8 Major Agents of Political Socialization


8 Major Agents of Political Socialization

Although there are many agents of political socialization, including but are not limited to Family, Media, Peers, Education, Religion, Race, Gender, Age and Geography, and in fact every point where man meets man, only a few major ones shall be discussed in this article. The article categorizes them into two: primary and secondary. The two categories shall be fully discussed.

Table of Content 

Knowledge of this article shall assist the student in:

1. Definition and Examples of Political Participation

2. Identifying the various agents of socialization

3. Distinguishing between the primary and the secondary ones

4. Understanding how they work to socialize people into politics

What Is Political Participation?

For many, as American citizens, one of the aspects of our culture that many are most proud of is the extent to which they can take part in the political system. Whether they are voting for a new congressman, serving on a jury, or participating in a public protest, they can be fairly certain that their actions are going to have an influence on American politics in some way. For them, this is important because it is one of the ways in which Americans can contribute to their communities and be active members of society.

These civic activities are what are known as political participation, and they are a critical part of any democracy.

As the name suggests, political participation simply means that a person is participating in the political process by making his or her opinions and beliefs known. In the social sciences, the term 'political participation' is often used to describe an action taken by a citizen to influence the outcome of a political issue.

Examples of Political Participation

There are many different forms of political participation and whether you know it or not, you've probably taken part in some of them at different points in your life.

Some of the most common forms of political participation are:

1.  Voting: In a democracy, voting is the single most important form of political participation that a person can take part in because it ensures that politicians are elected by the people, rather than being assigned to their position of power by someone else.

2.  Protest: Whether or not it is a constitutional right, as it is in the U.S., public protests are another important form of political participation because you are making your opinions known in a very obvious way, with the hope that your actions will influence or initiate change in a particular area of politics.

3.  Public consultations: Like voting, public consultations (which are more commonly known as town hall meetings) offer ordinary citizens the chance to get together in a group with a politician or elected official in order to make their opinions and feelings known.

4.  Jury duty: Although most people shudder at the thought of having to attend jury duty, it is an important type of political participation because it ensures that people who are charged with a crime are judged by people like them, rather than allowing the outcome to depend entirely on a single person, such as a judge.


The various Agents of Socialization

The main content here discusses the major agents of political socialization. These agents refer to institutions and structures that socialize people into politics; the agents that people are introduced to as they grow up, and that affect their political views throughout the rest of their lives.

In a sense we can divide the agents of political socialization into two broad categories:

1. The primary agents of political socialization

2.  The secondary agents of political socialization

Primary Agents of Political Socialization

The primary agents of political socialization are those that people first come across when they are children and they unavoidably interact with as they grow. Almost all human beings pass through these agents, though not necessarily on their will. The primary agents of political socialization in today’s world include the family, the school, the peer group and the religious gatherings.

In the contemporary world these socialization agencies can hardly be avoided, and they affect people’s believes and attitudes towards politics. In what follows we shall discuss these agents one after the other.

(a) The Family: The family is a principal agent of political socialization, or any other form of socialization at all. In fact, M. Kent Jennings in his 2007 work titled Political Socialization asserts that "from the early scholarly inquiries on through to the present time, the role of the family as a prime agent of socialization has occupied an imports in the literature". This is because the family is a relatively small and enduring institution that makes the processes of learning and imitation easier. Apart from this, the family is the first point of call of the individual, and, to that extent, it determines a lot about individual's behavior; including the political. Above all, every human being, by no choice of theirs, is presumably born into a family, so, except in few cases, every human being passes through the socialization of the family.

(b) The School: Formal educational system organized in forms of schools and colleges is a common phenomenon in the modern world. In fact, most advanced countries of the world are beginning to lay claim to zero percent illiteracy level in their society while third world countries are following suit. The implication of this is that everyone in the society will now have to pass through one form of school or the other. Thus, the school, like the family, is an agent of socialization that is almost impossible to escape. Some societies deliberately teach subjects such as civil education, political history and government to educate their citizens on politics. National anthems and other extra curriculum exercises are basically performed in schools to expose students to certain values about politics. What most people know and believe about politics is therefore, especially in today’s world, a function of school attendance. The school then qualifies as a primary agency of political socialization.

(c) The Peer Group: Man, by nature, Aristotle has long insisted, is a political animal. What you get from this is that man is a gregarious being that love to live with, and around other men. In the process of this social interaction peer groups are formed. These groups consist of people of same or close age brackets, and members of the groups learn many things socially from one another through emulation and reciprocal determinism. If a person belongs to a peer group that is politically conscious for instance, the tendency of the person to become very active and interested in the politics of his nation is very high due to the kind of socialization received in the course of interacting with his or her peers. Peer group is also a primary agent of political socialization because it is difficult to escape in the process of existing in the society. An even school where the child is socialized is full of peer group influence, though many peer groups also exist outside the school.

