The Function of Socialization in Social Evolution

Chapter 11: Personal Development

Ernest W. Burgess

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Social valuation, social heredity, social organization, social stimuli, are all involved in scientific discovery and mechanical invention: this argument constituted our proof for the function of socialization in material progress. The history of the English people is exhibited as a process involving the participation of wider groups in the developing sentiment, knowledge, and activity of a nation : this survey demonstrated that socialization plays an essential rôle in social evolution. Two parts of the thesis have now been exhibited, and we therefore come to the consideration of the third proposition, namely, that the socialization of the individual, in the sense of the all-round participation of the person in the knowledge, in the feeling, and in the activity of the group, is necessary for the fullest personal development and for social progress.

In this statement of the final step in our thesis, we have taken for granted two characteristics of socialization, which, while commonplaces in our thinking, should nevertheless be analyzed to avoid the possibility of later misunderstanding. The first point, tacitly assumed in our definition, is the recognized fact that socialization is fundamentally a mental process, and progressively calls into play the higher psychic processes. Societies exist below the human stage, but how different is the character of animal socialization ! The bees and the ants in their social organization exhibit a marvelous co-adaptation of individuals, but the co-ordination here is mechanical and instinctive, imbedded in the physiological makeup of the organ-ism. In primitive and savage society we appreciate the immense advance from the instinctively fixed conduct of the animal to the socially imposed ways of action. The taboos and the "mores" of the group, illogical, arbitrary, often injurious, exercised a social control in which the emotional element was predominant. In modern society a higher type of socialization is evolving, which will permit a natural and co-ordinated development of the instinctive tendencies under the discipline of reason, good taste, and social feeling. Outer,

( 177) coercive control is being superseded by the spontaneity of inner direction. An awareness by the head and by the heart of the interdependence of the interests of the person and the group makes possible a socialization organized to promote aims and ends rationally defined, a socialization at the same time buttressed by a solid masonry of social sentiment.

Before we turn to the consideration of the second point, it is appropriate to emphasize the importance of the rôle of mental development in socialization. The fundamental fact in the life of the individual is its mental nature. This is also true of society. The unity that holds the group together, whether derived from past experience, present activity, or future purpose, is psychic. The changes which are taking place in society, no matter how material or physical their origin, become socially important when they are registered in the formation of individual and group feeling and thought. Thus a thunderstorm, which is of slight social significance to a modern community, will undoubtedly be of prime social import to a savage tribe. All qualitative social changes are, at bottom, transformations of mental attitude. The change in the point of view on the part of Mr. Gary and Mr. Carnegie in the last twenty years in regard to government regulation of industry is a striking example of a process of social mental interaction in which the American people are participating. The changing attitude of the North and South upon the negro situation is an element of difficulty or of help in the solution of the problem. These two illustrations must suffice to represent the multitude of facts which might be presented to indicate that, from first to last, the mental interrelations of persons constitute the social structure and determine social function.

The second point, tacitly assumed in our definition and implicit in the preceding chapters, is that socialization has become the central factor in evolution. Animalization, cephalization, socialization, are the three important stages in evolution, in the animal, in the primeval human, and in the social-human situations. Animalization begins with the first organisms capable of free movement and reaches its highest point of development in the highest complexity of movements which can constitute a co-ordination, an end not achieved until cephalization has reached a high stage. Cephalization begins with the tendency toward centralization in the nervous system. It has apparently ended with the human mind as we know it today, appar-

( 179) -ently fixed as to its faculties. Yet the potentialities of the human mind find their development in a situation only possible by the higher stages of socialization. Socialization begins at the point where the evolution of the mental interrelations of the persons in the group became of more importance to progress than the congenital physiological and neural development of the individual. To indicate the rôle of socialization in human progress, it is sufficient here to call attention to the dependence of civilization upon the evolution of communication, the external apparatus of socialization, in the perfection of the arts of language and writing, and in the mechanical development of transportation and transmission as exemplified in the rail-road, the cable, and the telegraph.

With this explanation of the mental basis of socialization and of the dependence of progress upon socialization, we turn to a consideration of the person in his social relations. The individual, or rather the person, stands as the ultimate concrete unit of society. Physically, he is a biological unit. His thoughts and desires constitute him a social unit, although the concrete embodiment of his ideas and attitudes is only to be found in groups and in social intercourse. Accordingly, an analysis of the mode of willing, feeling, and thinking of this. human organism is all-important, if we would proceed farther to discover the sources and the manner of his conduct in social relations.

