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Importance of Social Conflict Theory

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2035 words Published: 19th Jul 2018

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Why is theory important in the area of sociology?

A theory is a proposed relationship between two or more concepts. In sociology, sociological theories are statements of how and why particular facts about the social world are related (Marcioni & Geber, 2010, p14). They range in scope from concise descriptions of a single social process to examples or models for analysis and interpretation.

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Some sociological theories explain aspects of the social world and enable prediction about future events (Robert, 2012), while others function as broad perspective which guides further sociological analyses (Kallom, 2002). The importance of theory in the area of sociology cannot be overemphasized. Theories such as the social conflict theory, structural functionalism theory, positivism theory, field theory, rational choice theory, and so on, were developed to explain social phenomena.

In sociology, a theory may specify deterministic properties of a set of entities, thus permitting point predictions about future states of the relevant system, or it may specify probabilistic relations among entities, giving rise to statements about the distribution of possible future states of the system. A theory is provided with a set of “bridge” statement that permit the theorist to connect the consequences of the theory with predictions about, observable state of affairs.

Sociology is an examination of human beings in social contexts. Observing how people in specific communities interact, taking surveys and conducting experiments yield new data to build sociological knowledge. Sociological theories are frameworks explaining how specific aspects of society are linked to larger processes. An element characterizing society is interdependence. Individuals or organizations cannot survive independently while even seemingly dissimilar concept such as religion and the rise of an economic system can be closely connected. In other words, theories help determine interdependent aspects. Civic competence involved been able to make informed and rational decisions on every issue, from participating in elections to settling disputes with their neighbours. Theories in the area of sociology will help people understand how society works and how they can be a useful part in it.

Furthermore, it almost impossible to make decisions affecting a certain community without deep knowledge of its structure, as miscalculated decisions can have a severe impact on people’s lives. Tackling societal problems such as alcoholism, high criminal rate, requires decision makers to know what exactly the problem is and its causes. Sociological theories provide an insight on such issues, making it easier and safer for elected representatives to find solutions to social problems. Sociologist focus on how a society is structured, how each and every individual works as part of the whole, how society has changed over the years and predictions of future changes. In essence, sociological theories help people understand society and knowledge of the world as it grows.

Conclusively therefore sociological theory was defined by Rizzer (2013) as a set of interrelated ideas that allow for the systematization of knowledge of the social world. This knowledge is then used to explain the social world and make predictions about the future of the world (p5).

Discuss any sociology theory of your choice

The Social Conflict Theory is one of the theories in sociology. The conflict theory was originated by Karl Marx in the mid – 1800’s. The theory states that human behaviour results in conflicts between competiting groups. The belief is that in all stratified societies, there are two major social groups, a ruling class and a subject class (Anderson & Taylor, 2009). The ruling class enjoys been the owner and having control over forces of production hereby exploiting the subject class. This has resulted in a basic conflict of interest between the two classes.

Social conflict is the struggle between segments of society over valued resources (Aghababa, 2011). Social conflict turned a small population into capitalists in the nineteenth century. Capitalists are people who own and operate factories and other businesses in pursuit of profits. However, capitalism turned most people into industrial workers whom Marx called proletarians. Proletarians actually sold their labour for wages. Conflict theories draw attention to power differentials such as class, gender and race conflict, and contrast historically dominant ideologies.

It is therefore a macro level analysis of society that sees society as an arena of inequality that generates conflict and social change (Macious & Gerber, 2011, p15). Social conflict theory is a compact of the four major paradigms of sociology. Other important sociologists Harriet Martinean, Hane Addams and Dubois (Macious & Geber, 2011) argue that this sociological approach does not look at how social structures help society to operate, but instead looks at how “social patterns” can cause some people in the society to be dominant and others to be oppressed.

The social conflict theory opines that individuals and groups (social classes) within society have differing amounts of material and non-material resources (such as the wealthy vs the poor) and that the more powerful groups use their power in order to exploit groups with less power. Two methods by which this exploitation is done are through brute force usually done by police, the army and economics. Earlier social conflict theories argue that money is the mechanism which creates social disorder. It can also be deduced from their beliefs that the society is created from ongoing social conflict between various groups. The social conflict theory believes social relationships are about power and exploitation; the rich exploiting the poor. Citing an example of this oppression is a renter for instance, living in a rented apartment for fifty years and having no right or economic interest within the property.

In sociology, conflict theory opines that the society functions so that everyone or group involved can make the best use of benefits which in the long run brings about social changes. Most times, the theory is applied to explain conflict between social classes in ideas such as socialism and communism. Competition plays a vital role in understanding conflict theory. Accordingly, there are three primary assumptions of modern conflict theory. The first is competition over scarce resources such as money and leisure which is characteristic of human relationship. Second is structural inequality which has to do with inequalities in power and reward. Thirdly, it is believed that revolution is eminent because change occurs as a result of conflict between competing interests, rather than through adaptation. According to McCafferty (2006), conflict theory emphasizes the social political or material inequality of a social group. It also contrast dominant ideologies and make open differences in power.

Conflict theory is mostly associated with Marxism, but as a reaction to functionalism and positivist method, may also be associated with number of other perspectives including critical theory, feminist theory, post-modern theory, post structural theory etc (Rodney, 2007). Conflict theory posits that social groups or classes compete with each other in order to obtain resources that the society deems important. A realistic social conflict theory is an understanding of the positive role of social conflict in serving the common good. It is actually expected to put change in perspective since all substantial social change involves social conflict. Social conflict theory plays a position role, when properly understood, in promoting groups to find common ground, form alliances, define core values, identify differences in view point, set group boundaries, and inform strategies for achieving expected change. Understanding these functions of social conflict in the context of a social conflict theory is an essential process in positive social change.

To understand social conflict theory, it must be known that in a democratic society, no one group should dominate all other groups. The power any group is supposed to have and especially of large institutions, is limited by force of law and by social impact, custom and social tradition within that frame of reference. Various interest groups and institutions compete, negotiate and work out changes in socio-economic arrangements generating social conflict in the process.

Wright Mills who has been called the founder of modern conflict theory opined that social structures are created through conflict between people with differing interest and resources. Individuals and resources in turn, are influential by these structures and by the unequal distribution of power and resources in the society (Knapp, 1994, pp228-246).


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