Social conflict theory is a Marxist-based social theory which argues that individuals and groups (social classes) within society have differing amounts of material and non-material resources (the wealthy vs. the poor) and that the more powerful groups use their power in order to exploit groups with less power. The two methods by which this exploitation is done are through brute force usually done by police and the army and economics. Earlier social conflict theorists argue that money is the mechanism which creates social disorder. The theory further states that society is created from ongoing social conflict between various groups. There are other theories of deviance, the functionalist theory, the control theory and the strain theory. It also refers to various types of positive social interaction that may occur within social relationships.
"Consider paying rent towards housing. The conflict theorist argues that this relationship is unequal and favors the owners. Renters may pay rent for 50 years and still gain absolutely no right or economic interest with the property. It is this type of relationship which the conflict theorist will use to show that social relationships are about power and exploitation."
Padgitt continues, "Marx argued that through a dialetic process, social evolution was directed by the result of class conflict. Marxism argues that human history is all about this conflict, a result of the strong-rich exploiting the poor-weak. From such a perspective, money is made through the exploitation of the worker. It is aruged thus, that in order for a factory owner to make money, he must pay his workers less then they deserve."
Thus, the social conflict theory states that groups within a capitalist society tend to interact in a destructive way, that allows no mutual benefit and little cooperation. The solution Marxism proposes to this problem is that of an workers' revolution to break the political and economic domination of the capitalist class with the aim of reorganising society along lines of collective ownership and mass democratic control.
According to Karl Marx in all stratified societies there are two major social groups: a ruling class and a subject class. The ruling class derives its power from its ownership and control of the forces of production. The ruling class exploits and oppresses the subject class. As a result there is a basic conflict of interest between the two classes.
The various institutions of society such as the legal and political system are instruments of ruling class domination and serve to further its interests. Marx believed that western society developed through four main epochs-primitive communism, ancient society, feudal society and capitalist society.
Primitive communism is represented by the societies of pre-history and provides the only example of the classless society. From then all societies are divided into two major classes - master and slaves in ancient society, lords and serfs in feudal society and capitalist and wage labourers in capitalist society. Weber sees class in economic terms. He argues that classes develop in market economies in which individuals compete for economic gain.
He defines a class as a group of individuals who share a similar position in market economy and by virtue of that fact receive similar economic rewards. Thus a person's class situation is basically his market situation. Those who share a similar class situation also share similar life chances. Their economic position will directly affect their chances of obtaining those things defined as desirable in their society.
Weber argues that the major class division is between those who own the forces of production and those who do not. He distinguished the following class grouping in capitalist society: the propertied upper class, the property-less white-collar workers, the petit bourgeois, and the manual working class.