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The History Of The Conflict Perspective

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2037 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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The conflict perspective is one of two major sociological theories. Also known as the "conflict model," it gives sociologists explanations for happenings in history and in society.The conflict perspective was planned by Karl Marx (classical founders of social science) in the middle 1800s. It is totally based upon the work of Karl Marx even though there are many scholars who have contribute in developing this perspective. Marx believed that conflict defined the happenings of society. His conflict perspective believed that the class conflict and class exploitation as the major moving forces in history.

This view was revived by C Wright Mills, Lewis Coser, Raymond Aron, Dahrendorf and others. They see a society as held together through the power of dominant groups or classes. C. Wright Mills's views, (the founder of modern conflict theory) in social structures are created through conflict between people with differing interests and resources.

Conflict Theory:

Conflict theory generally surrounds the idea that most struggles in society happen because of conflicts between different social classes or groups.

Each group struggles to achieve more resources and because resources are limited, they must struggle with other groups.

Groups try to protect their own interests, therefore blocking the progress of other groups.

Individuals have aggressive impulses and these impulses are expressed in all relationships.

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Karl Marx (1818-1883): as a humanist, Marx wanted all individuals to reach their full human potiential. He belived that capatilism was economic system design to keep power in the hands of the few ,the owner of the means of the production, while the masses were forced to abide by a social system created by the privileged.Marx believed that all of history is characterized by an economics struggle between the haves and the have-nots. Marx was attempting to combine material and ideal factors or structural and cultural factors, and to illustrate their mutual relationship. The importance that Marx placed on using the historical method reflects his evolutionary ideas about human society. He explained how humans separated themselves from animals once they consciously realized that they could produce their own means of subsistence, rather than depending on what nature provided.

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According to Marx, Class struggle became the next to be expected step in the historical process of human development. Marx stated that class distinctions are heavily influenced by the ownership of personal property. Marx believed that once the exploited became conscious of their plight and misery, they would unite in revolution. The new society would be characterized by communism which was to be the economic and philosophical force that would remove class struggle. Marx's primary ideas of communism are described in the communist manifesto (1848), co written by Marx and Engels. In brief, Marx and Engels believed that the world would be a better place under communism. They believed that class inequality would end with the collective control of property and with the growth in size and power of the working class. The governmental abuse of workers would end with the take apart of government. [i] 

Max Weber (1864-1920): Weber agreed with Marx that ecnomics was an important variable in determining power differential among individuals in society. However, he believed that social divisions were based on two other factors as well: social status and political influence. Weber believed that someone how possesses a great deal of social status and yet is economically poor can still hold power in society. Additionally, Weber argued that "social group would identify themselves not merely according to wealth, but more deeply by ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and by shared 'styles of life'". Weber belived that conflict underlies all social relations and determines power. The control of power is a critical element in conflict theory and power is a central aspect in Weber's work on the types of athurity. According to weber, the distribution of power and athority is the basis of social conflict. [ii] 

Elite Conflict Theory (C. Wright Mills): (1916-1962)

Like other cflict theoritists, Mills were deeply influenced by the idea of Karl Marx. Political power and class differences were the focus of Mill's publications. Mill's wrote that the working class is not a revolutionary class capeable of overthrowing capitalism. He did not believe that the rank-and-file workers were a militant force, and that they were more concerned with basic daily issues then with seeking loftier goals. Furthermore, Mills concluded that labor leader did not work in the best intrest of worker and were instead coopted by business and government. He believed that the lack of leadership, the working class could never become a revoluntary force.


Power is the critical element of analysis for all conflict theorists. Mills (1958b) described three types of power:

Authority: Power that is justified by the beliefs of the voluntarily obedient.

Manipulation: Power that is wielded unbeknownst to the powerless.

Coercion: The final form of power is where the powerless are forced to obey the powerful.

Mills acknowledge that in the modern era, power is more likely to be authoritarian. And yet, the reality remains that most people will always be relatively powerless.

