The Function of Socialization in Social Evolution

Chapter 6: Social Progress

Ernest W. Burgess

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Socialization is not a mere accompaniment of material civilization, nor is it an absolute goal toward which social evolution is moving by its own momentum. On the contrary, the socializing process is functional and relative to the group situation. By functional, I mean that socialization is dynamic and not static in human progress, that it plays an effective part in social change. The relativity of socialization signifies that the coarticulating of individuals into the social consciousness and social will of any given time tends to assume a form which is functionally related to the contemporary group situation. In the preceding chapters we indicated that social organization or the mental interrelation and interaction of the members of a group is an essential condition to progress; it is now our purpose, not only to indicate that socialization plays a dynamic rôle in human evolution, but also that the socialization of the individual is of qualitatively different types in different historical periods and within different classes, and that the criteria of socialization are relative to the group situation within the limit permitted by human nature. The concrete basis for the support of this further step in the thesis is to be found in the résumé of the history of a people viewed as a process of socialization. The outstanding facts of social evolution in England, as presented in the recent social and industrial histories, have been selected to illustrate the 'character of socialization in the typical stages in human progress. No claim for originality in the presentation of this material is made except in so far as its interpretation from the standpoint of socialization may give a new meaning to old facts.

At the outset of the argument, I venture a general classification of the different types of socialization according to the social and industrial organization of the different epochs : (1) The blood-tie was the social bond of the earlier social aggregates, whether of the maternal or of the paternal type. (2) Then association characterized by personal relations gave the dominant impress to social life, as in the village manor and in the town guild. Feudalism exhibits the culmination of this type of social organization. (3) Finally,

( 72) impersonal relations have determined the stratification of society. Capitalism may be regarded as the climax of an evolution based upon the impersonal ties of economic interest.

In offering this classification of periods in English social organization, it is essential to guard against certain misconceptions. In the first place, the separation of the social stages is not rigid, like the Comtian three stages in intellectual development. All that is meant is that in general at one stage of development the family type of organization characterizes all industrial and social life; at a later stage the community type of organization has displaced the family type as a dominant economic and social form; while in the modern period impersonal arrangements have supplanted both the community and the family type of organization.

In the second place, we recognize that in other classifications the stress may fall elsewhere in the socio-economic activities. For instance, emphasis upon industrial production might afford us the following stages of transition in means of technical control over nature : in the first period, hand and tool ; in the next period, manual skill ; in the present age, the machine largely determines psychic type. If we consider exchange as the dominant industrial activity, we have a triple series of economic relations based on barter, money, and credit. If we fix our attention upon the typical concrete aggregations of population, we have the tribal settlement, the village, the town, the city, as the representatives of the successive epochs. Or it may be pointed out that the type of socialization and of class stratification was characterized in primitive times by blood-relationship, then by the possession of land and skill, as now by the control of capital. To these we may add Comte's classification of social stages from military through legal to industrial, and his famous stages in intellectual evolution—the theological, metaphysical, and positive. In fixing our attention upon the character of social arrangements, we by no means would ignore these other aspects of social evolution, but believe that they are to be best studied in their relation of cause and effect to the type of human association.

In the third place, the three forms of socialization are not mutually exclusive. In all ages, kin, personal, and impersonal ties unite men in groups. Indeed, the most cursory survey of modern social life would indicate that all three types of organization are observable in contemporary social and industrial life. The family

( 73) persists, though deprived largely of its economic function, as a vital social unit for the realization of basic human values. The community life in villages and towns still flourishes, but without the old significance for agricultural and industrial enterprise. The various experiments in communistic organization, even though aided by powerful religious support, have been on the whole short-lived and have left little or no impress on industrial organization.

It is evident that the transition from the communal economy of the tribal family to the impersonal organization of the factory system has been accompanied and made possible by a change in social type. There is, of course, a general resemblance between the chief of a tribe, the mediaeval baron, the Elizabethan merchant, and the modern coal magnate, just as there is between the tribesman, the mediaeval serf or journeyman, and the modern proletarian. But the difference between the mental attitudes of these types is as marked as are the changes in the social and industrial world in which they lived. Whether social progress has been accompanied by or has required a better type of man depends largely upon our definition of the terms; but, at any rate, the course of the centuries appears to have progressively demanded that men adjust themselves to increasingly' more complex situations and fit into more complicated human relations, as the economic world has expanded from tribal, village, and town, to national and international relations, as national politics have widened the circle of participation from despotic king and barons to a landed and commercial aristocracy, and at last practically to manhood suffrage, as religion enlarges the scope of personal participation from ritual observance to individual salvation and to social service. The weekly and daily newspaper, popular elections, modern business, to speak of only three universal influences, have compelled the individual in living his life to take into consideration an ever-widening circle of human beings.

At this point it is necessary to say a word in order to guard the conception of the psychic change which takes place from generation to generation. Biology has withdrawn[1] its endorsement of the theory of the transmission of acquired characteristics. Contemporary ethnology, while not denying the existence of special racial differences, is throwing the weight of its support to the position that the law of parsimony requires that no ethnic variation be attributed to

( 74) racial inheritance, which admits of an explanation in terms of social heritage and group environment.[2] In other words, the position of the scientific world at the present time is that the acquired characters of men are socially and not physically transmitted. According to this view, the servility of the European peasant, the independent speech and manner of the American farmer, are to be regarded, not as inborn characteristics, but as acquired by imitation, suggestion, and experience, in reaction to specific social and physical environments.


  1. Thomson, Heredity, 1908, chap. vii.
  2. “Variations in cultural development can as well be explained by a consideration of the general course of historical events without recourse to the theory of material differences of mental faculty in different races."—Boas, The Mind of Primitive Man, 1911, p. 29.

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