The purpose of this chapter is to set forth some major criticisms that can be made of the concept of socialization as it is formulated and used by sociologists. To identify problems is not necessarily to provide resolutions, but clearly it is a fundamental step in that process.
The Bergers’ description of socialization was chosen for inclusion as Chapter 1 and for criticism in this chapter because theirs is a particularly sophisticated introductory treatment. While they avoid the pitfalls inherent in overly simplified presentations, the very clarity of their work sets in relief problematic aspects of the concept of socialization. Such problems characterize virtually all introductory treatments (see, for example, Robertson, 1989 and Vander Zanden, 1990). In this chapter, the specific criticisms to be put forth center around two general features of socialization: the concept itself and its range.
Is socialization the name for an identifiable and documentable process whose existence is subject to proof or refutation, or is it rather the name for an assumption made to organize a wide range of activities? Either can prove useful to understanding but they are in no sense interchangeable. What follows is not dependent upon either answer to the question posed, though the ideas presented lead towards the conclusion that the concept of socialization names an assumption rather than an empirically verifiable process. (In Chapter 3, Mackay argues that the concept as it is currently constituted is not a sociological concept at all but merely an everyday adult view of children.)
In the sociological literature, studies of socialization have focused extensively on children and the study of children has been conducted primarily in terms