The primary socialization received in childhood is just one part of the lifelong socialization process. Adults go through a process of resocialization, which is the learning of new norms and values that occurs when they join a new group or when life circumstances change dramatically. Learning new norms and values enables people to adapt, though newly learned things may contradict what was previously learned.
Though senility and certain diseases associated with old age can impair a person’s ability to learn and adapt to new situations, many adults experience change throughout life. A new job, the loss of friends or a spouse, children leaving home, and retirement are all milestones that require resocialization.
Most instances of resocialization are mild modifications, such as adapting to a new work environment. Extreme forms of the process can include joining the military, going to prison, or otherwise separating from mainstream society.
The workplace is an agent of socialization—in this case, resocialization. A new job brings with it new norms and values, including the following:
- What papers to fill out
- What equipment to use
- What tasks to complete and when to complete them
- When to arrive at work
- When to take a break
- When to leave
The employing organization also has its own values. The socialization process involves learning how strictly the company enforces work-related norms, such as whether it’s acceptable for people of different job levels to fraternize outside of working hours, or whether a very late arrival will incur some kind of punishment. During resocialization, people learn how to modify behavior to fit the new situation.
Most Americans are socialized to think for themselves and make their own decisions about daily tasks. That changes when they are resocialized by what sociologist Erving Goffman labeled a total institution. A total institution is an organization or setting that has the following characteristics:
- Residents are not free to leave.
- All actions are determined and monitored by authority figures.
- Contact with outsiders is carefully controlled.
- The environment is highly standardized.
- Rules dictate when, where, and how members do things.
- Individuality is discouraged.
Examples of total institutions include prisons, mental hospitals, and the military. In these total institutions, part of the resocialization process includes the loss of some decision-making freedom. The military decides what its soldiers wear, how they spend their time, and when and what they eat. To be promoted to a higher rank, they must demonstrate that they have been resocialized and have successfully adapted to the military’s norms and values.