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Assignment 2: Interpreting a Source Material on Socialization

One of the ways sociologists get a sense of who people are (i.e. their identities) is by conducting life history interviews. In a life history, sociologists get access to otherwise inaccessible information such as a person’s past, their interpretations of important historical events and situations, and changes in the way they think and feel about their identities over time. In a life history, sociologists can also get some idea of how a person’s sense of self was shaped through socialization over the life course.

The following is an excerpt from a life-history interview with a person named George. For this assignment, analyze this transcript, looking for portions of the life history that illustrate important concepts, issues, and/or theories related to socialization. For each issue, concept, or theory you detect in the life-history, make sure to include the specific quote that illustrates the socialization issue. Make sure to use quotation marks. Then, briefly explain each of the concepts, issues, or theories you’ve found in the text by also mentioning the importance of these points for the development of this person’s identity over time.

You should see at least 5 of the following illustrated in this passage:

  • adolescence
  • agents of socialization
  • family
  • gender-role socialization
  • media
  • school
  • peer groups
  • resocialization
  • Rites of passage
  • structural-functional theory of socialization
  • workplace
  • young adulthood

Name: George

Age: 45

Race/Ethnicity: White

Gender: Male

Occupation: Staff Writer for a metropolitan newspaper.

[Start tape]

Interviewer: Could you begin just by telling me a little bit about your background? Where you’re from? Where you grew up? Things like that…

George: Yeah, sure. Well, I was born and raised in a little suburban area outside Detroit. Pretty normal neighborhood, I would say. One-story houses on a little bit of religiously maintained grass; a car in the garage; maybe a swing set in the yard for the kids.

I: What was it like growing up there?

George: Oh, it was pretty nice. When I was a little kid, I would mostly hang around at home with my mother, who, like a lot of women at that time, was a full-time mother and homemaker. I used to watch and imitate everything she did. She was a really great cook and now I’m a big cook. I love to cook, and I think that’s a direct result of my mother. And, my dad, it’s kind of funny, I think he thought it wasn’t good for a little boy to be making cookies in the kitchen, so, because he knew I liked to cook, he would take me outside with him and teach me how to grill, you know, “like a man”. And the funny thing was that he was horrible at it (laughs)! He would burn everything! But, actually, I’m pretty good with the grill and the oven now, so I guess something rubbed off on me.

I: Do you think your parents had any other effect on you, besides cooking?

George: Oh, yeah, sure. Cooking just came to mind because it’s a little more unique, you know? But like all families, my family provided me with all the important building blocks for life. They taught me right from wrong; responsibility; ethics, all of that stuff. They basically are the first people who teach you how to function in society – how to perform the types of skills, roles, and responsibilities you’ll need to contribute to your community and country.

I: What else do you remember about growing up?

George: Well, you know, I was pretty good as a young kid, but I got into a rebellious stage of my life as a teenager. You know, typical stuff – breaking curfew, drinking, smoking, skipping math class. I kind of hung around with the wrong crowd for a while. My friends at this time kind of had more weight with me than my parents. I was skipping school and getting into trouble with my folks.

I: So you didn’t like school?

George: Oh, I don’t know…I liked some of it; didn’t like other parts. It’s just that I was kind of rebellious and thought I didn’t have to go to the classes I didn’t like, like algebra and chemistry, you know? And I kind of felt the school was being unfair. They would put students into groups. You were either in “A” group, “B” group, or “C” group, and what group you were in determined what classes you could take. Well, I was a pretty smart kid, but because I was kind of a trouble-maker and not from the rich section of town, I ended up in “C” group. In “C” group you were in all of these remedial classes and you never got the credentials to make it into college like some of the wealthier and more privileged kids. Hell, I was lucky to graduate from high school at all. Most “C” group kids dropped out.

I: So what did you do when you graduated from high school?

George: Well, since I was “C” group and didn’t have the coursework to get into the local college, I decide my next best option would probably be to get into the military. So I did that.

I: What was that like?

George: Oh boy, no more being rebellious there. I gave the drill instructor a dirty look on my first day, and he made me stand on my head for over an hour in front of the rest of the recruits. The blood would go to my head, I would fall over, and he just kept making me do it over and over again. It was a really embarrassing experience.

I: So the military was an interesting experience for you…

George: To say the least. You kind of learn a whole new way of life; a whole new way of acting and thinking. You have to unlearn a lot of the things you used to know and start doing things the way you’re taught. It’s kind of hard, but you have to remember that they’re training people to go to war, and that’s not something you’re going to learn in everyday life. Everyday you’re being taught how to follow orders, fire and clean a weapon, treat bullet wounds, all of these other things in preparation for being a soldier in combat. Luckily for me, I never had to go to war, but, again, that was the training.

I: When did you leave the military?

George: Oh, I finished my service by the time I was twenty-three. I was still very much a kid in a lot of ways, but I had a much better sense of myself and my responsibilities at that point.

I: Yeah?

George: Yeah. I decided that I needed some type of education or technical training to get a good job, so I decided to go to college on my G.I. scholarship. The first year or two, I really had no idea what I was going to get my degree in, but then one night, I rented that movie about the Watergate scandal, “All the President’s Men,” and I was watching Robert Redford play that reporter for the Washington Post and I thought, “Hey, I can do that. That looks exciting; I’ll be a reporter.” So I decided to major in journalism based on that movie. That kind of decision-making sounds absolutely ridiculous to me today, but it made sense at the time. So I received my degree in journalism and started working for a newspaper in Detroit.

I: Was graduating from college a big deal for you, considering that you were a “C group” student in high school?

George: Oh, yeah, definitely. My parents had always wanted me to go to college and were pretty disappointed that I didn’t go straight out of high school. So, yeah, it was a big moment. Putting on the cap and gown and receiving my diploma was kind of like going from irresponsible, ignorant, “C group” kid to responsible, knowledgeable, “A group” adult.

I: How was your first job as a reporter?

George: Oh, well, it wasn’t anything like the movie, but it was a good place to work. (Chuckles) It’s funny, I remember my first week on the job I went through this really intensive training seminar about how the newspaper worked, what my role as a junior reporter was, how the managing editor expected me to go about reporting and writing stories, and so on and so forth. So it was all this new information – rules, regulations, responsibilities, etc. – and, by the end of all of this training, I felt really confused and unprepared. But the first day of my second week on the job, this veteran reporter named Sue goes over to my desk and says, “Okay, George. Now that you’ve gone through your training session, here’s how we really do things around here.” So Sue and some other more experienced reporters trained me as I was working, and that was what really made me successful starting out.

[Stop tape]

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