To the psychologist of the present day, the simplest description of mental life is in terms of stimulus and response, a concrete objective account of the behavior of an organism. With this insistence upon the unity of conscious activity, the psychologists recognize that behavior may be studied from three aspects. We may stress either the intellectual element, the feeling element, or the volitional element in the act. Such an analysis has been given us by the functional psychologists. What is the function of the cognitive aspect of mental activity? In consciousness on the ideational side, memory, imagination, and reasoning, are "simply half-way houses between stimuli and reactions, which serve to permit the summoning of just those movements which the present situation demands, when interpreted in the light of the individual's past experience."[1] The nature and the extent of information possessed by the person are certainly important factors in the socialization of the individual.

( 180) In distinction from the detached nature of ideational activity in which the response is delayed for the more efficient organization of the reaction, the part played by the affective element is its presentation of an immediate attitude of response to the situation in question. The function of affective consciousness is to Angell "to incite, at once, appropriate motor reactions."[2] The "mores" on their emotional side present the highest sanction for conduct conceived by the group to promote the social welfare. Neglecting for purposes of analysis the knowledge-bringing and attitudinal part of consciousness, we may direct our attention exclusively to activity. "The development of volition is neither more nor less than a process of reducing our impulses to order, and . . . a mature character is simply one in which the impulses are thus subordinated to some systematized principles."[3] The roots of our impulses are fixed in the deep soil of heredity, but the influences which determine their growth and organization are found almost entirely in the social environment.

Any study of the individual apart from his social relations is partial. These three functional aspects of mind, the cognitive, the affective, and the volitional, which enter into the organization of the self, are at the same time factors in social organization. The comparison between the unity of personality and the social unity is close and illuminating. What is the self ? Introspectively, the self appears as feelings of approval or disapproval, definite attitudes toward the environment. Objectively, the self is activity. Knowledge, even meaning per se, appears not so much a part of self, as an instrument by which not only the self but other selves may secure ends. Let us now observe the homologies in society. What is a group, the American people, for example? Considered passively, the American people is a unified organization of attitudes, sentiments, and impulses, crystallized about the family, the community, the nation; hearty prejudices against idleness, the expert, Wall Street; strong sanctions[4] for competition, democracy, and monogamy. While we may thus define the American people from the standpoint of feeling, the social unity can no more be expressed in terms of the cognitive phase of activity than can the self. Personality is not

( 181) knowledge, for knowledge is universal. The American people can-not be defined in terms of the scientific advance of the twentieth century nor yet in the technical skill of its citizens, for the achievement and the tools of the people do not constitute the people. The definition from the dynamic point of view is more satisfactory. The American people, once an agricultural aristocracy bent on self-direction, then a pioneer people with national aims struggling against the movement for disunion for the purpose of perpetuating an inhumane slave system, is now an industrial nation, engaged in solving the pressing questions of achieving social justice and political and industrial democracy. Only statically can we define a nation even in terms of attitudes, for these feelings are in a state of flux and may change overnight. In any functional sense, national and social unity finds its completest expression in the associated activity.

The comparison may be carried a step forward. The social psychologist has made clear the process by which the self, the social self, is developed in interaction with the growth of other selves, so that the attitudes, the knowledge, and the activity of the person are determined, or at least controlled, by the influences emanating from other selves. This process of socialization has had even a wider rôle in society. Our fund of verified knowledge is the product of the co-operation of individuals working together under controlled conditions, despite the limitations of time and space. Our attitudes toward life are largely due to the integration of feeling and of opinion that is always organized out of the individual reactions of the members of a group, face to face with a common environment. We have all, upon entering a new group, become aware of an organized sentiment and opinion, and have had the sense of loss of control until we have become oriented with reference to the directions in our new social world. Our activities, also, with every revolution of the earth about the sun, are becoming more and more an interdependent and correlated whole, controlled and impelled by a union of social knowledge and social sentiment, by which the person consciously co-ordinates his own aims with those of others in the promotion of social ends.

With this preliminary survey of the general function of the cognitive, the affective, and the volitional elements in socialization, we pass to a more detailed study of the part played by each aspect of mental activity in the socialization of the person.


  1. Angell, Psychology, 1908, p. 301.
  2. Op.cit., p. 320.
  3. lbid., p. 430.
  4. Cf. Sumner, "Mores of the Present and the Future," in the Yale Review, XVIII (1909), 235.

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