes of the people that are borne from that specific society.


There are many different agents of socialization that all perform different functions and hold different standards to a person throughout their cognitive development. This page will explore some of these realms of social life to allow for tangible references to real things that one can study.

The Family[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Family

Different types of families and family structures contribute to the construction of how one is socialized by the family they grow up in. Not only should one factor in their socioeconomic status, but they should also factor in the structure itself, whether the family be a nuclear family, via a patriarchal structure with the man working and making money for the household, compared to a co-habitated family structure where multiple people in the family are working to provide for the household. These are but two examples of certain types of structuring the family that could potentially define what a family even is to the person within. In addition, the concept of marriage binding two people together to form a familial unit is another thing that is being challenged nowadays, where many families exist where people are single with children, or perhaps living with more than just the two original parents. Even more still, there are examples of step-children in further marriages, continuously redefining what the word 'family' actually means, given that a nuclear family unit is no longer the norm of today.

While one major function of the family is to simply produce offspring, it does a lot more than that. The people that are raising said child in that particular family are exposed to a number of ideas, meanings, and sanctions in regards to what they do. Some simple examples include but aren't limited to: Gender roles that are enforced or explored throughout the children, establishing an early work ethic vs. 'babying' the child, and decisions in what to expose your child before going to public education e.g. museums, sports games, and simply the language you speak.

There are four parenting styles that can all greatly change the way a child is raised. The first is the Authoritarian style, where parents essentially enforce rules to the extreme, providing punishments often for breaking those rules given. The Authoritative style is roughly close, but allows for positive reinforcement instead, with a two way exchange of relationships between the parent and child. The permissive parenting style is one where the child is essentially given freedom and the parent is simply the guide to that child's learning capabilities throughout their life. Finally, the neglectful style is one where the parent is absent in most or all ways of reinforcement, simply not giving a damn about what their child does. While they do not provide punishments for things because they have no boundaries they care about, they also do not provide any additional caring for their needs beyond the basic things to keep them alive.

Each of these parenting styles result in a drastically different view of how the world works, and what the person expects from the world. It can perpetuate class by priming people to gravitate towards certain jobs over others because their styles are similar to how they were raised, and thus continue the class that that person grew up in.[2]


See the main article on this topic: Education

Public education was not always readily available for the masses. Rather, 'education' took place at home, stemming from what the parents and other family members knew about the world, as per the previous section about the family. In contrast, upper class and royalty populations were the ones that got professional teachers to educate them about things, rather than their family members simply explaining the world to them. In this day and age, multiple Americans throughout history, including but not limited to the Puritans, Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann and Henry Barnard have advocated for a public compulsory educational program for all of the country's citizens. Through this education system, there lay within an additional realm of social life that would provide areas of sanctioning for core values beyond the simple learning of knowledge, such as work ethic, understanding the hierarchy that may exist, and building a specific mindset for how the world works.[3]

As such, public and even private educational institutions become places where socialization is a common tool that faculty, staff, and peers alike use to enforce and define norms, values, and meanings within the context of their small-scale world. Not only are there differences of schools in their funding, quality of teachers, and potential religious affiliation, but there are also differences withing a school that are established among the students in a sea of seemingly coherent values and facts that are being taught. For some, education is a place to build upon what was learned at home prior to going, and for others it can be completely contradictory to their home life. Indeed, while one may think that a mass-distributed government funded compulsory education may be consistent across the country, this is frequently not the case.[4]

Pierre BourdieuWikipedia had a lot to say about education, in particular, especially about how it tends to perpetuate and seemingly legitimize class differences between the students within. Citing the concept of cultural capital and how it translates to education, Bourdieu commonly spoke about this disparity and how it results in the social map as it exists today.[5] Children in poverty have been shown to do poor in school, causing them to get bad grades, define themselves as 'worse' than the group of students that get good grades, and move on to work in low-skilled labor, causing them to continue being in lower class portions of the social map. Even though they have taken the same classes as the other students, because of their specific socioeconomic status coming in, they do poorly both in class and in regards to attaining their upper level degree, let alone networking effectively to attain a well-paying job with that degree. Finally, their socioeconomic status itself makes them more susceptible to educational institutions with a lower socioeconomic status as well, due to correlations in geogaphy (e.g. a low income neighborhood is likely to have a low income facility, with underdeveloped programs, training, and materials.) [6]

All in all, education as an institution commonly provides the first out-of-house experience for children, especially in the US, and exposes them to people and ideas that they would not have been exposed to within the family structure. In addition, they learn about types of authority that are separate from familial, and about certain expectations that may or may not cohere with what they experience at the home.

The Media[edit]

With the rising prevalence of technology, it's no secret that our communication abilities as a species have undergone a drastically extreme change at a worldwide scale. Indeed, only within the past 100 years we have gone from a simple landline to literal star-trek videophones and virtual reality goggles. In particular, with the development of technology comes the development of two very important things: a widespread distribution of news, and a prevalence in ways to be social that are not face-to-face interaction like Erving Goffman may talk about.[7]

The evolution from newspapers to news websites was a historically sudden one, resulting in almost 1/3 of the worlds population on the internet and exposed to these types of ideas. With the establishment of mainstream news services such as the Washington Post, CNN, ABC, FOX, and other countless news sites, the availability to attain information has never been greater.[8] As a result, this agent of socialization have evolved from the simple newspaper displaying facts to sensationalized headlines designed to invoke a particular feeling in you, in order to get people to view them. This has the side effect of applying more than just facts into a discussion: you are now being exposed to opinions beyond the factual statements of what is happening.[9]

In particular, one important agent of socialization you could consider a sub-agent of the media would be social media services. No doubt most americans have some form of Facebook, twitter, Snapchat, or other social media service in which one shares information with 'friends'. However, one must remember that content is not given randomly to you.[10] Instead, algorithms exist to attempt to 'give you the best experience in content', for lack of better phrasing. This has the common side effect of only exposing yourself to other people that by and large agree with you, and therefore a person may have an overinflated view of their own perspective of reality and people, commonly seeing posts and advertisements directly pointed at them.[11]

One function of social media like this is the occurence of being exposed to conspiracy theories, as mainstream news doesn't usually stoop to that level of reporting coverage. Heavily opinionated, they are nonetheless circulated around these social media circles, finding people that are trying to understand a situation and slapping an explanation on something they didn't previously understand. They desire control and security for their worldview, and attach themselves to certain theories that fit into what they are trying to find in the first place.[12] In isolation, these are very difficult to spread. However, within the social media sphere, all one has to do is link a single website one time and you can get 10+ people to view the headline you presented. You are introducing new information via a relatively new agent of socialization that further alters what one thinks about the world and other people.

See also[edit]