Social conflict

Social conflict is the struggle for agency or power in society. Social conflict or group conflict occurs when two or more actors oppose each other in social interaction, reciprocally exerting social power in an effort to attain scarce or incompatible goals and prevent the opponent from attaining them. It is a social relationship wherein the action is oriented intentionally for carrying out the actor's own will against the resistance of other party or parties.[1]

Conflict theory

Main article: Conflict theories

Conflict theory emphasizes interests, rather than norms and values, in conflict. The pursuit of interests generates various types of conflict. Thus conflict is seen as a normal aspect of social life rather than an abnormal occurrence. Competition over resources is often the cause of conflict. The three tenets of this theory are the following: 1) Society is composed of different groups that compete for resources. 2) While societies may portray a sense of cooperation, a continual power struggle exists between social groups as they pursue their own interests. Within societies, certain groups control specific resources and means of production. 3) Social groups will use resources to their own advantage in the pursuit of their goals. This often means that those who lack control over resources will be taken advantage of. As a result, many dominated groups will struggle with other groups in attempt to gain control. The majority of the time, the groups with the most resources will gain or maintain power (due to the fact that they have the resources to support their power). The idea that those who have control will maintain control is known as The Matthew Effect.

One branch of conflict theory is critical criminology. This term is based upon the view that the fundamental causes of crime is oppression, resulting from social and economic forces operating within a given society. This perspective stems from German philosopher, Karl Marx, who believed the justice system and laws favour the rich and powerful in a society and that the poor are punished far more severely for much smaller crimes.

Another branch of conflict theory is the conflict theory of aging. This came about in the 1980s due to a setback in federal spending and a loss of jobs across the nation; the older generations competed with the younger generation for employment. Among those that were the worst affected were women, low-income families, and minorities.

Karl Marx

In the Critique of the Political Economy Marx writes: In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At some stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters (legcuffs). Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.

Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient,[A] feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals' social conditions of existence – but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation.

Karl Marx, a German revolutionary, emphasized his materialist views on ownership and means of production. He argued that what is most valued is a result of human labour and founded his ideas based on a capitalistic community, meaning a majority of the money is owned by only a small percentage. This causes a distinction between two classes, the industrialists and the working class. The industrialists, the ones that make up the small percentage, own the means of production. The working class are those earning their wages by selling their labour. Problems become noticeable because the upper class is looking to get the most production possible for the least amount of money. A Surplus value is created; the profit industrialists hold on to caused by workers producing more than the employers actually need to repay the cost of hiring labourers. Another occurrence is exploitation; when workers receive less money than what their labour is worth. Marx believed that the gap between industrialists and the labourers would continue to grow. The industrialists would become more and more wealthy, and the labourers continue to move towards poverty. Conflict theory is seen throughout relationships and interactions between two groups of people including races, opposite sexes, and religions.

Max Weber and Karl Marx have two different approaches to the conflict theory. Marx supports the ideas of deviance, claiming that individuals choose to engage in such rebellious and conflicting behaviour as a response to the inequalities of the capitalist system. Weber discusses the conflict of stratification and its effects on power in society. He stresses property, prestige, and power as the main influences to the conflicting behaviours of groups in society.

Karl Marx argued: "The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and range. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. With the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion to the devaluation of the world of men. Labour produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity -- and does so in the proportion in which it produces commodities generally."

A commodity is a social use value produced by its owner not for personal consumption but for exchange. Marx believed that an entrepreneur has more and more to keep up with the more his company and power expands. It becomes more difficult each time his range of power increases. Eventually, the entrepreneur himself will become a commodity because he/she will no longer be able to keep up with their business and will have to put themselves (their company) up for sale on the market.


Stratification is the distribution of a valued good in levels, or could be seen as the inequalities among individuals and groups. Weber determined that there are three levels of stratification and those include: property (economic class), prestige (status), and power (party). Property is related to control and ownership; prestige is the position that gains value determined by interactions with others; power is influence, relations, and position.

Systems of stratification

These systems share 3 characteristics. They are as follows:

  1. The rankings apply to social categories of people who share a common characteristic without necessarily interacting or identifying with each other.
  2. People's life experiences and opportunities depend on the ranking of their social category.
  3. The ranks of different social categories change very slowly over time.

Conflict interests

Conflict of interest is a type of conflict interest. We can define a conflict of interest as a situation in which a person has a private or personal interest sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties as, say, a public official, an employee, or a professional. "Social conflict is not limited to hostile or antagonistic opposition; it is not wholly a clash of coercive powers as often is implied, but of any opposing social powers. Social conflict is usually recognized through violence and physical behaviour. Yet it's more that just fighting, and killing one another. At times it can deal with it throw a simple town in a conversation. It is acknowledged by someone's power."

Dr. Coser, a sociologist, disagrees with the majority of American sociologists who, he contends, have badly neglected and misunderstood the concept and function of social conflict. He defines social conflict as '… a struggle over the values and claims to scarce status, power and resources in which the aims of the opponents are to neutralize, injure, or eliminate their rivals'. He believes that the prevalent tendency is to look upon conflict as dysfunctional and pathological.

Types of social conflict:

See also


  1. Pruitt, Dean G., Kim, Sung Hee, Eds., (2004, 3rd Edition) Social Conflict, Escalation and Settlement, McGraw Hill Higher Education, New York, NY ISBN 0072855355 (


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