Conflict Theory by Karl Marx
The conflict theory is a classical sociological theory, it can be said to be one of the pillars of foundation in the study of sociology. By definition the conflict theory “envisages society as an arena of inequality that generates conflict and change,” this is according to Macionis and Plummer (2008:31). To further shed light on the conflict one can take into account the words uttered by Karl Marx, who is credited to the promulgation of the conflict theory, “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” For Karl Marx to take a “humanist philosophical” approach he was influenced by the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution in England. At the core of these revolutions was inequality, thus we have the concept of the dominant and subordinate group, the conflict theory also highlights key concepts such as “fetishism of commodities,” class consciousness and exploitation among others. The aim of this essay is to outline and discuss the conflict theory, whilst explaining its (conflict theory) keys concepts and ascertain its relevance in trying to explain the events taking place in the modern society. Aspects of the conflict theory and its usefulness
The conflict theory as promulgated by Karl Marx looks at the struggle between two classes in all stages of society, the bourgeoisie in conflict with the proletariat. Karl Marx highlighted that due to the evolution of the society from the hunting and gathering society to capitalism classes have emerged and conflict has arose due to the “forces of production,” which are raw materials and technological advancements, which have become a necessity due to the manufacturing nature that has been adopted by the society. According to Appelroth and Edles (2012:24) “private ownership of the means of production leads to class relations based on domination and subordination.” The dominant group holds on to the possessions they have acquired and the less privileged fight for them. This greed for possessions leads a concept described as “commodity fetishism,” this is according to Ian McIntosh (1997:68). In commodity fetishism the dominant group is more focused on profit accumulation than the well-being of the workers, this results in the exploitation of workers so as to produce more profit. Karl Marx further argued that due to exploitation of the proletarians there shall be, a term he describes as “class consciousness,” where the subordinate will revolt against the bourgeoisie, therefore leading to equality and/or communism which can be defined as a classless society, this is according to Ian Marsh (1998) Sociologists that have then adopted the Marxist theoretical perspective try to answer the questions of the social world by using this theory as foundation. Some of the questions they try to answer include, why there is inequality in the modern society, do the existing institutions promote inequality and the role that wealth and races has in these conflicts. And just as Karl Marx their aim is to change the forms of inequality that have to some extent have becomes norms of society. Using the conflict theory one can be able to understand the civil and liberation wars that have characterised most if not the whole of Africa. Looking at the “Chimurenga,” the Zimbabwean liberation struggle and the apartheid in South Africa class consciousness arose due to the oppression of the natives by the westerners. Thus, liberation struggles broke out as the subordinate group wanted to create a class for itself as they were feeling alienated in their own countries. The so called “superior race” the whites had claimed ownership of all forces of production. Furthermore, still on the issue of usefulness, the USSR adopted socialism as a form of government following the ideology of Karl Marx, socialism proved to be one of the worst forms of governing in USSR. Instead of all resources of the country being shared amongst the masses the disparity worsened the system created billionaires out of a few individuals and most people remained impoverished therefore creating a loop hole in Marx’s ideology. In addition, most political party ideologies are based on conflict and change as they strive for equality and socialism in societies that are rampant with corruption an example is the Communist Party in China that aims for equal distribution of wealth among the people. However as a form of criticism one can argue that the conflict perspective taken as a way of understanding the society it can be deemed useless to some extent. The theory has its basis on class struggle but fails to recognise the close knitting of people through culture therefore creating peace and unity therefore evolving as a society, according to Macionis and Plummer (2008:32) “it glosses over how shared values or interdependence generate unity among members of a society.” Karl Marx also wrote his work at a time when capitalism was characterised by exploitation at its best therefore he predicted a revolution which lead societies into socialism. In addition Karl Marx never predicted that there would be a middle class encompassed with workers with a standard of living that is above average and that there would be policies and business ethics that would curb exploitation of workers as seen today. These developments then deem the theory out dated. Conclusion
The conflict perspective has its own contributions that it has brought to the study of sociology. Basing society on the premise of conflict one is able to shed light on the marginalization in society that has occurred due to factors such as racism and how the cycle of conflict continues and leads to change in society. However as a sociologist one should be sceptical and have an eye for scrutiny, so taking one stance to understand the social world will not do justice to a scholar. These perspectives complement each other as they all have flaws, combining them in interpreting society will result in a well refined end product.
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