Concept of Conflict Theory

Macro level theoretical perspective. It is a framework for building theory that sees society as an arena of inequality that generates conflict and change. Sociologist uses the conflict approach look at ongoing conflict between dominant and disadvantaged categories of people. It shows how inequality creates conflict and causes change. Karl Marx helped develop the social- conflict approach. Critics of Structural functional approach. Conflict theorist’s view conflict as an engine of social change.

Karl Marx, Dahrendorf, Collins, coser etc are the main theorists

Key Assumptions

  • Society is not a system of equilibrium.
  • Society itself dynamics.
  • Class conflict ultimately produced positive change of society.
  • No society without conflict.
  • Conflict is a universal phenomenon.
  • Conflict is a continue process with violent and non violent form.
  • Conflict is rooted in social structure.
  • Based on Macro level theoretical orientation.

Conflict theory of Karl Marx and Max Weber 

Karl marx (1818- 1883)

A German social theorist, founder of revolutionary communism and in sociology historical materialism. 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).

His materialist approach claims that societies are define by their economic system. Class conflict is the conflict between entire classes over the distribution of a society’s wealth and power. Marx traced conflict between social classes in societies as the sources of social change throughout history.

Mode of production

Means of production(resources)

Forces of production(Technology)

  • In ancient societies: Master dominated slaves.
  • In agrarian societies: Feudal dominated serfs.
  • In industrial- capitalist societies: Capitalists dominate proletarians.
  1. Primitive mode of production( classless)
  2. Slavery mode of production(master and slave)
  3. Feudal mode of production(Feudal and tenants)
  4. Capitalist mode of production( Bourgeois’ and proletariat)
  5. Socialist mode of production(classless)
  6. Communism

Marx focused on the role of capitalism in creating inequality and class conflict in modern societies. Under capitalism, the ruling class (capitalists, who own the means of production) oppresses the working class (proletarians, who sell their labor).

Max Weber (1861- 1920)

Weber understood the power of technology and he shared many of Marx’s ideas about social conflict. He traced the ideas- especially beliefs and values- that have shaped societies throughout history. Weber agreed with Marx that the economic inequalities of the capitalist system were a source of widespread conflict.

However, he disagreed that the conflict must be lead to revolution. Weber theorized that there was more than one cause for conflict: beside economics, inequalities could exist over political power and social status.

Weber also identified several factors that moderated people’s reaction to inequalities. He focused on the growth of large, rational organizations as the defining characteristic of modern societies.

  1. Economic(upper, middle, and lower)
  2. social ( upper, middle, lower)
  3. political(upper, middle, lower)

Criticism of Conflict Theory

It has been criticized because it tends to focus on conflict to the exclusion of recognizing stability.

Many structures are extremely stable over time rather than changing abruptly as conflict theory would suggest.