Chapter Study Outline

What Is Human Nature?

  • The nature vs. nurture debate refers to the ongoing discussion of the respective roles of genetics and socialization in determining individual behaviors and traits. Ultimately both sides do play a role in making us the people that we are.

The Process of Socialization

  • Socialization is the process of learning and internalizing the values, beliefs, and norms of our social group and the process by which we become functioning members of society. The socialization process begins in infancy and is especially productive once a child begins to understand and use language, but it also is a lifelong process that continues into adulthood.
  • Examining cases of people who have grown up with very little social contact with other human beings, and experienced great social isolation, is one way to understand the significance of socialization.

Theories of the Self

  • The self is our experience of a distinct, real, personal identity that is separate and different from all other people. Sociologists look at both the individual and society to gain a sense of where the self comes from. Most believe the self is created and modified through interaction over the course of a lifetime.
  • Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic approach divides the mind into three interrelated systems. The id consists of basic inborn drives that are the source of instinctive psychic energy. The superego is composed of the conscience, which serves to keep us from engaging in socially undesirable behavior, and the ego-ideal, which upholds our vision of who we believe we should ideally be. The supergo represents the internalized demands of society. The ego is the realistic aspect of the mind that balances the forces of the id and superego.
  • Charles Cooley believed that one’s sense of self depends on seeing one’s self reflected in interactions with others. The looking-glass self refers to the notion that the self develops through our perception of others’ evaluations and appraisals of us.
  • George Herbert Mead expanded Cooley’s ideas about the development of the self. Mead also believed that the self was created through social interaction and that this process started in childhood, with children beginning to develop a sense of self at about the same time that they began to learn language. Mead argued that one of the key developments was the ability to think of ourselves as separate and distinct and to see ourselves in relationship to others. When children can take the perspective of the generalized other, rather than specific individuals, they have passed through the final stage of development.
  • Erving Goffman believed that meaning is constructed through interaction. His approach, dramaturgy, focuses on how individuals take on roles and act them out to present a favorable impression to their "audience." Goffman argued that people are concerned with controlling how others view them, a process he called impression management.

Agents of Socialization

  • Agents of socialization are the social groups, institutions, and individuals that provide structured situations in which socialization takes place. The four predominant agents of socialization are the family, schools, peers, and the mass media. The family is the single most significant agent of socialization and teaches us the basic values and norms that shape our identity. Schools provide education and socialize us through a direct as well as a hidden curriculum (a set of behavioral traits such as punctuality, neatness, discipline, hard work, competition, and obedience) that teaches many of the behaviors that will be important later in life. Peers provide very different social skills and can become more immediately significant than the family, especially as children move through adolescence. The media has become an important agent of socialization, often overriding the family and other institutions in instilling values and norms.
  • Resocialization is the process of replacing previously learned norms and values with new ones as a part of a transition in life. A dramatic form of resocialization takes place in a total institution. This type of institution (a place such as a prison, cult, or mental hospital) cuts off people from the rest of society so that their lives can be controlled and regulated for the purpose of systematically stripping away previous roles and identities in order to create a new one.

Statuses and Roles

  • A status is a position in society that comes with a set of expectations. An ascribed status is one we are born with that is unlikely to change. An achieved status is one we have earned through individual effort or that is imposed by others. One’s master status is a status that seems to override all others and affects all other statuses that one possesses.
  • Roles are the behaviors expected from a particular status. Role conflict occurs when the roles associated with one status clash with the roles associated with a different status. Role strain occurs when roles associated with a single status clash. Either of these may lead to role exit.

Emotions and Personality

  • Though we tend to believe that our emotions are highly personal and individual, there are social patterns in our emotional responses. Role-taking emotions are emotions like sympathy, embarrassment, or shame, which require that we assume the perspective of another person and respond from that person’s point of view. Feeling rules are socially constructed norms regarding the expression and display of emotions and include expectations about the acceptable or desirable feelings in a given situation. Emotion work refers to the process of evoking, suppressing, or otherwise managing feelings to create a publicly observable display of emotion.

New Interactional Contexts

  • Though most sociological perspectives on interaction focus on interactions that occur in copresence (when individuals are in one another’s physical presence), modern technology enables us to interact with people very far away. Postmodern theorists claim that the role of technology in interaction is one of the primary features of postmodern life.