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The Ivy and the Trellis: Agency, Biology, and Socialization

Advances in Group Processes

ISBN: 978-1-78190-976-8

Publication date: 23 September 2013



This chapter presents a theory of socialization that explains cultural transmission while balancing both biological aspects of development and the child’s agency and creativity.


This chapter presents a synthesis of research in sociological theory, developmental psychology, and neuroscience. It is roughly divided into two complementary sections based around the metaphor of ivy growing upon a trellis. The discussion centered around the “ivy” utilizes psychological and neuroscience research to explain how early learning is guided by significant others. The “trellis” section synthesizes literature in developmental psychology and social theory to explain how the child’s experience is enframed both cognitively and emotionally in ways that guide the child into appropriate forms of action and feeling. Finally, I discuss how this model can explain other forms of socialization.


I propose that the child’s innate capacities and motivations are enframed through significant relationships in order to direct the child’s emergent behavior into sequences of competent action. Isolated competencies are guided into simple and delimited domains of social activity like games and, later, more complex and interpretive structures like paradigms and ideologies.


This chapter synthesizes research in several literatures in order to develop a new theory that addresses some old questions regarding cultural transmission. Additionally, it represents another step in showing how sociology can integrate research from biological fields without deferring to them.



Peterson, D. (2013), "The Ivy and the Trellis: Agency, Biology, and Socialization", Advances in Group Processes (Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 293-315.



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