According to the Philadelphia Inquirer article “Pushing Pills” by John Shiffman, Akhil Bansal, a former graduate business student of Temple University and an Indian national faces drug charges after having engaged in an internet prescription drug smuggling ring with his parents as partners. Though Bansal lives in Philadelphia, he is able to keep in touch with his suppliers via email; and where physical contact was necessary, a highly paid UPS worker went between him and his family. Every day his business handled 75,000 pills and shipped packages to 60,000 addresses in America per year. The gross earnings of this business stood at $8 million, and at the time of his discovery, Bansal’s student checking held over $400,000. Through a concerted effort by the American and Indian authorities, the business and assets were frozen and Bansal and family detained.
Both Akhil Bansal’s parents are doctors, and though what they have done has broken many trade laws, the group rationalized that what they did was not tantamount to illegal drug trafficking and could not honestly be considered a narcotics felony. They live in a poor country and the internet has opened up for them the possibility of putting to use the knowledge that Akhil gains while studying business at Temple University. The family supplied internet pharmacies with prescription drugs like Viagra in North America and on three other continents. The actions of this family and the interaction of each individual with his/her society can be viewed in the light of several sociological theories, namely functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionalism.
It would appear from this situation that the functional view of society as stable and properly integrated would not be applicable, as the behavior displayed by Akhil Bansal and his parents represent deviance. Judging from the efforts made to stop them, it might be considered that their actions violated norms and laws of society. However, the functional view does acknowledge the presence of dysfunctions, which can be identified in the events of this incident (Stewart). Also, the functional idea that individuals’ societal roles are fixed is challenged by this incident, as Akhil ostensibly operated as a business student and yet performed the role of drug smuggler on the side. His parents, too, demonstrate this concept to be in error, as their role as respectable medical professionals becomes undermined by their involvement in illegal drug trafficking. The dysfunction and deviance of the situation does appear, however, to be angling back toward equilibrium (in harmony with functionalism) as they are eventually caught by the authorities who seek to restore societal norms (McClelland).
The view that social inequality is inevitable (Stewart) is not directly addressed by the situation per se, yet the fact that these persons have been able to improve their financial assets so dramatically indicates that inequality is certainly likely. The public does not appear to have a broad-based consensus to which they all adhere, as the market for these illegal goods appears to have been so wide. However, the functional concept of societal disorganization and the adjustment to achieve equilibrium (Stewart) is visible in this situation. On the one hand, the instability can be seen in the relative poverty of India (compared to the United States, Canada, Europe, etc.) The drive toward equilibrium can be symbolized by the (albeit overshot) actions of the Bansals to get rich. On the other hand, instability is also represented in the Bansals’ deviant actions while the struggle for equilibrium can be seen in actions of the U.S. and Indian authorities to stop them.
The conflict theory sees many of its concepts represented in this incident. Its view of society as hierarchical (Stewart) is demonstrated in the caste system in India as well as the class system within the United States and other capitalist countries. The Bansals’ education as well as their drug smuggling represents an attempt to work themselves up to a higher level in the class stratification. The situation therefore represents all the key concepts of conflict theory: inequality, capitalism, and stratification.
Yet, the idea of the individual’s subordination to society can only be viewed loosely. Despite the Bansal’s ultimate capture by the law enforcers, they were able to conduct deviant actions to begin with. Furthermore, it can only be assumed that other persons like them exist as suppliers for the many illegal internet pharmacies that do continue to exist. It has been established that inequality does appear in this situation, and it also can be seen to arise as a result of scarce resources. The persons that subscribed to the Bansals did so because the drug they desired was scarce; that is, unavailable to them elsewhere. The struggle and the competition among the legal and illegal pharmacies did lead to a change in which the authorities were able to remove a link in the chain of illegal drugstores. This might (via a stretch) be considered a positive change, as persons who buy from these illegal stores stand a higher chance of overdosing and causing damage to their bodies.
In light of symbolic interactionism, the concept of subjectivism might be seen in the relationship that Akhil had with those around him (students, professors, and landlords) who were unaware of his dealings in illegal drugs. Their subjective idea of him was as a good business student. However, Akhil’s own idea of himself differed because his information regarding himself also differed. Non verbal communication and face-to-face interaction with these persons provided symbols of his overt life. Yet, they provided no clues into his more covert operations. Therefore, he does appear to manipulate the societal symbols in order to create in the minds of those around him an appearance of conformity (Stewart).
Interactionism does also go on to indicate that inequalities are shown through what symbols mean. This is true in the case of this story, as Bansal’s ability to purchase condominiums and luxury cars demonstrates his ascent to the moneyed classes of society. Yet, he was still able to create a view of himself as being merely a business student because he kept those luxuries far away from him. A clue to this did, however, remain in the size of his bank account.
It appears that conflict theory is most in tune with the concepts presented in this case. It directly involves the idea of capitalism that is the basis for the marketing of any drugs and is the method upon which this illegal marketing is patterned. The countries involved in this scam (India, Canada and the United States) are also capitalist societies that possess the social inequalities and stratification that would act as motive for the Bansals and their international accomplices. The idea of positive consequences seemed far fetched, however, as the true consequences of the class struggles appears to have been the deviant behavior of the Bansals and not their capture by the legal forces.
The other two theories do offer some pertinent insights into the situation, yet some of the concepts seem to be incorrect when applied to the story. Functionalism identifies dysfunctions and social disorganization in society. However, it points toward a non-existent consensus among citizens as well as fixed roles in society that are disproved by the events of this story. Interactionism does better by identifying the subjectivity affecting social interactions. Yet, the analysis and credence given to inequality and stratification is weakened by the evidence suggests in this incident.
McClelland, Kent. “Functionalism.” Introduction to Theories. Grinnel: Grinnell College, 2000. http://web.grinnell.edu/courses/soc/s00/soc111- 01/IntroTheories/Functionalism.html
Shiffman, John. “Pushing Pills.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia: Philly Online. 19 November 2006. http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/special_packages/pill/
Stewart, Don. “Sociology for the Public: Seeing Your World More Clearly.” University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas: UNLV, 2005. http://www.unlv.edu/Faculty/stewartd/Comparison%20of%20Theories.pdf