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MHS Library | Conflict Theory

Conflict theory

Conflict Theory Conflict theorizing originated in Europe in the works of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel..

Conflict theory states that tensions and conflicts arise when resources, status, and power are unevenly distributed between groups in society and that these conflicts become the engine for social change. In this context, power can be understood as control of material resources and accumulated wealth, control of politics and the institutions that make up society, and one's social status relative to others(determined not just by class but by race, gender, sexuality, culture, and religion, among other things).

Marx's Conflict Theory

Conflict theory originated in the work of Karl Marx, who focused on the causes and consequences of class conflict between the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production and the capitalists) and the proletariat (the working class and the poor). Focusing on the economic, social, and political implications of the rise of capitalism in Europe, Marx theorized that this system, premised on the existence of a powerful minority class (the bourgeoisie) and an oppressed majority class (the proletariat), created class conflict because the interests of the two were at odds, and resources were unjustly distributed among them.

Within this system an unequal social order was maintained through ideological coercion which created consensus--and acceptance of the values, expectations, and conditions as determined by the bourgeoisie. Marx theorized that the work of producing consensus was done in the "superstructure" of society, which is composed of social institutions, political structures, and culture, and what it produced consensus for was the "base," the economic relations of production. 

Marx reasoned that as the socio-economic conditions worsened for the proletariat, they would develop a class consciousness that revealed their exploitation at the hands of the wealthy capitalist class of bourgeoisie, and then they would revolt, demanding changes to smooth the conflict. According to Marx, if the changes made to appease conflict maintained a capitalist system, then the cycle of conflict would repeat. However, if the changes made created a new system, like socialism, then peace and stability would be achieved.

Conflict theory (Canvas notes)

The key aspects of the theory:

* Proposed by Karl Marx and states that society is in a state of perpetual conflict

* Caused by competition for limited resources

* That people with wealth and powerful positions can maintain social order through their status and domination

* A conflict between two separate classes, the minority and the majority. The minority are said to be the ones that have the most wealth while the majority are the poorer ones.

* It also believes that when conditions of the minority worsen, the inequality will be recognised and it may result in a rebel.

* Focused on two primary classes, the bourgeoisie (represents wealthy people) and the proletariat (represents the working class / the poor)

* Social theorists believe that the relationship between an owner of a property and a tenant is through conflict, rather than being a peaceful ad harmonious relationship. This is because they are both in it for their own personal gain, the owner to make money, and the tenant for a place to live

What phenomena does it best explain?

What are criticisms of the theory?

Subject guide created by

Tania Sheko

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