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Political Socialization and Development of Political Identity

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The term political socialization was coined in 1959 by an American professor of sociology, Herbert H. Hyman as the “ learning of social patterns corresponding to his societal positions as mediated through various agencies of society” (1959, p.25). This essay is a personal reflection on my own political socialisation through my own ‘agents of socialisation’ namely my parents and labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as part of the Momentum political organisation. A quote by Sears describes socialisation as “society’s moulding of the child (1975, p. 95). I aim to use the structure of Dennis Kavanugh’s opposing concepts of primacy and recency to explore this socialisation and how these socialisations have ‘moulded’ my views and made me who I am today.

My family, as primary agents of my childhood socialisation, like for the majority played a major part of my political socialisation, although likely unknowingly on their part; I was raised in a family that never engaged in politics. We never watched the news, weren’t religious, had an average income and were white. Politically neutral.

It can be said that although I grew up without overt political discussion in the family, that the combination of everything else my parents taught me, the values they imparted and the cultural capital associated with being a part of a particular social class formed the basis of what would become my political ideology. Having the childhood I did means that I hold forms of cultural capital and gained certain values that can be assets in particular spheres of life (education system, labour market, etc).

The idea of this ‘cultural capital’ that I mentioned was conceived by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who defined it as a ‘familiarity with the legitimate culture within a society’ (1979) and whereas I take exception to the use of the phrase ‘legitimate culture’ as I feel it implies cultures outside of the middle class are illegitimate I find it can be applied in most comparisons of socialisations.

Cultural capitals are essentially a set of social assets that can promote social mobility beyond economic means although they are indisputably linked to a family’s financial capital; unfortunately “Poor kids, through no fault of their own, are less prepared by their families, their schools, and their communities to develop their God-given talents as fully as rich kids” (Putman, 2015, p.230).

They might include things such as education, intellect, vocabulary and style of speech (accent), clothing, and even physical appearance. They are most commonly often acquired during childhood and perhaps most relevantly, that they’re often passed on to children by their parents and or their primary agents of socialisation.

Kavanaugh’s primacy theory can very easily be applied to my own childhood experience; that the influence you receiving at this early age (whether explicitly political or not) is shaping your young mind and imparting values which may later be in alignment with certain political ideology. Ben Rosamund puts it nicely feeling that “the sorts of values which are embedded in the early stages of childhood ‘kick in’ during later life” (Axford et al, 2002, p.67). The implication here being that this stage in your life is the most important and will stick with a child throughout their life. I disagree with this school of thought.

In June 2017 I attended a rally in Gateshead held by British labour organisation Momentum; whereat leader of the labour party Jeremy Corbyn was a keynote speaker and main attraction he was there on an election campaign trail. My motivations for my attending were incredibly arbitrary; it was free and less than a 5-minute walk from my college. This was the first time I remember feeling passionate about something overtly political, the way Corbyn and my local representatives spoke about their beliefs and their faith in the party and their manifesto of being “for the many not the few” and relating this to the area where I grew up, invoked a sense of pride about myself and my area, this created positive feelings about the labour party for me. I had been socialised by the party itself. This event had such an impact on me that it led to my joining of the labour party soon after; I became more involved in local politics and became part of labour communities online and within my constituency furthering Corbyn and the Labour party’s political capital.

This is an illustration of how political parties can take citizens and socialise them from people with perhaps no real overt political ideology (or sometimes even opposing ideology) into allied voters who will elect the party into government. They understand the chain reaction that a decline in political capital leads to a decline in political participation and a decline in participation can mean a decline in allied voters. To summarise I believe Kavaugh’s recency theory to be more applicable in my own case of socialisation. I consider it to be a much more versatile theory of political socialisation and one that I found has a more stable grounding and can be applied to more cases than the opposing recency concept.

Naturally I’m still to develop a mature political identity. In the society we live in, political affiliation is often made to seem as simple as choosing between two parties when everyone knows that it’s certainly not as simple as that. Thoughts and ideas change throughout our lives and as we as humans grow and learn, our values grow with us and something I believe in now may not be something I believe in 10 years time. We adapt our ideology to the life we lead. “Individual self-development is then best served by the active pursuit of and engagement with political knowledge” (Axford et al, 2002, p.59).

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Political Socialization And Development Of Political Identity. (2021, May 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 2, 2021, from
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