Thesis: Conflict Theory

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Conflict Theory

In the study of sociology, conflict theory states that the society or organization functions so that each individual participant and its groups struggle to maximize their benefits, which inevitably contributes to social change such as changes in politics and revolutions. The theory is generally applied to explain conflict between social classes in ideologies such as socialism and communism. The theory is used to refute functionalism, which considers that societies and organization function so that each individual and group plays a specific role, like organs in the body. There are radical basic assumptions being made. One is that it is only conflict, which might explain social change. The second is a more moderate one in which custom and conflicts are always mixed (Conflict, 2007).

In trying to understand conflict theory, competition always plays a key part. The following are four primary assumptions of modern conflict theory:

Competition over scarce resources such as money, leisure, sexual partners, and so on is at the heart of all social relationships. It is competition rather than consensus is characteristic of human relationships.

2. Differences in power and reward are built into all social structures. Individuals as well as groups that benefit from any particular structure strive to see it maintained.

3. Change happens as a result of conflict between competing interests rather than through adaptation. It is often seen as abrupt and revolutionary rather than evolutionary.

4. Even war is a unifier of the societies involved, as well as war may set an end to whole societies (Conflict, 2007).

Conflict theory can often be a difficult concept to explain. The theory itself was originally invented by Karl Marx, though later the theory was adapted and developed by other theorists such as Max Weber. In order to understand conflict theory, one must begin by looking at an individual or group. Conflict theory begins with the role that one person or group plays within the larger social scene. In addition, theory in conflict states that the whole point of a society is to create social change. Often, this change occurs through a matter of physical conflict and struggle (Conflict Theory, n.d.).

There are several ways in which conflict theory can begin to form. These include: c conflict between social classes proletarian vs. bourgeoisie capitalism vs. socialism (Conflict Theory, n.d.).

Conflict theory clearly takes a number of things into consideration. While there frequently seems to be some sort of struggle between social classes, this is not always the case. Occasionally, conflict theory can be applied to ideologies including capitalism and socialism. Theory in conflict has to do with the ways in which one group tries to better its social position. Often, conflict theory is a physical resistance, but sometimes it's just a battle of the brains (Conflict Theory, n.d.).

Over the years conflict has always been central to sociological theory and analysis. It is a theory that is a label generally attached to the sociological writings of opponents to the dominance of structural functionalism, in the two decades after the Second World War. Conflict theorists have always emphasized the importance of interests over norms and values, and the ways in which the pursuit of interests generated various types of conflict as normal aspects of social life, rather than abnormal or dysfunctional occurrences (Gordon, 1998).

There are several social theories that emphasize social conflict, all of which have roots in the ideas of Karl Marx. Marx was a great German theorist and political activist. The Marxist, conflict approach highlights a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical method of analysis, a critical position toward existing social arrangements, and a political program of revolution or reform (Conflict Theory, 2000).

The materialist view of history starts from the premise that the most important determinant of social life is the work that people are doing, especially the work that results in provision of the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and shelter. Marx thought that the way the work is socially organized and the technology that is used in production will have a strong impact on every other aspect of society. He upheld that everything of value in society resulted from human labor. Marx saw working men and women as occupied in making society and in creating the conditions for their own existence (Conflict Theory, 2000).

Marx divided history into several stages all which conformed to broad patterns in the economic structure of society. Marx saw the most important stages of his argument as feudalism, capitalism, and socialism. The bulk of Marx's writing was concerned with applying the materialist model of society to capitalism. This was the stage of economic and social development that Marx saw as dominant in 19th century Europe. The central foundation of capitalist society is private property. This is the system by which capital such as money, machines, tools, factories, and other material objects are used in production is controlled by a small minority of the population. This arrangement leads to two classes, the owners of capital called the bourgeoisie and the workers called the proletariat, whose only property is their own labor time, which they have to sell to the capitalists. Owners are seen as profiting by paying workers less than their work is worth, thus exploiting them. Material forces of production or means of production include capital, land, and labor, whereas social relations of production refers to the division of labor and implied class relationships (Conflict Theory, 2000).

It is thought that economic exploitation leads directly to political oppression, as owners make use of their economic power to gain control of the state and turn it into a servant of bourgeois economic interests. Police power is used to enforce property rights and guarantee unfair contracts between the capitalist and worker. Oppression can take on many subtle forms. Religion serves capitalist interests by pacifying the population while intellectuals who are paid directly or indirectly by capitalists, spend their careers justifying and rationalizing the existing social and economic arrangements. The economic structure of society shapes the superstructure, including ideas and the social institutions that support the class structure of society. Because the dominant class or the bourgeoisie controls the social relations of production, the dominant ideology in capitalist society is that of the ruling class. Philosophy and social institutions serve to reproduce and perpetuate the economic class structure. Marx viewed the exploitative economic arrangements of capitalism as the real foundation upon which the superstructure of social, political, and intellectual consciousness is built (Conflict Theory, 2000).

Marxian Socialism predicated the formation of what was called the proletarian class. The process of the organization and development of that class was the most striking phenomenon of the present industrial age. The term socialism has two distinct concepts, the one standing for the process by which the proletariat develops its political and industrial independence of the existing capitalistic regime, and the other a more or less hazy objective, which is sometimes called socialism and often the co-operative of the commonwealth (Proletarian and Petit-Bourgeois, 2005).

Marx's view of history might seem completely cynical or negative, were it not for the possibilities of change revealed by his method of dialectical analysis. The Marxist dialectical method focuses attention on how an existing social arrangement, or thesis, generates its social opposite, and on how a qualitatively different social form, or synthesis, emerges from the resulting struggle. Marx was truly an optimist. He believed that any stage of history was based on exploitative economic arrangements that generated within it the seeds of its own destruction. He believed that feudalism, in which land owners exploited the peasantry, gave rise to a class of town-dwelling merchants, whose dedication to making profits eventually led to the bourgeois revolution and the modern capitalist era. Likewise, he thought that the class relations of capitalism would lead inevitably to the next stage of socialism. The class relations of capitalism represent a contradiction. First the capitalists need workers, and vice versa, but the economic interests of the two groups are fundamentally at odds. Such contradictions mean inherent conflict and instability, which leads to the class struggle. In addition to the instability of the capitalist system there are inescapable needs for ever-wider markets and ever-greater investments in capital to maintain the profits of capitalists. Marx expected that the resulting economic cycles of expansion and contraction, together with tensions that will build as the working class gains greater understanding of its exploited position culminate in a socialist revolution (Conflict Theory, 2000).

Marx's ideas have often been applied and reinterpreted by scholars for over a hundred years. These started with Marx's close friend and collaborator, Friedrich Engels (1825-95), who supported Marx and his family for many years, while Marx shut himself away in the library of the British Museum. Later, Vladimir I. Lenin (1870-1924), w ho was the leader of the Russian revolution, made several influential contributions to Marxist theory. Over the years, Marxist theory has taken a great variety of forms, most notably the world-systems theory proposed by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974, 1980)… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Conflict Theory.  (2009, September 26).  Retrieved May 20, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Conflict Theory."  26 September 2009.  Web.  20 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Conflict Theory."  September 26, 2009.  Accessed May 20, 2019.