In rules about public behavior. Shake hands when

In this lesson, you will explore how agents, including yourself, interact with social norms through the processes of socialization and isolation. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.


Okay, check this out – you are an agent. Yes, you are an agent.

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But not like James Bond. Not a secret agent. In sociology, an agent is an individual, specifically a person who exists within a structure. So, you, as an intelligent individual within our society, are an agent.

Within society, agents interact in certain ways to pass on social norms and expectations.


In a society, people mix and mingle and spread their beliefs. This process is called socialization, or the lifelong process of inheriting or spreading social norms, customs, and beliefs. This process is something that each person, each agent, spends their entire life learning. In short, socialization is the way that a group teaches each member the rules and skills to participate in that society. Think of our society. There are important rules about public behavior.

Shake hands when you meet someone. Don’t use your cell phone at the dinner table. Don’t tuck your pants into your socks. These rules are explained and reinforced throughout our lives.If society is the structure, then each individual within that society is an agent and expresses their power as an agent by choosing to accept or reject the rules. These expressions of individual choice are called agency.

Therefore, agents play a very important role in socialization. On one hand, the agent has to choose to accept the rules and customs of their society. On the other hand, agents must choose to enforce those rules in society and teach them to new members.Agents who are key figures in enforcing social rules are called socializing agents.

Some of the most important socializing agents are family members because they are responsible for teaching children social rules. Friends, co-workers, and people within the government or mass media are also important socializing agents who re-affirm correct social behaviors on a daily basis.


Socialization refers to the process of maintaining social norms and expectations. But what happens when someone chooses to break those rules? The result is usually isolation, the lack of social interaction with a person, group, or society. People who do not live by social rules are isolated from society, meaning that most people will not associate with them. This happens in every society.

Imagine if you saw someone running down the street wearing a suit of armor, yelling ‘Free the dragons.’ Would most people in our society freely associate with that person, or just run away?As with socialization, agents have an important role in isolation. Isolation is one of the key tools that a society uses to teach social norms, so it is important for agents in that society to isolate the people or groups who break the rules. If the members of society isolate someone, that person’s behavior is shown to be incorrect and not within social expectations. However, if enough agents choose not to isolate that person, then the power of isolation is lost, and that person’s actions become part of normal society.Again, agents have a lot of power over their social systems.

They can choose to accept or reject tactics like isolation as ways to reinforce social norms, but do so at the risk of becoming isolated themselves. For example, slavery was once part of society. Those who opposed slavery became isolated because they were challenging a social norm and acting outside of social expectations. However, eventually enough individual agents questioned the system and stopped isolating anti-slavery people, and the rules of society changed. From that point on, they used socialization to enforce new beliefs, isolating the people who still supported slavery and teaching their children that slavery was bad.

Lesson Summary

Every society is a structure.

Within that structure are agents, individuals who are capable of understanding the structure. Basically, if you are a person who can think, you are an agent. Agents always have the power to accept or reject the rules of the structure, a power called agency.When the system we are discussing is society, then the process of spreading and maintaining social norms, expectations, and beliefs is called socialization.

Socialization occurs throughout your entire life, and each agent must choose to both accept social norms and to enforce them. The people who are most influential in socializing an individual are the socializing agents, notably family or friends.The most common way to enforce social norms is through isolation, a lack of social interaction with a person, group, or society that is breaking the rules of society. Agents have an important role here as well because they must choose to isolate the person breaking the rules or else the rules will lose their meaning to society. If enough agents refuse to isolate a person or group, then the norm being broken ceases to be a norm. Social expectations and norms can, and do, change.

It all depends on the agents.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify our role as agents in society
  • Describe how socialization works to maintain rules and social structure in an agency
  • Examine what happens when isolation occurs and rules are broken

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