The power elite:

Mills says about the power elite that the power elite is composed of men whose position enable them to transcend the ordinary environments of ordinary men and women; they are in position to make decision having major consequences.

Mills (1958b) explain the unity of the power of elite in psychological and economic terms. The members of the elite generally share a similar origin, education and life style, and because of their similar social type, they easily mix together. Additionally, they are the society elite so they share economic goals. Mills acknowledge that the power elite were not solitary rulers. From the Marxist perspective, Mills felt that the people were subjected to, "the will of the bourgeoisie". History has shown that when extreme conservatism is meet with a dramatically change society, conflict is inevitable. [iii] 

Parsonian Conflict Theory (Dahrendorf): (1929)

Dahrendorf 1959 believed that sociological theories should be divided into two parts: those that concentrate on issues of consensus and those that concentrate on issues of conflict. Dahrendorf believed that conflict and consensus are both evident in any society. In fact, there cannot be conflict unless some degree of consensus has already been established. When a consensus has been reached, conflict disappears, temporarily.

Dahrendrof 1959:162 refer his conflict theory as the "coercion theory of society" which can be reduced to a small number of basic tents:

Every society is at every point subject to processes of change, social change is ever-present.

Every society displays at every point dissensus and conflict; conflict is ubiquitous.

Every element in a society cause to be contributions its disintegration and change.

Every society is based on the coercion of some of its members by other.

Dahrendorr believed that power implies the coercion of some by others but recognize that in organization and associations, the power held by certain persons is lawful authority. In making a distinctions from Marx, however, Dahrendrof suggest that authority is not bound by property rights and therefore believed that "class conflict is best seen as arising out of a dispute over the distribution of authority in a given authority structure". [iv] 

Conflict theory of Randall Collins: (1941)

Conflict theory generally emphasizes the role of power that one group, or person. Kemper and Collins (1990) argue "that power and status are fundamental relational dimensions at the micro level of social interaction and perhaps at the macro level as well".

Collins (1975) assumed that there are certain "goods", namely, wealth, power, and prestige that people in all societies will pursue. Furthuremore, all people dislike being ordered around and will therefore that what they can to avoid the subordinate role. Thus, conflict is inevitbale, for everyone is in pursuit of scarce resources and the roles related to these desired resources. Collins (1975b) concluded that coercion and the ability to "force"others to behave a certain way are the primary basis of conflict.

Collins developed five principles of conflict analyses (Ritzier, 2000c:130);

Conflict theory must focus on real life rather than abstract formulation.

Material arrangement effect interaction. .

In some situation of inequality between persons, those who possess the power position generally attempt to exploit those who back resources.

The role of culture phenomena, such as beliefs, values, and norms believe must be examined in term of their interest, resources and power.

There must a firm commitment to the scientific study of stratification and every other aspect of the social world.

In his conflict theory, it is clear that Collins focus on individuals and their inner struggles reveals a micro orientation.Collins believed that sociological research should be aimed at solving concrete problems in the world. [v] 

Feminist conflict theory:

Conflict theory has been used by feminists to explain the position of women in society. Feminist conflict theorists argue that women have traditionally been demoralized so that men can benefit from positions of power, wealth, and status. These theorists would argue that the conflict over limited natural resources is what led men to relegate women to domesticity. This interpretation of conflict theory also leads to the idea that men cannot be trusted to give power to women because this gift would conflict with their inherent nature. [vi] 

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So it concluded that man's struggle for power, be it family or work place, play group or politics, man wants to achieve the higher and authoritative position. It starts from personal level to national level. There are various groups and communities of people in society belonging to different classes, religions, and ideologies. All of them have different perspectives and values. The clash between these various perspectives leads to conflict between these groups. This conflict can arise from the desire to own the means of production, to own the power or land, or to own the realm of political power, and can be revolutionary. Under the conflict perspective we can say that the basic form of interaction in society is not cooperation, but competition, and this leads to conflict. Because the individuals and groups of society compete for advantage, there is constantly conflict for change. When there are large groups competing the outcome are often major social change. So conflict perspective is all about the differences between social groups in the society. [vii] 


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