The Function of Socialization in Social Evolution

Chapter 1: Discovery and Invention

Ernest W. Burgess

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The purpose of Part I is to indicate the extent to which invention is dependent upon socialization. For economy of attention our study will be concentrated upon practical invention and scientific discovery. This selection of the evolution of technique for intensive study is made because advance in the technical control of nature is not only the most obvious criterion of progress, but also peculiarly open to objective observation and quite typical of the process of all invention. The meaning attached to the term "socialization" has already been given in the introduction. Socialization is the participation of the individual in the community of thought, feeling, and action of the group. The articulation of the individual into the collective activities is not passive, it is active. The socialization of the members of the group does not necessarily or fundamentally mean that they think together, feel together, and act together; not that the ideas and purposes and conduct of the members of the group are identical—indeed they may be radically dissimilar; but that the mental community of the group[1] is constituted by the integration of the thoughts and desires of the individuals, so that the ideas and attitudes of each individual are organically related to those of the other members of the community. This organic relation of the mental attitude of the individual to the social mind, in which the psychic organization of the individual is a product of the reaction of the mind with the social environment, and in which social organization is the outcome of the interaction and consequent integration of many minds, cannot be without significance in human progress. In what way, then, are practical invention and scientific discovery dependent upon this union and interaction of the individual with his mental environment ?

In his essay on "Great Men and Their Environment," William James says : "Social evolution is a resultant of the interaction of

( 8) two wholly distinct factors—the individual, deriving his peculiar gifts from the play of the physiological and infra-social forces, but bearing all the power of initiative and origination in his hands; and, second, the social environment, with its power of adopting or rejecting both him and his gifts. Both factors are essential to change. The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community."[2] This pithy statement sums up our distinction between the processes of origination and generalization. The individual originates, the group appropriates ; the person creates, society con-serves. This is a statement of the process in its lowest terms; James indicates that the working of these factors is more complex. He perceives that an explanation of social evolution either as the product of congenitally gifted individuals or as the mere outcome of social needs and demands would be one-sided. Even an interpretation which combined these two standpoints might prove abortive. For it is not in the conjunction, but in the interaction of the individual and the social factors, that social evolution consists. Our purpose is to study one aspect of the interaction between the originating of the individual and the appropriating by the group, namely, the dependence of the evolution of technique upon the process of socialization.


  1. Cooley's books Human Nature and the Social Order and Social Organization are a valuable analysis of the person and society from this point of view. See Social Organization, 1909, p. 3. Mead in a series of articles has made an acute and significant analysis of the process of the development of the social self, in Psychological Bulletin, VI (1909), 401-8; VII (1910), 397-405.
  2. The Will to Believe, 1897, p. 232.

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