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Understanding Conflict Theories in Sociology

Mr Edwards

In the field of sociology, conflict theories play a crucial role in understanding the dynamics of social relationships and structures. These theories focus on the idea that society is characterized by inequality and conflict, which are the driving forces behind social change and development. In this article, we will outline and explain the key concepts and perspectives of conflict theories.

Introduction to Conflict Theories

Conflict theories are a collection of sociological perspectives that emphasize the role of conflict, power , and inequality in shaping social structures and interactions. These theories view society as a system that is inherently unequal, with different groups and individuals competing for resources and power.

Unlike other sociological theories that focus on stability and consensus, conflict theories highlight the tensions and contradictions within society. They explore how these conflicts arise, how they are perpetuated, and how they can lead to social change.

Key Concepts of Conflict Theories

1. Social Inequality: Conflict theories emphasize the existence of social inequality, which refers to the unequal distribution of resources, opportunities, and privileges among different groups in society. These inequalities are seen as the root cause of conflicts.

2. Power Relations: Power is a central concept in conflict theories. It refers to the ability of individuals or groups to exert influence and control over others. Conflict theorists analyze how power is unequally distributed in society and how it shapes social interactions and relationships.

3. Social Change: Conflict theories argue that social change occurs as a result of conflicts between different groups with competing interests. These conflicts can lead to the overthrow of existing social structures and the emergence of new ones.

Perspectives within Conflict Theories

There are several perspectives within conflict theories that provide different insights into the nature of conflicts and their impact on society:

1. Marxist Theory

Marxist theory, developed by Karl Marx , focuses on the role of economic factors in shaping social conflicts. It argues that the capitalist system creates class divisions and exploitation, with the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production) oppressing the proletariat (working class). According to Marx , the resolution of these conflicts requires the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a classless society.

2. Feminist Theory

Feminist theory within conflict theories examines the intersection of gender, power, and inequality. It highlights how patriarchal structures and norms perpetuate gender inequalities and oppress women. Feminist theorists advocate for gender equality and challenge the existing power dynamics within society.

3. Racial and Ethnic Conflict Theory

This perspective focuses on the role of race and ethnicity in shaping social conflicts. It explores how racial and ethnic inequalities are maintained through discriminatory practices and policies. Racial and ethnic conflict theorists aim to expose and challenge these inequalities to achieve a more inclusive and equitable society.

Application of Conflict Theories

Conflict theories have been applied to various areas of sociological research and analysis. Some of the key areas include:

– Social Movements: Conflict theories provide insights into the motivations and dynamics of social movements that aim to challenge existing power structures and bring about social change.

– Education : Conflict theories analyze how educational institutions reproduce social inequalities and perpetuate existing power relations.

– Crime and Deviance: Conflict theories examine how social conflicts and inequalities contribute to criminal behavior and the labeling of certain groups as deviant.

– Global Inequality: Conflict theories explore the causes and consequences of global inequalities, such as economic disparities between developed and developing countries.

Conflict theories offer valuable perspectives for understanding the complexities of social relationships and structures. By highlighting the role of conflict, power, and inequality, these theories shed light on the mechanisms that drive social change and shape our societies. By critically analyzing these conflicts, we can work towards creating a more just and equitable world.

Mr Edwards has a PhD in sociology and 10 years of experience in sociological knowledge

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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Conflict Theory

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Conflict Theory by Jörg Rössel LAST REVIEWED: 29 October 2013 LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0035

