FGCU (Harrison): Symbolic Interactionism


Social Problems: Symbolic Interactionism

            The current social problems seen in our society today include, but are not limited to, violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and poverty. These three social problems are hot topics in the field of sociology and there are three main explanations that sociologists try to use to explain them, structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and conflict theory. Out of these three explanations the one that best explains our society’s current social problems of violent crimes, drug and alcohol abuse, and poverty is symbolic interactionism.

            To begin with, violent behavior is any crime that causes harm to another or where the criminal threatens another with violence. Symbolic interactionism gives several explanations for violent crime, one of which I will mention. The first is known as the Neutralization theory, which gives five rationalizations for crimes that criminals use to justify their criminal behavior, four of which apply to violent crime. The first of these four is denial of responsibility, which basically means the criminal was propelled into crime because he had no other option. An example of this actually involves another of the social problems I will mention, poverty.  Many violent crimes occur because the deviant rationalizes that because he cannot afford food he must rob the local convenient store in order to eat. Even though the criminal is hungry he does not have the right to rob a store. The second is the denial of the victim, which means that the victim of the crime deserves whatever was coming to him. An example of this would be a person whose friend is murdered decides to payback the person responsible for it through violence, rationalizing to him self that he deserved it. The third way that this theory of symbolic interactionism explains for violent crime is through the rationalization of condemnation of the condemners. This means that the criminal believes he has the right to perform some violent crime because the authority figures are corrupt and perform the exact same crimes themselves. The fourth rationalization used by criminals is the appeal to higher loyalties. An example of this is if someone has a friend who gets hurt from another, this someone has the right hurt them back because to them friendship is a higher power than the law. This theory is only one of many offered by symbolic interactionism to explain violent behavior in today’s society.

            Symbolic interactionism explains for the drug and alcohol abuse problem in today’s society through Sutherland’s differential association. Sutherland’s differential association is usually applied to deviant behavior, however, it can just as easily give an explanation for drug and alcohol abuse. This theory explains for drug and alcohol abuse through the use of symbols. All throughout society symbols are used for all aspects of everyday life, including drugs and alcohol.  When the symbols and ideas about anyone of these aspects are viewed as more favorable than unfavorable, it will occur more often. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are often put forth as positive and cool things in today’s society, which explains for their abuse in society.

            Symbolic interactionism explains for poverty through the logic that through their actions, individuals create the symbolic structures that make life meaningful. In other words, reality does not give meaning to things, but rather people must make things meaningful in order to make them socially real. This means that it is the people’s definition of something that makes it important or not. This may not give an explanation for all poverty, but it does offer an explanation for it in some cases. In today’s society things such as flashy cars and expensive jewelry are sometimes seen as more important than more realistic things, which will lead to people spending what little money they have on these less necessary things. In many cases this is the cause for some individual’s poverty.

            In conclusion, even though functionalism, symbolic, and conflict all offer explanations for society’s social problems, symbolic interactionism best explains for all three of the mentioned problems. Whether through Sutherland’s differential association or the Neutralization theory, or any of the other theories given in symbolic interactionism, symbolic interactionism offers an explanation.

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