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The contemporary grand theory of Structural Functionalism is deeply rooted within the field of Sociology. This theory laid the foundation for many of the social theories studied today. To begin, the theory of Structural Functionalism focuses on societal structures and the functions they serve (Ritzer, 2010). There have been numerous Sociologists that have contributed to our understanding of Functionalism; Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, and Davis and Moore (Ritzer, 2010). Perhaps one of the most noteworthy Sociologists to contribute to Functionalism, Talcott Parsons, examined these functions and their effects on structures and systems. Additionally, the Structural Functionalism theory allows us to observe and study social interaction and relationships related to various social structures, or to observe how social structures affect social interaction and relationships (Ritzer, 2010). The criminal justice system, for example, is recognized as one of the largest and most studied social structures in the United States. For decades, Sociologists have studied the ways in which the economy is hypothesized to affect society (Ritzer, 2010).
Through these studies, Sociologists such as Davis and Moore determined that social institutions encompass social stratification, a structure involving a hierarchy of social positions led by high-ranking individuals in society (i.e., doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc.). While a society needs social stratification to function effectively, there have been recent societal issues arise within our society due to the increasing gap in social stratification. The increase in users and producers of methamphetamine in rural areas exemplifies this notion.
STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM 3
Functionalism in Contemporary America
As we know, functionalism is centered on the functions of societal structures, and social stratification, for example, is effective for a society when there are members within that society willing to participate within the hierarchy. Despite increases in opportunities for secondary education, the majority of individuals living in rural America, such as the Deep South, typically have high school diplomas only. Therefore, Sociologists are seeing a decrease in the amount of individuals becoming specialized to replace individuals at the top of the hierarchy, especially during a time of deindustrialization. Arguably, this is causing the social stratification gap to widen. However, why are individuals not taking advantage of increased educational opportunities? Many Criminologists and Sociologist alike are contributing to an increase in drug use, particularly, stimulants such as methamphetamine (Sexton, Carlson, Leukefeld, and Booth, 2006).
Law enforcement officials from around the United States list methamphetamine as the main drug they battle in the country today (Sexton et al., 2012). This damaging fact helps to solidify the belief that our nation is in the midst of a methamphetamine crisis. Prisons in rural American are now overrun with unskilled individuals serving drug sentences related to methamphetamine use and production, and many of these inmates are repeat offenders (Sexton et al., 2012). Additionally, methamphetamine is used the most widely used drug among unemployed and part-time, working men and women ages 20 to 50 residing in the Deep South (Sexton et al., 2012). Criminologists have linked this to the inexpensiveness and ease of manufacturing the drug. More importantly, there are sociological theories that can aid in explaining this phenomenon as well.
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According to research, there are numerous societal factors allowing meth abuse and production to increase in rural America. Primarily, the unemployment rate has been disproportionately high in the Deep South versus the nation’s average (Garland, 2001). Secondly, you have a larger population of undereducated people per capita when compared to other regions. Lastly, there exists a vulnerable population exposed to drug use, and in turn, higher rates of drug abuse and manufacturing as a source of income (Garland, 2001).
The societal issues occurring in the Deep South also exemplify workings of the Conflict Theory; when social structures, such as the economy, fail to function effectively for an individual or group, conflict occurs (Ritzer, 2010). Even though Sociologist George Simmel describes the need for social conflict, which inevitably occurs at every point within society, members of society become overstrained due their perception of a failing institution (Ritzer, 2010). Meth-related offenders have often cited lack of work or income as a primary reason to manufacture and traffic the substance (Sexton et al., 2012.
Moreover, the fact that the majority of current inmates incarcerated in the Deep South on meth-related charges are also repeat offenders (Sexton et al., 2012). Criminologists and Psychologists have presented research stemming from personal interviews and surveys conducted by inmates themselves describing the vicious cycle that occurs when an individual gets stamped as a convicted felon. Offenders, for example, explained their difficulty finding suitable work that provides the monetary sources necessary to provide for their families. This exemplifies Cooley’s idea of the looking-glass self; we internalize how we believe others
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perceive us (Ritzer, 2010). If a convicted felon believes they will never meet society’s standards, eventually, they will stop trying.
Structural Functionalism, Conflict Theory, and Symbolic Interaction have allowed us to better our understanding of societal institutions by studying their relationships and functions, and the effects they have. While these theories are long-withstanding, they still apply to contemporary issues in America today. Strains on the economic system have also posed strains within the criminal justice system, two very large institutions in our country. Individuals have turned to illegal stimulates to ease personal issues relating to social strain and economic hardships. Unfortunately, the continuing increase in methamphetamine production and abuse in America poses a public health problem from both the public and policymakers alike. Additional research is needed from Sociologists to help address this growing societal concern.
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Garland, D. (2001). The culture of control: Crime and social order in contemporary society.
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ritzer, G. (2010). Contemporary social theory and its classical roots (3rd ed.). New York, NY:
Sexton, R. L., Carlson, R. G., Leukefeld, C. G., and Booth, B. M. (2006). Patterns of illicit
methamphetamine production (“cooking”) and associated risks in the rural south: An ethnographic exploration. The Journal of Drug Issues, 36(4), 853-876.