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Socialization is the complex learning process through which people develop selfhood and acquire the knowledge, skills, and motivations required for participation in society. This process links individuals to groups and society. Surprisingly little Mennonite research has been done on this process, although John Hostetler and others have written about Hutterite and Amish socialization. Studies of Mennonite social psychological processes in general are meager, and the process of socialization into a Mennonite identity, ideology, or community are scarce. Much more research is required.

Development of the Self

There is a long-standing debate as to whether nature or nurture contributes more to the development of personality and self. In rural Mennonite communities one often hears the assertion that "Johnny behaves just like his father," implying that there is a biological gene connection which accounts for similar behavior. More recently, with the development of the social sciences, imitation and social learning are given much more emphasis. In this view Johnny is a product of his social environment, and behaves like his father be cause of imitation and learning.

Theorists such as Cooley and Mead have developed the nurture thesis. Charles Cooley proposed that the self develops through a socialization process, and used the metaphor of the looking-glass (mirror) to illustrate his point. The self is social in that it emerges out of interaction with others, as the individual looks into the mirror of those around her, and learns how her actions are received by others. In this process the individual adjusts her behavior so that it is acceptable to the group and thus becomes a valued member. The individual imagines how her behavior appears to others, imagines how others judge her behavior, and on this basis is happy or unhappy with herself. The self or personality becomes largely a product of society.

George Herbert Mead elaborated on Cooley's insights and expanded them in his book, Mind, self and society. He thought the development of the self is dependent upon the capacity to use language. Both depend on "taking the role of the other," where it is necessary to place oneself into the shoes of the other in order to communicate. Mead elaborated on the need to role-play, which is such an important part of play for children. Children learn to imagine that they are parents and that dolls are their children, etc. In the process the self emerges as distinct from yet linked to groups and to other people. Both Cooley and Mead claim that the self is largely a product of the parents, relatives, friends, and others with whom a child associates. They claim nurture is more important than nature.

According to Erik Erikson the ego, around which the individual integrates a sense of identity, develops in the process of socialization. He too thinks society plays an important role in molding personality. He emphasized that socialization is a lifelong process which goes through cycles from infancy to adolescence to various states of young, middle, and elderly adulthood. The individual has different needs in the various stages of life.

Agents of Socialization

Both informal and formal agents are involved in the socialization of individuals. The family and peers are typical informal agents of socialization and the school and mass media represent formal agents.

Research on the Mennonite family is more common, but emphasis on the socialization process is still limited. in his book Amish society John Hostetler elaborates on children and how they grow up in the home where love and discipline are important to develop responsibility. In Hostetler's Hutterite society, he devotes a whole chapter to family socialization in preparation for initiation (baptism) into adult life and training to identify with the colony, where deviancy is rare. Here he enlarges upon the early stages of socialization, especially infancy, kindergarten, and the school years. Hostetler and Huntington, in their book Hutterites in North America also enlarge on the family and socialization, including age patterns, formal schooling, and socialization of youth.

In these relatively closed Hutterite and Amish societies peers are but one of a number of controlling agents and adults tend to dominate socialization. In more open societies, especially where urban Mennonites find themselves a part of numerous net works, peers become especially influential in schools. Peers provide opportunities to practice social roles, are an important source of information, and greatly influence values and attitudes in mate selection, sex relations, and forms of expression in music, sports and the like. Paul Lederach studied a variety of beliefs, and attitudes of Mennonite youth and concluded that young people from unbroken families had great advantages.

While informal agents such as the family and peers are influential, more formal agents such as the school and the media also influence modern Mennonite socialization. Teachers, textbooks, and peers vary in public schools, and many Mennonites send their children to private schools hoping that Mennonite beliefs, values, and norms will be encouraged. Radio, television, and newspapers increasingly influence Mennonite values, so that Mennonite periodicals and some radio stations have emerged to help socialize children and youth. Increasing evidence of violence in the media, certainly influences Mennonite values of non-resistance. Too little research is available to evaluate the extent of media influence, and the effectiveness of alternative schools, and media.

Problems of Resocialization

One might expect that Anabaptists, who have migrated so often to new countries, where they again and again had to learn new languages, new customs and cultures, would have studied this resocialization process. Yet little research has been carried out. Mennonites work frequently with refugees who also face resocialization in new countries, but little work has been done in this area as well. Many parents came from other countries and thus know at first hand the generation gaps which developed as children of immigrant parents learned new ways. Again, too little research has been done. Old world authority patterns were very different than in North America, with its more libertarian society, but these changing authority patterns also need study. Recently gender roles have begun to change, and Mennonites too are beginning to discuss the role of women in the ministry, the church, at work, and in the home. Again, these resocialization processes need study. Much research is needed in the Mennonite socialization and resocialization areas.


Hostetler, John A. Amish Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1980.

Hostetler, John A. Hutterite Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1974.

Hostetler, John A. and Gertrude Huntington. The Hutterites in North America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967.

Lederach, Paul M. Mennonite Youth. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1971.

Mackie, Marlene. "Socialization," in Sociology, ed. Robert Hagedorn. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1986.

Mead, George H. Mind, Self and Society. Chicago, 1934.

Author(s) Leo Driedger
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Driedger, Leo. "Socialization." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 19 Oct 2018.

APA style

Driedger, Leo. (1989). Socialization. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 October 2018, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 835-836. All rights reserved.

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