The Influence of Society on the Individual

Weber and Durkheim offer different approaches to how socialization occurs, what the processes and stages are and to what degree society influences us in our daily lives.

There are two differing conflicting points of view when examining the influence of socialization on the individual. The “objective view”, building on theories by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), claims that society has a strong influence on the individuals who need to adapt themselves to an already determined fixed society. The “subjective view”, following ideas by Max Weber (1864-1920), claims that the response or reaction of the individual is a determining factor that constantly and consistently shapes and molds society itself.

What is Socialization?

Socialization is the process through which people become acquainted with and learn about their culture and are then transformed into members of their society. Culture represents values and ideals transmitted from generation to generation which then give rise to an individual identity embedded in that particular culture. Individuals gain specific knowledge and necessary abilities to participate and become active members of social life; this in turn influences the characteristic and unique behaviors of their society.

The Three Stages of Socialization

There are three different stages of socialization that take place at given moments in one’s life. The first one occurs when individuals become part of a nuclear family and develop a sense of themselves as separate and distinct from the world outside. In this case, parents are important agents that teach each individual about culture and society.

The second stage is the realization that parents are not the only social factors in life, as the child enters school, meets and has contact with other people and learns about various rules of social contract, control and values, apart from the family home.

The third stage signifies the point where the individuals internalize cultural models of society and after assimilating these rules, they convert them into their own personal rules of conduct and behavior in life.

Durkheim’s Theory

Durkheim believes that social facts are outside of the individual. A social fact is any kind of behavior or model of thinking and feeling that characterizes a given society. Education serves as means to convert individuals into fully functioning members of society. As a result, each person becomes a product of their society.

Weber’s Theory

Weber believed that society cannot exist without the actions of its members, its individuals. Social facts are accumulated actions of individuals of a society. To Weber, society is made up of active subjects involved in interaction with each other.

A Combination of Both Views

As in many major debates regarding, such as nature versus nurture, there is often an interaction of both forces. Society influences the individual, yet the individual exerts an amount of influence on his or her society. It also depends on various other factors, such as psychological make-up of the individual which ought to be considered and taken into account as well.