6 Important Agents Which Influence the Process of Political Socialisation

The role of the following six main agents of Political Socialisation deserves a special description:

1. The Family.

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2. The Educational Structures.

3. Reference Groups or Peer Groups.

4. Work or Employment Experience.

5. Means of Mass Media.

6. Direct contact with Political System.

1. Family as a Primary Agency of Political Socialism:

The family has been considered by Almond and Powell as the first socialization structure countered by an individual. The latent and manifest influences inculcated at the early stages in life have a powerful and lasting influence. Almond and Verba write that “an early experience in participation and decision­making can increase the child’s sense of political competence, provide him with skills for political interactions and thus enhance the probability of his active participation in the political system when he becomes an adult.”

The child tends to identify with his parents and to adopt their outlook towards the political system. According to Davies and Lewis, “The family provides the major means of transforming the mentally naked, infant organism into adult, fully clothed in its own personality.”

And most of the individual’s political personality – his tendencies to think and act politically in particular ways — gets determined at home, several years before he can take part in politics as an ordinary adult citizen.

Man’s political socialisation by the family has an enduring and very important effect. General attitudes towards the political system usually make a great impression on children and thereby affect their subsequent behaviour in politics.

Robert Lane has suggested that there are three ways in which the foundations of political beliefs may be laid through the family: (i) by overt and covert indoctrination, (ii) by placing the child in a particular social context, and (iii) by moulding the child’s personality. Among the many important latent influences perhaps the most distinctive is the shaping of attitudes towards authority.

2. The Educational Structures:

The educational structures constitute the second powerful agent of political socialisation. Allen R. Barce says that the educational system has important effects on the process of socialization. The values imparted by schools and universities may not be the result of direct political indoctrination, but are nonetheless important.

The five national studies conducted by Almond and Verba found, without exception, that “the educated persons were more aware of the impact of government on their lives, paid more attention to politics, had more information about political processes and manifested a higher degree of political competence.”

Almond and Powell say, “Schools can also play an important role in shaping attitudes about the unwritten rules of the political game.”” They can bring an awareness of values and circumstances, providing a basis for new political aspirations.

Like family, educational structures also give the initial lessons of authoritative decision­making to the students. This experience influences the subsequent attitudes towards authorities and roles.

3. Reference Groups or Peer Groups:

Reference groups or Peer groups, like family and educational structures, act as important sources of attitude formation. The relatively decreased role of family in the contemporary industrial society has tended to increase the role of peer groups – friendship associations and the like, in the process of political socialisation.

Austin Ranney says that in addition to parents and teachers, most people spend a great deal of their lives in the company of peer groups of people outside their families who are approximately of the same age and share similar statuses, problems and concerns.

School­mates are one obvious peer group; work associates another, and friendship, “cliques” yet another. James S. Coleman writes, “In developed societies like the United States and Sweden, the socializing influence of parents and teachers begins to wane in early adolescence and from then on peer groups become increasingly important influences on political attitudes and behaviour”.

4. Work or Employment Experiences:

Experience in employment also shapes political orientations. The job and the formal and non-formal organizations built around it, viz., the union, the social club and the like, may be channels for the explicit communication of political information and beliefs. Participation in trade unions, bargaining with the employers, organising and participating in strikes can exercise powerful socialisation experience both for the employers and the employees. The role in the activities of interest groups can affect political participation.

5. Mass Media:

In the words of Almond and Powell, “The role of mass media in political socialization must not be overlooked. After the communication revolution of the 20th century, means of mass media, particularly Press, T. V., Radio and Internet have started acting as very powerful agents of manifest political socialisation.”

A controlled system of mass media is a powerful force in shaping political beliefs of the people. It is particularly so used in authoritarian, totalitarian or dictatorial systems. In addition to providing information about specific and immediate political events, the mass media act, in the long-run to shape the individual’s basic “cognitive map.”

Austin Ranney says, “In all nations with technologically advanced mass communications, the media plays a direct role in shaping the basic orientations as well as the specific opinions of most of the people.” According to Lucian Pye. “Socialization through the mass media is the best short-run technique available and it is crucial to modernization.”

6. Direct Contact with the Political System:

Direct formal and informal relationships with specific elites in political system are, according to Almond and Powell, “a powerful force” in shaping orientations of individuals to the system. In this connection, the direct contacts between the individual and government as well as political parties play a significant role. Political parties are the most important agents of political socialization.

Through political propaganda, electioneering; presenting their views in written and spoken political language, by recruiting people and by articulating and aggregating their political interest, political parties become the direct agents of political socialization.

Peter H. Merkel is right when he observes, “One of the most immediate and effective agents of political socialisation of children and adults is the spectacle of politics itself As group games and sports help to socialise children, so the game of politics, especially its competition, gets adolescents and adults involved.”

All these agencies play a significant role in the process of political socialization. It is through them that the individuals acquire their orientations towards politics and get prepared to participate in the political process. These agencies expose the individuals to political roles. Commenting on the relation between the nature of agencies of political socialisation and the process itself,

Rush and Althoff have written, “The more stable the polity, the more specified will be the major agencies of political socialisation. Conversely, the greater the degree of charge in a non-totalitarian polity, the more diffused the agencies of political socialisation will be.”