Socialization is a term used to describe the process of teaching or instructing an individual, formally or informally, how to behave and understand what is acceptable in a society and what is not. It is important for the basic functioning of an individual if he/she is to be successfully integrated into the society he/she lives in. An agent of socialization is therefore, by definition, a person or an organization which carries out the task of communicating order and morality of a society to an individual. It can also be a group of people who influence an individual’s understanding of a self, his/her emotions, attitudes, and behaviors. Agents of socialization are therefore made up of a conglomerate of human and non-human factors, which can also be divided into formal and informal agents. For example, family, school, peer groups, mass media, religion, work place, could all be considered agents of socialization, while family and peer groups could be considered informal agents of socialization; they are influential in guiding a person’s character formation less formally, but according to the accepted norms in a society.
At the same time, family and friends could also be considered primary agents, as they are closest to an individual and can influence his/her behavior within the society. Even within peer groups, socialization is strictly monitored to mirror the influence and moral guidance that a growing child would receive from home (Kasper, n.d.). On the other hand, religious institutions, work places, and schools could be considered formal, as well as secondary agents, since they represent actual institutions, the influence on an individual from which comes at a later stage – when basic morality and norms have been instilled by the family circle. Socialization is important as it ensures that new generations are taught accepted customs well through the perpetuation of morality and norms that have been established by previous generations.
There are many effects of Agents of Socialization on any particular society. One of the effects is called the Effect on Life Cycle; it is explained as the effects of socialization resulting in an alteration of the society’s beliefs and behaviors over time. An example could be the changes observed after political revolutions. Resocialization is another term used to describe the alteration of expectations and mindsets of people as a result of the exposure to different norms in the same society. Another effect of socialization is the Period Effect, in which a great event creates a major impact not only on an individual, but on the entire society; for example, the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Finally, the Cohort Effect involves a single social event that has a major impact on a specific group of people within the society. The process of socialization and its agents can therefore alter the face of any given society over time, depending on the degree of impact of any social event.