How does culture influence socialization?

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Culture and socialization really go hand in hand. Humans are social creatures, meaning we interact with one another through complex systems of rules and symbols as a part of our survival. Human babies are born with little ability to care for themselves, so a social network of parents and family...

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Culture and socialization really go hand in hand. Humans are social creatures, meaning we interact with one another through complex systems of rules and symbols as a part of our survival. Human babies are born with little ability to care for themselves, so a social network of parents and family members are needed to help care for the baby. Socialization doesn't end after infancy, though! We go on to create, maintain, and sometimes break off social arrangements and relationships for the rest of our lives.

One of the features of culture is that it is self-replicating, but only in the context of socialization. This works on both a micro and macro scale. On the micro, humans interact with one another in a series of engagements. For example, if you wave and say "hello" to a friend when you see them, you are acting out, re-creating, and transmitting cultural information! On the macro scale of socialization, over long periods of time and across populations, cultural information may be transmitted, created, and re-created. Think about what might have been the appropriate way to say "hello" to a friend several centuries ago. Why kind of social structures were in place? Would you tip your hat and say, "Good day?" Would you require introduction before speaking? Culture shapes socialization and social norms, but at the same time, socialization enacts and transforms culture.

If we consider the micro-level socialization more closely, we can think about the many ways socialization manifests around the world. We can consider what is and isn't appropriate for socialization. Many of these rules we feel we know without having to say it out loud, but I think those can be some of the most interesting rules to examine! 

Let's compare a few examples from different times and places:

Let's say that you are invited to a family dinner, and you see a child reaching for a glass of wine. In our day and possibly your culture,  you might want to tell the child not to drink that! Throughout history, though, it was quite common for children to drink beer and wine because it was cleaner and more nutritious than water. Today, most cultures have a social contract that children do not drink alcohol, but this might not have been the case even as near as one hundred years ago.

At this same dinner, you are introduced to a family member's friend, who is from Pakistan and practices Islam. Because you are left-handed, you reach out with this hand to shake theirs. Your acquaintance looks concerned or possibly fearful, but why? In Muslim culture, the left hand is not appropriate for shaking with or handling food, because it is used for personal cleansing before prayer. Most Muslim people are quite understanding and willing to explain this intricacy if someone offers their left hand for shaking, but culture clash can always be a little embarrassing!

The rules of appropriate socialization vary widely throughout time and across space, and they are even changing right now!

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