(d) Religious Gatherings: Apart from the family and the school, organized religious gathering is another very strong agency of political socialization in the modern world. It is almost inescapable today. When people gather in the name of religion, they often inevitably discuss socio political issues that concern them directly or indirectly, politics being, according to David Easton, “authoritative allocation of values in the society”. Values that may be authoritatively allocated to, or omitted from people’s homes, families, streets, work places, states of residence, international relation and so on, often make people relate with politics even in religious gatherings where they are supposed to be worshiping. Today is universities, religious associations sponsor candidates into elective positions in order to gain influence. Citizens of some countries consider the religious affiliation of a political candidate as determinant of his or her capacity to rule, and such beliefs color behavior even in elections.

The discussions and decision on these political issues are often taken in religious gatherings; hence, religion becomes a strong agent of political socialization.

In summary, take a look at your life today, the foregoing four structures family, school, peer groups- that is friends and colleagues- as well as your religious gathering are four structures that you constantly interact with almost on weekly basis, and in all of them, it is almost certain that politics is discussed either directly or indirectly. This makes the four of them primary agents of political socialization. In what follows however, we shall discuss four more agents of socialization that are not as central to man as the ones considered as primary.

Secondary or Subordinate Agents of Political Socialization

Structures and institutions such as the media and political parties are not common to all men; they are optional, so they belong to the secondary political socialization agents. Other ones in this category are gender and age which are though common to all men, yet, do not command strong organizational political influence that, say, the church and the school may have. Let us examine these four agents of political socialization in details.

(a) The Media: The media is a strong agent of political socialization. The print media produces newspapers and magazines while the electronic media comes in forms of radio and television. In all of these media politics and political issues are discussed in daily basis. In fact, it has been argued by Allan Smith that the 21st century press media is a political media as majority of the news items are either completely political or are connected to politics.

The most recent one is the social media: the facebook and the twitters that are fast penetrating the whole world. Issues discussed in all these media create values, attitudes and believes in people, and as such, stand as means of socializing them into politics as well as influencing their political behaviour.

(b) Political Party: A political party is an organized body of people who participate in political activities with the sole aim of getting political power. Membership of a political party automatically translates to discussion and practice of political activities, with all the pranks, and the intrigues. People who belong to political parties learn a great deal of their political tricks, values, orientations, opinions and believes from them, so, the political party is a very strong agent of political socialization. In specific terms, political parties have orientations and ideological divides.

There are left wing parties, right wing parties, mass parties and so on, and the orientation that is dominant in each of these parties are systematically handed down to their members from one generation to another. In Britain you have the conservative (right wing) and the labour (left wing) political parties. In the United States it is between the Republican (right wing) and the Democrat (left wing) parties. Although Nigerian political parties have been unstable and episodic since independence, the current ideological divide still stands between the PDP and the APC.

(c) Gender: Until recently when universal adult suffrage has permeated the whole world, gender was a very key issue in political socialization. In the earlier Athenian society in Greece, women were not allowed to participate in politics, and so it was in some other parts of the world. The implication is that men would be differently socialized to form different believes opinions and orientation of politics, compared to women. Now that the dichotomy is changing rapidly, and universal adult suffrage is gaining popularity around the world; women’s socialization in politics is fast taking different dimension. Conversely, in the old Oyo kingdom where women were known to occupy important political positions such as Iyalode, Iyaloja and Iyalaje, and where they exerted great influence in the politics of their people, there was a difference in gender relationship with politics, and this created egalitarian and democratic values among the people. You may wish to read Eesuola’s Using Indigenous Political Structures to Facilitate Democratic Ideals in Nigeria: Lessons from Pre Colonial Yoruba Kingdom, published in the University of Lagos, Nigeria, Sociological Review, Volume 9, 2011.

(d) Age: Also unlike gender, age was and is still a strong factor in the politics of courtiers. Today, as a result of universal adult suffrage, most constitutions allow citizens of eighteen years to vote and be voted for.

In some countries where gerontology is common in political activities, only old people take certain electoral positions in politics. These different practices in different societies often shape opinions and orientations of people towards politics, so, age is equally an agent of political socialization.

Let us also quickly add that socialization may involve an individual's formative years, or his mature years, or both. Political socialization through the primary agency is not only latent, but also tends to occur during the formative years of an individual. Political socialization through secondary agencies, on the other hand, tends to be manifest and to occur during an individual's relatively mature years.

Political socialization can produce either systemic or non-systemic change. Systemic change refers to a fundamental or far-reaching change in the distribution or exercise of authority in the political system.

Non-systemic change, on the other hand, refers to relatively insignificant or incremental changes in the patterns of political participation and association which do not alter or upset the existing distribution of power and authority in the polity.

Indeed, generally speaking, political socialization is essentially a stabilizing process and hardly produces systemic change. The political socialization process becomes destabilizing, produces systemic change, only under conditions of rapid modernization or general societal crisis.


Conclusion on Major Agents of Political Socialization

Socialization is driven by certain agents in the society. Some of these agents are primary, and in this unit we also refer to them as super ordinate and principal. They are family, school religious groups and peer groups. Others are secondary, otherwise referred to as subordinate. They are media, age, gender and political parties. All these agents are the channels through which people are socialized into politics from one generation to another, and they produce systematic and nonsystematic changes in people’s behavior.

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