A Guide To The 5 Major Theories of Socialization

Theories of Socialization

From the point of view of society, socialization is the way through which society transmits its culture from generation to generation and maintains itself. From the point of view of the individual, socialization is the process by which the individual learns social behavior, develops his ‘self’. There are many theories regarding socialization.

John Locke, Charles Horton Cooley, and George Herbert Mead came up with separate theories of Socialization. All these theories are somewhat similar but yet different in some ways as follows:

Theory of Locke

Locke believed that we are born a clean slate, that we have no personality, and that we learn this through the social environment. He believed that any one person could be molded into whatever he wanted the environment to be.

Interestingly, two other scholars, Cooley and Mead emphasized that socialization is heavily centered upon the development of the concept of self. So, accordingly, they proposed the following “theory of socialization” also known as “theory of personality development”;

Cooley Theory of “Looking-Glass Self”

One of the theories of socialization is the looking-glass self. Cooley believed in the “looking-glass self” which refers to the interactive process by which we develop an image of ourselves based on how we imagine we appear to others. Other people act as a mirror, and so they reflect back the image we project through their reactions to our own behavior.

Mead Theory of the Self

Mead founded ‘theory of the self’ believed that in the beginning, we see ourselves as to how others see us and eventually we not only see ourselves as to how others see us but actually take on or pretend to take the roles of others, allowing us to anticipate what others expect of us, thus learning through the eyes of others.

According to Mead, the Two Parts of the Self: ‘I’ and ‘Me’.

Mead also theorized that the ‘social self consists of two aspects:

  • “I”: the acting, subjective part of the self (a self-awareness)
  • “Me”: the conventional, objective part of the self (a self-image)

Remember: Mead’s ‘theory of the self, is based upon his belief that socialization is a life-long journey.

Freud Psychosexual Theory

Personality Development Theory by Sigmund Freud (also known as ‘psychosexual theory‘) is also one of the important theories of socialization.

Personality is defined as the characteristic pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting of an individual. Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939) came up with the “psychoanalytic theory of personality” development. Freud’s Psychoanalytic theory explains that childhood events and unconscious mind/motivations determine the personality of a person.

According to this theory, children progress through 5 psychosexual stages during psychosexual development. A person becomes ‘FIXATED’ or stuck in a stage when a basic need is not met, therefore that person will face difficulty in transiting from one stage to another. Freud’s Psychosexual Stages is mentioned below:

Stage 1: Oral (0-18 months): Pleasure centers on the mouth-sucking, chewing, biting.

Stage 2: Anal (18 months -3 yrs): Pleasure focuses on bowel and bladder movement (withholding or eliminating feces or urine) coping with demand for control.

Stage 3: Phallic (3-6 years): Pleasure zone is the sexual organs/genitals; Oedipus complex in males and Electra Complex in females. The boy will have the desire to possess his mother and displace his father and the girl will want to possess the father and remove her mother; coping with incestuous feelings.

Stage 4: Latency (6 yrs-puberty): Dormant/ inactive sexual feeling. No fixations occur as the child’s energy is focused on peer activities and personal mastery of learning and physical skills.

Stage 5: Genital (puberty onwards): Maturation of sexual interest. Sexual interest in opposite-sex increases. The child improves their personal identities, develop caring feeling towards others, establish a loving and sexual relationship, and progress in successful careers.

A Theory of Mental Structures:

According to Sigmund Freud, personality (i.e. human psyche) consists of three structural parts as id, ego, and superego:


  • Infants are born with Id intact in them
  • Operates on PLEASURE PRINCIPE – to gain pleasure, avoid pain
  • Driven by sexual and aggressive urges

E.g. I want a chocolate!, E.g. I want it now.


  • The rational level of personality
  • Operates on REALITY PRINCIPLES – does realistic and logical thinking
  • The balance between Id and Superego

E.g. Eats a small bar of chocolate E.g. May be I can find a compromise.


  • Partially unconscious
  • Operates on MORAL PRINCIPLES
  • Able to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong
  • If people follow their superego, they will feel proud but if they don’t follow, they will feel guilty and anxious.

E.g. I am on a super diet E.g. Nice people don’t do that.

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