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Chicken and Egg

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

The process of socialization, which takes the individual human animal and turns her or him into a human, is one that begins at birth and continues until death

In the literature on socialization, there is a strong bias towards psychology, seeing the process as it affects the individual.  Since we are animals, and not empty bottles to be filled with culture, understanding that psychological process is necessary and useful.  We learn different things at different stages of our lives because we are hard wired to learn them at different ages.  Once learned, many of those things cannot be unlearned; the bottles cannot be emptied or refilled so easily.

If we are consistent in maintaining a sociological perspective, however, we need to see the process from the perspective of culture and society.

Society and culture (the sociocultural system) is not the humans but their behaviour and ideas.  It is carried within us but behaves as if it is outside of us.  If there were no living humans, then all the things we now see as culture and society would not exist.

So humans reproduce, but they reproduce as animals.  Culture still has to be learned, through symbols, by those animals.

For culture and society to be perpetuated or reproduced, the process of socialization must take place. The same process has different consequences, and different purposes when seen through the differing points of view of the individual or of society.

As a metaphor, we say that “for an egg to reproduce, it needs to make a chicken.”  We turn upside down the common view that for a chicken to reproduce, it must make an egg.  The process of a chicken making an egg is different from the process of an egg making a chicken.  Yet each are different parts of the same overall process.  This not the “Which came first” metaphor.

Many introductory sociology text books repeat the usual social psychological thoughts of Piaget, Freud and others who are concerned with the process of socialization as it impacts on the individual.  What we need to keep in mind, however, is that, from the social point of view, the process of socialization is a mechanism for perpetuating society and culture.

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