Critical Analysis of the Conflict Theory

Topics: Sociology, Marxism, Karl Marx Pages: 6 (1625 words) Published: April 21, 2014
There are three major theories: Structural Functionalism, Symbolic Interaction, and Conflict. These theories relate to the main aspects of life in a society: organized group membership, interaction, and conflict. Out of all three of these, conflict seems to be the most straight-forward. Every person has experienced conflict in life. The main focus of this theory is how power structures and power disparities impact people’s lives (The Catholic University of America, 2008). Conflict theory according to Crossman (2013) emphasizes the role of coercion and power in producing social order. This is derived from the works of Karl Marx, who saw society as fragmented into groups that compete for social and economic resources.

According to Walsh (2012), Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) is the father of critical criminology; he is also associated with the ideas of socialism and communism. “The core of Marxism is the concept of class struggle: Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another. The oppressors in Marx’s time were the owners of the means of production (the bourgeoisie), and the oppressed were the workers (the proletariat). The bourgeoisie strives to keep the cost of labor at a minimum, but the proletariat strives to sell its labor at the highest possible price. These opposing goals are the major source of conflict in a capitalist society. The bourgeoisie enjoys the upper hand because capitalist societies have large armies of unemployed workers eager to secure work at any price, thus driving down the cost of labor. These economic and social arrangements – the material conditions of people’s lives – determine what they will know, believe, and value, and how they will behave.” To sum this up, Marx referred to these groups as the have’s (bourgeoisie), and the have not’s (proletariat).

Conflict theory is in essence a complex system with imbalance, which results in conflict that can leave to social change. It explains social life through understanding social processes as the result of the constant struggle between groups. In society there are limited resources, such as power, wealth, education, and prestige, as a result people compete for those resources for survival and to improve their position in society. As stated by McQueeney (2011) according to conflict theory, society is: “A struggle for dominance among competing social groups (classes, genders, races, religions, etc.). When conflict theorists look at society, they see the social domination of subordinate groups through the power, authority, and coercion of dominant groups. In the conflict view, the most powerful members of dominant groups create the rules for success and opportunity in society, often denying subordinate groups such success and opportunities; this ensures that the powerful continue to monopolize power, privilege, and authority. You should note that most conflict theorists oppose this sort of coercion and favor a more equal social order. Some support a complete socioeconomic revolution to socialism (Marx), while others are more reformists, or perhaps do not see all social inequalities stemming from the capitalist system (they believe we could solve racial, gender, and class inequality without turning to socialism). However, many conflict theorists focus on capitalism as the source of social inequalities.” The primary cause of social problems is the exploitation and oppression of subordinate groups by dominants. Conflict theorists generally view oppression and inequality as wrong, whereas structural-functionalist may see it as necessary for the smooth running and integration of society (McQueeney, 2011). As noted by the New World Encyclopedia (2013), conflict theory attempts to refute the functionalist approach, which considers that societies and organizations function so that each individual and group plays a specific role, like organs...

References: The Catholic University of America (2008, August). Overview of theories of human behavior
and the social environment
Crossman, A. (2013). Conflict Theory. Retrieved July 24, 2013, from
McQueeney, K. (2011). Conflict Theory. Retrieved from‎
Mooney, L. A., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. (2007). Understanding social problems (5th ed.).
Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
New World Encyclopedia (2013, June 13). Conflict theory. Retrieved July 25, 2013, from
Ritzer, G. (2007). Conflict Theory. In The Blackwell encyclopedia of sociology (Vol. 2, pp. 662 –
Walsh, A. (2012). Critical theories: Marxist, conflict, and feminist. In Criminology: The
essentials (pp. 93-110)
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