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  • Writer's pictureRKPROST

Transmitting Culture and Agents of Socialization

Human beings transmit a social groups' norms, expectations, and beliefs to raise the next generation of capable people. Children eventually learn how to become functioning members of society, but there are many theories about this process. Lawrence Kohlberg and George Herbert Mead are two theorists who perceive this process differently. However, they share some similarities in their views.

Lawrence Kohlberg found fascination in how individuals judge situations. He proposed that people move through three fixed stages of moral development. Kohlberg argued people pass through these stages in order, and when they reach a new stage, it replaces the prior one. The first stage is preconventional morality. Children shape their code of morality based upon experiencing consequences when breaking or following the rules. For example, say a child jumps up and down on furniture, and their parent punishes them for doing so. The child may feel shame or guilt for misbehaving. Therefore, they will avoid actions resulting in negative consequences but continue activities granting them rewards.

The next stage is conventional morality. At this stage, individuals internalize social rules established by trusted role models. They judge how to act or what to say based upon the socialized norms of the culture in which they live. For instance, students may think that their favorite teacher will think less of them if they skip school. However, the student's friends may think that the student is not cool because they are a rule-follower by staying in class. In the conventional morality stage, peer approval significantly influences one's judgments. People tend to obey rules, so others perceive them as a "good person" because it upholds the social order.

Post-conventional morality is Kohlberg's third stage. One may stop blindly obeying rules and begin to question customs, behaviors, or laws. An individual then bases their personal moral code by understanding justice. One example would be voting laws which create barriers for people to vote by mail, in person, and on Election Day. While everyone has the right to vote, marginalized Americans encounter systematic barriers, which undermine this right. At the post-conventional stage, one recognizes concern for themselves, others, and the greater good. They may act according to their set of ethics and disregard societal laws to advocate for change.

I disagree with Kohlberg's view of moral development the most. The emphasis on justice excludes the other values one attaches to an attitude, law, belief, or culture. I also believe there is a difference between moral reasoning and moral action. One may respond differently to real situations compared to artificial ones in studies. Additionally, the research Kohlberg performed did not include a sample of people representative of the larger population. While Kohlberg focused his research on moral development, George Herbert Mead studied how one's personality develops.

Mead's theory of social behaviorism explains how one's personality develops because of social experiences. He proposed four ideas about how self-awareness and self-image contribute to one's personality. First, Mead thought biological factors do not influence one's personality. Second, humans convey meaning through language and symbols. For example, humans associate giving someone a thumb up as positive but a thumbs down as a negative. Thirdly, one must think outside of oneself and imagine how others perceive them. By seeing oneself as others do, we can infer their intentions. Finally, Mead's fourth idea is that our self-awareness grows as we continue to see situations from others' points of view. He argued that an individual's self-image consists of two parts. One part of the self operates as being active and spontaneous, while the other works objectively as a mirror in which one can see themselves as others do.

How one thinks of oneself depends on how one believes others perceive them. The subjective self will initiate an action, but the objective self will only continue based on how others respond.

I agree with George Herbert Mead's theory of social behaviorism the most. I value self-reflection and trying to understand other people's points of view. I also believe that people may unknowingly continue to do harmful actions because they have not encountered a social interaction where someone directly expressed their dislike for the specific behavior. However, there are some points Mead makes, which I disagree with. As a person who is adopted, I think there are some personality traits I may be more predisposed to or biologically inherited. My adoptive parent's personalities and my own are different. However, I believe that social experiences impact one's values and beliefs about the world (religion, politics, economic, etc.), but personality traits (shyness, charisma, openness, etc.) are more genetic. Although Kohlberg and Mead researched different topics, they share some similarities.

First, both theorists argue that we develop over time and our sense of self is not inherent at birth. Kohlberg outlines linear stages of moral development. In contrast, Mead suggests that the more social interactions one experiences, the more their personality will develop. Both Kohlberg's and Mead's theories emphasize that humans develop based upon experience and interactions with others. However, Kohlberg argues that people who respect more or are perceived as authority figures have more impact on moral development. Mead argues that our personality develops through mimicking anyone's behavior without necessarily understanding what it means.

Finally, both theorists argue that one eventually reaches a point in their development where they achieve self-awareness to determine what is suitable for oneself and society. Kohlberg suggests that people recognize others have differing opinions, but laws should serve the greatest number of people. Mead suggests that people become self-aware by considering other people's points of view. The overarching similarity these two theorists share is that agents of socialization impact one’s life.

There are many agents of socialization contributing to how I learned my culture. An agent of socialization is an entity, which can teach social expectations and norms to navigate in society. These agents of socialization also changed from when I was young and now as a college student. My family, the media, and school were the primary agents of socialization, which impacted my life. Since I was completely dependent on my family, they taught me how to care for myself and function inside/outside the home.

My father owns a movie rental store, so my relationship between family and media is connected. The genre of media and news programs I watched influenced my beliefs, values, and personality. Also, my public school socialized me to follow directions, meet deadlines, and form friendships. While these three agents of socialization still play an essential role in my life as a college student, they became less of a priority.

Since I am living on-campus, my family no longer is a daily agent of socialization. Therefore, my peers, the workplace, and religion socialize me as a college student. My peers socialize me by being an information source, offering feedback, and supporting my personal growth. Since I work three jobs on-campus, I spend a significant portion of my time in the workplace, where the customs in the office teach me how to use different software and learn the desired soft skills to succeed.

Finally, after growing up in a non-religious household, I discovered SGI-Nichiren Buddhism as a freshman in college. According to Christel Manning, a professor and author of Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children, "…We don't know if it's religion that benefits the children, or if it's just being part of an organized community, with other caring adults that regularly interact with your child" (Manning qtd. in Prichep). Although I was a part of several organized communities such as sports, music, and clubs as a child, my religion socializes how I approach my overarching goals, life philosophy, and worldview. My parents and siblings do not practice, but I have been very involved in the Buddhist community in the Twin Ports area for the past three years. Daily faith, practice, and study of Buddhism contributed to my personality and moral development transformation compared to when I was a child.

In conclusion, people learn about a society's culture and how to function in it through socialization. Lawrence Kohlberg and George Herbert Mead share elements of their theories, yet each is still unique. While some agents of socialization stay consistent throughout one's life, some become more of a priority than others as one age. Regardless, people have the potential to change because socialization is a never-ending process.

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