The Function of Socialization in Social Evolution

Chapter 15: Conclusion

Ernest W. Burgess

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Socialization is the dominant factor in human progress. The analysis of its character and significance has been the central object of this essay. Emphasize, as we must, the influence of geographic environment or the rôle of heredity in determining both the characteristics of ethnic groups and individual differences in temperament and mentality within groups, yet the problem of a scientific explanation for human evolution is only partially solved. Socialization, or the coparticipation of persons in the mental unity of group life, is, as we have seen, the efficient determinant in progress. Over against the physical environment we place the social environment. The physical environment provides the condition for social life: the social environment with its tools of thought and technique functions for the efficient control of the environment. Over against physical heredity we emphasize social heredity. Physical heredity with its chromosomes, its unit determinants, and its laws of dominance and of segregation determines the physical characteristics and mental capacity of the person : social heredity endows him with the social capital of humanity. And what are social environment and social heredity but aspects of the process of socialization? With every step in human progress both personal and social development and achievement are less and less dependent upon the immediate pressure of , the geographic environment or upon the congenital physical and mental equipment of the person and are more and more determined by the nature and degree of his participation in the process of socialization. Socialization, we repeat, is the central process in social evolution.

It is not necessary at this point to make a detailed résumé of our evidence for the dominant rôle of socialization in human development. The inner unity of our thesis is vindicated by the dynamic part played by the socializing process in material evolution, in social progress, and in personal development. Our present efficient control over nature is but the objective expression of the functional organization of the minds of men down the ages and

( 233) across continents that we have named socialization. Our present social order, imperfect as it is, our codes of morals, our standards of conduct, and our ideals—the social organism in its most rigid form and its most plastic tendencies—is a passing stage in socialization. Then, too, the degree of the development of personality, whether measured by the technique of control over things and persons, or by aesthetic refinement and emotional power, or by the rhythm of action and reaction in the social life, stands for the index of the socialization of the individual.

So, then, this study of the rôle of socialization in social evolution has a practical significance. The dependence of discovery and invention upon socialization leads us to reject the doctrine of economic determinism. Geographic influences, in general, but condition and only in extreme instances determine human activity. The social environment, social heredity, social organization—in a word, socialization—are the dominant forces. Thus, instead of economic determinism we have psychic and social determinism.

In speaking of social determinism we mean more than Ward incorporated in his term "social telesis." For Ward, as we have seen,[1] thought that society could only accelerate, but not direct, the course of social evolution. But social determinism is the constructive phase of the process of socialization, and signifies the evaluation of social tendencies and the consequent direction of the movement of society toward the highest human welfare. Recognition of the process of socialization means that social evolution in the future is not to be the outgrowth of economics, but rather the product of ethics. In the failure to perceive this fact, as Professor Ellwood has demonstrated,[2] lay the error of Marx.

What Marx did emphasize, however, and with rough truth, was that the emergence of the working class into the world of action would amount to a revolution. His mistake lay in too crude a conception of the social change involved, namely, in his blindness to the subtle processes of socialization. He dreamed of social ends being achieved by violence, and of the violent taking the coming

( 234) social kingdom by force. He did not appreciate the force of the mental explosion of the proletariat into the thought-world which hitherto had been effectually safeguarded against the masses. The study of social progress in England which we have made is an interpretation of the class struggle from the standpoint of socialization. All indications point to an intellectual rather than a physical solution of the conflict. For all social orders, according to our analysis, rest upon and require a reconstruction of mental attitude and are characterized by a peculiar type of socialization.

However basic pecuniary values are for the realization of human values,[3] it is in the human values that the aspirations of men find realization. Since the passing of primitive democracy human nature has been warped in every social order to meet the peculiar requirements of efficiency in the industrial activities of that order. With the realization of democracy in our present age it is now possible to reconstruct our social order so that it will conform more nearly to the fundamental impulses of human nature.

At any rate, the realization of a socialized order is bound up, in the interplay of cause and effect, with the socialization of the person. The identification of the individual in thought and sympathy with the ongoing of humanity will multiply the tendencies toward the social direction of human evolution. In the future we may hope to parallel in the achievement of social control our present efficient physical control over nature. This control over men is not to be won by the loss of individual freedom and happiness. Indeed the harnessing of our social forces is to come, we believe, in its most efficient and effective form through increasing the freedom and heightening the happiness of the person. If this be a paradox, the clue to its solution lies in the socialization of the per-son. The socializing of the individual means that he consciously shapes his aims and purposes to harmonize with the promotion of the coordinated welfare of all members of society. The fact that the person is the center of initiative and invention, that rivalry with his fellows releases the "reserve stores of energy," means from the standpoint of socialization that the individual will be recognized as the active agent in social reconstruction. In so acting he realizes his best self. His fullest participation in the store of knowledge, in

( 235) the higher refinements of play and of art, and in both the generalized and the specialized social activities results in the development of personality and in the joy and happiness of life.

