What is Conflict Theory?

By Jane Gips on November 14 2017 in Did You Know

Karl Marx studied the conflict between the rich and poor classes over the control of resources.
Karl Marx studied the conflict between the rich and poor classes over the control of resources.

Conflict theory states that society is in a continuous state of conflict over the competition for resources that are scarce. It also states that conformity is upheld through domination and power rather than consensus.

Marx's Conflict Theory Explained

Karl Marx originally adopted conflict theory to explain why society was money-oriented. Karl Marx stated that many conflicts in society were a result of the scarcity of resources. This was also meant to explain why the rich tried to hold onto what they had even if it meant suppressing the poor. Marx had studied the conflict between the rich and poor classes over the control of resources. He had termed the rich, or the Bourgeoisie, held most of the power despite being small in numbers. They were the capitalists, landowners, and industrialists who controlled important resources in society. On the other hand, poor, or the Proletariat, made up the majority of the population in society yet were oppressed. These individuals put in a lot of effort to create resources but they received little or none in return.

Marx was aware of the Bourgeoisie's flawed thinking and their belief that their wealth was private. The Bourgeoisie thought that they were rich because they were hardworking and educated while the poor were underprivileged because of their laziness and illiteracy. He dismissed this by trying to introduce a class consciousness to the Proletariat. He wanted the working class to rise up and topple the capitalist system.

Marx believed that a rise of the working class would help to avoid future conflict as a result of the uneven distribution of resources. To solve this, he proposed the introduction of socialism. In this system, everyone would get an equal share of resources which would in theory lead to peace and stability.

Conflict Theory Examples

  • 2008 Financial Crisis: After the 2008 financial crisis, many protests occurred which showed a feeling of anger among Americans. Citizens had lost their savings and investments yet a bailout from the government only benefited the elite banks and individuals.
  • The Gender Wage Gap: The difference in pay between men and women can also be used as an example of conflict theory. Women workers are often overlooked and promotions are more likely to be given to men.
  • Racial discrimination: Racially-informed prejudices faced by marginalized groups of people is an example of conflict theory because of the inequality in quality of life and access to opportunities that it causes.
  • War: One example of conflict theory applied to a war could be the conflict in South Sudan, which stems from the distribution of resources. The revenue from oil is bitterly contested among the elite. This struggle has made peace very elusive to date. South Sudan had split from Sudan for the same reasons as well. The North had discriminated the South in the allocation of resources and it led to the civil war that lasted 22 years.

Criticisms of Conflict Theory

Marx's conflict theory has been criticized for being an over-simplification of very complicated concepts. While conflict theory has been lauded for being able to efficiently example why concepts in society do not work, it has been criticized as unable to explain why concepts do not work. The opposite of conflict theory is structural functionalism, which argues that society works together towards a shared goal. However, despite these rebuttals, conflict theory has had a strong influence on theories that followed it, such as globalization, feminist theories, and postmodern discourse.

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