Are we humans, or are we dancers? Socialization 101.

By Diana Cristolţean

Leaving the philosophy of The Killers’ music aside for the moment, it is surprising to me how it gets more and more confusing over time to write a description of oneself, even for 3rd year Journalism students. We all reacted kind of disappointed when we heard that we need to introduce ourselves (again). Of course, since we love living dangerously we also pushed the deadline a bit. Then, we found ourselves struggling to choose the proper words to convey the uniqueness of each of us, over thinking and hyper analyzing, until frustrated, one mindlessly types “human being”, “creature” or “individual”. “I’m just a human being, after all, why such a big fuss?.”

Being human is being able to reason, having a set of values as guidelines and being capable of developing emotions. We shape a personality, a self-identity in the process of socialization. Thankfully, this does not refer to socializing on Facebook, since we’re all  sort of specialized in that and this post would be pointless.

The act of conforming ourselves to the society’s norms and values, of behaving accordingly, is called socialization and it can be done with the interference of some agents: persons, groups and institutions and last but not least, the school, the family, the media and the church or other significant groups. Socialization refers to learning rules of conduct and thought in order to live inside a given society and it’s a way of surviving. It’s also a form of passing some cultural habits and aspects, this being the reason why the content of socialization taught in different parts of the world differs, but not the way of teaching it. (take for example eating). Even more strikingly different are our experiences with some subcultures like ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.

Human beings are the result of mixing the nature with the nurture. Nature refers to biology, to instinct, to what we’re genetically inheriting from our ancestors, while nurture goes for previous personal experiences, for the training that was provided to one. Almost every human action is thought to be social, because we learned it from others.

There were times when body products like blood or bile were thought to influence the way we act (Japanese still strongly believe that blood types define who we are and how we contribute to the society; thank God I’m type A, so that I still have a chance of getting employed by them), then it was considered that everyone was naturally gifted with wisdom, until Freud stepped in and said that we’re both nature and nurture.

Freud’s psychoanalytic approach on personality development

What he did was name 3 phases in which one’s personality develops. First, there is the id which represents all the basic biological drives of an individual. These asks to be immediately met, however, the child discovers that they sometimes require time.

Further on the personality development scale, is the ego, the social self. It appears when he/she sees that not all of the needs are going to be fulfilled. This acts like a restriction to the inner urges, being also considered by Freud as the “rational, realistic” aspect of the personality shaping process. While the id represents the self-centeredness, the ego is how we perceive ourselves in relation to how the rest see us.

Last but not least, he mentions the superego, which represents the conscience, the fact that parents impose their beliefs, “what is best for you”, and the fact that the child realizes that these are later imposed by the society. Superego represents the utmost ethics and values. An equilibrium between id and superego is needed in order for someone to be well integrated in a society, to have a balanced personality.

With regards to agents of socialization, Freud pinpoints the importance of the same-sex parent in the development of one’s personality, because he/she is the one copied by the child (as he says, the child is seeking the opposite sex parent’s love and attention). Even though there is competition with the same-sex parent, the child imitates the same-sex parent in order to attract the other, being the child’s first socialization agent.

Social approaches on personality development

According to sociologists, it is impossible to get to know yourself and perceive your identity if you don’t interact with others. We acquire the sense of self or self-concept in time, after many social experiences, we’re not born with it; it refers to how we perceive we are. Its absence can be seen in the case of children who were isolated. Because they didn’t interact with other human beings, they did not see themselves as the others see them. There are 2 theories with regards to how we develop due to our encounters with others.

The Glass-Looking Self

This concept is related to the way in which a person’s self-identity is influenced by the image that he/she believes others have of him/her. Of course, this can only happen after interacting with other people. It works in 3 steps:

-one imagines how he/she looks like to others

-then, he/she imagines what others think of that particular image, how they judge it;

-lastly, if he/she agrees with the outcome, the self-concept is constructed, if not, it isn’t.


This concept is seen as a completion of the aforementioned one and it deals with how playing a role is leading to the enhancement of a self-concept. It does that because by playing a role, one tries to understand the world through that character’s point of view. Three levels were defined here as well:

1. Preparatory level – when children only attempt to mimic their significant others = the ones associated with love, care, or other strong feelings (usually parents).

2. Play level – is represented by the actual play, when they act knowing a bit more about their role. When children take on roles while playing: one is the mom, one is the dad, and one can be the baby, one is the cat, etc.

3. Game level – it happens when they already know what their goal in playing is, what the other participant have to do, and what are the generalized other’s expectations of him/her. The generalized other represents the society’s demands. (for example, a baseball game).


Here’s for bearing with me:

And some bibliographical sources:

Kornblum, William and Carolyn D. Smith, 2008, Sociology in a Changing  World, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, Chapter 5.

Kendall, Diana, 2007, Sociology in Our Times. The Essentials,  Wadsworth Cengage Learning, Chapter 3.


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