Thus, for material evolution, for social progress, and for personal development the factor of socialization has dwarfed the factors of geographic environment and inborn mental capacity. Socialization has become the predominant force in social evolution. Wish the establishment of this point the primary purpose of our thesis is accomplished.

There is, however, a secondary object of methodological rather than of practical importance. The attempt has been made to formulate the content of the term "socialization." For the progress of sociological thinking it was deemed desirable to develop a coherent organization of the concept "socialization."

A cursory examination of both social and sociological literature reveals the need of such an attempt. In contrast with the term "physical environment" and with the term "physical heredity" it is desirable to have a definite unitary conception. This has been the purpose of our analysis of the term "socialization." "Social environment," "social heredity," "education," "nurture," "social capital,"and numerous other phrases now in current use are all aspects of the process of socialization and get a more definite and dynamic significance when this relationship is recognized. The old controversy as to the relative influence of heredity and environment upon the life of the person loses its ambiguities and vagueness when the confused middle, i. e., the social influences, is clearly defined and socialization is recognized as the decisive factor.

Among sociologists the process of socialization has been often pointed out since Simmel gave the term currency,[4] yet with the larger number it has not been given an adequate place in the sociological system. Spencer "blazed the trail" in his rather crude analysis of the process under the mechanical term "super-organic evolution."[5] Ward went wide of the mark when he maintained that "achievement"[6 ] is the central fact of human association. Giddings was closer to the truth, but seriously limited his explanation

( 236) of the operation of the social forces when in his earlier writings he confined his attention too closely to the "consciousness of kind."[7] Small, however, concentrated his analysis upon the main aspect of human evolution in his clear and thorough description of the concept "the social process."[8] We may point out here that while the social process is the form, socialization is the product of human association.

In the actual analysis of socialization individual sociologists have also tended to overestimate certain aspects of socialization to the exclusion of others. Socialization of the person is not merely on the cognitive side (Ward[9] ) ; nor on the affective side (Ross[10] and Giddings[11] ) ; nor on the volitional side (Ward[12] ) ; but is the all-round development of all these aspects of the self in the free and full participation of the person in social thought, social sentiment, and social action.

With this explanation of the primary and secondary purposes of the thesis we close our study. Adequate recognition of the scope and play of socialization in social evolution should have a part in the quickening of social thinking and in the enlightening of social action.

In conclusion, we may restate the thesis and the argument. The socialization of the person consists in his all-round participation in the thinking, the feeling, and the activities of the group. In

( 237) short, socialization is "personality freely unfolding under conditions of healthy fellowship." [13] Society viewed from this aspect is an immense co-operative concern for the promotion of personal development. But social organization is not the end of socialization; the end and the function of socialization is the development of persons. The relation is even closer: personality consists, almost wholly, in socialization, in this mental interaction of the person and his group. The person is coming to realize that in achieving his interests he must at the same time achieve functional relations with all other persons. In this achieving of right relations with his fellows, in this capacity of fitting "into an infinitely refined and complex system of co-operation,"[14] the development of personality consists.


  1. Supra, p. 190, note.
  2. "The social problem . . . is not simply or fundamentally an economic problem; rather it is fundamentally a biological and psychological problem—if you please, a moral problem."—Sociology and Modern Social Problems, 1910, p. 302.
  3. Cf. Cooley, "Valuation As a Social Process," in the Psychological Bulletin, IX, 441.
  4. "The Problem of Sociology," in the Annals of the American Academy, VI (1895), 412—23; see especially p. 417, note.
  5. Principles of Sociology, 1876, I, chap. i, "Super-organic Evolution."
  6. Pure Sociology, chap. iii, "The Subject-Matter of Sociology."
  7. "The central doctrine of this book is that the consciousness of kind distinguishes social from non-social phenomena, and is the principal cause of social conduct."—Principles of Sociology, 1896, Preface, p. ix.
  8. General Sociology, Parts V-IX, pp. 325-729.
  9. Supra, p. 185.
  10. "The socializing process is that growth in the closeness and extent of similarity which multiplies sympathies, promotes co-operations, and makes for harmony among men."—Foundations of Sociology, 1905, p. 262.
  11. "The process of getting acquainted with one another, of establishing sympathies and friendships, of learning to enjoy association, and of discovering how to co-operate with one another in our work, we may call socialization."—Inductive Sociology, 1901, p. 59.
  12. "Socialization is conscious, intentional, wished for, and welcomed telic action, not of the individual as such, but of those individuals into whose hands society, by whatever means, intrusts the conduct of its affairs."—Pure Sociology, p. 547.
  13. Ross, Social Control, Preface, p. viii.
  14. Small, General Sociology, p. 710.

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