Conflict theory is a rather fuzzy theoretical paradigm in sociological thinking. The term conflict theory crystallized in the 1950s as sociologists like Lewis Coser and Ralf Dahrendorf criticized the then dominant structural functionalism in sociology for overly emphasizing the consensual, conflict-free nature of societies (see Classics of the Conflict Theory Paradigm ). Therefore, they put forward conflict theory as an independent paradigm of sociological theory with a distinct focus on phenomena of power, interests, coercion, and conflict. Basically, conflict theory assumes that societies exhibit structural power divisions and resource inequalities leading to conflicting interests. However, the emergence of manifest conflicts is a rather rare phenomenon, since it depends on the mobilization of power resources by social actors and on their social organization. Therefore, conflict theory assumes that societies and other forms of social organization usually exhibit rather stable structures of dominance and coercion, punctuated only infrequently by manifest conflicts. However, apart from some authors like Randall Collins (see Contemporary Works of the Conflict Theory Paradigm ), only few contemporary sociologists use the label conflict theory to identify their paradigmatic stance. Thus, conflict theory has not become an established paradigm in social theory (see History and Overviews ). However, apart from the notion of conflict theory as independent theoretical paradigm, the term is often used in at least three other important meanings: firstly, to summarize the theoretical tradition in sociological theory, which deals with conflict, power, domination and social change, exemplified by authors like Karl Marx, Max Weber (b. 1864–d. 1920), and Georg Simmel (b. 1858–d. 1918) (see Classics of the Conflict Theory Tradition ). Secondly, it is applied to denote the analysis and explanation of social conflicts in different sociological paradigms and in other behavioral sciences (see Multiparadigmatic Conflict Theory and Perspectives from Other Disciplines ). Finally, the label conflict theory is often applied to substantive research on power structures, domination, conflict, and change (see Fields of Conflict ). Conflict theory as a paradigm had a kind of catalytic function in the social sciences. It was able to show that the sociological classics also had a focus on phenomena of power and conflict (see Classics of the Conflict Theory Tradition ), it inspired other theoretical paradigms to broaden their focus to include hitherto neglected issues (see Multiparadigmatic Conflict Theory ), and it contributed to the emergence of conflict-oriented research in several fields of sociology (see Fields of Conflict ). In contemporary sociological discussions, therefore, conflict theory is less important as an independent sociological paradigm than in the various forms of conflict theorizing it has inspired.

Since conflict theory is not a fully established, independent sociological paradigm, the number of introductory texts and reflections on the history of conflict theoretical thinking is rather limited. Bartos and Wehr 2002 provide a general and comprehensive introduction to the explanation of social conflict. Binns 1977 is a thorough overview of neo-Weberian and Marxist conflict theory. Bonacker 2008 gives an excellent insight into multiparadigmatic conflict theory, covering most theoretical approaches to social conflicts in contemporary social science. Collins 1994 deals exhaustively with the conflict theory tradition, especially Marx and Weber, whereas Collins 1990 creates a link between the conflict theoretical paradigm and contemporary work in comparative historical sociology. Demmers 2012 introduces the most important general theories of violent conflict. The chapter in Joas and Knöbl 2011 is an excellent overview of classic work in the conflict theory paradigm in the 1950s and discusses reasons for the demise of conflict theory as an independent sociological paradigm. Finally, Turner 2003 briefly discusses the conflict theoretical tradition and the classical conflict theory paradigm and focuses especially on contemporary neo-Weberian, neo-Marxist, and feminist conflict theory.

Bartos, Otomar J., and Paul Wehr. 2002. Using conflict theory . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511613692

This is a comprehensive approach to the explanation of social conflict. It has an introductory character and links different theoretical perspectives with empirical examples.

Binns, David. 1977. Beyond the sociology of conflict . New York: St. Martin’s.

This is a historical reflection of the conflict theoretical tradition, focusing especially on the Weberian and neo-Weberian tradition in its relationship to Marxism.

Bonacker, Thorsten, ed. 2008. Sozialwissenschaftliche Konflikttheorien: Eine Einführung . Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

This volume covers a broad range of social scientific theories dealing with the phenomenon of social conflict. All contributions have a systematic structure and introduce complex theories in a very comprehensible way.

Collins, Randall. 1994. The conflict tradition. In Four sociological traditions . By Randall Collins. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

This monograph introduces the history of sociological theory by focusing on four major strands of theory building: the conflict, the rational/utilitarian, the Durkheimian or normative, and the micro-interactionist tradition. Because of the author’s readable style and the annotated list of references, the book’s first chapter is a very good introduction to the conflict theoretical tradition.

Collins, Randall. 1990. Conflict theory and the advance of macro-historical sociology. In Frontiers of social theory . Edited by George Ritzer, 68–87. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

This chapter discusses the contemporary situation of conflict theoretical thinking and links the classical conflict theory paradigm to contemporary work in comparative historical sociology, especially the work in Mann 1986–2013 (see Contemporary Works in the Conflict Theory Paradigm ). It thereby illustrates Collins’s rather encompassing notion of the term conflict theory.

Demmers, Jolle. 2012. Theories of violent conflict: An introduction . Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

This is a book with an introductory character. It explains the most important theories of violent conflict of social psychology, sociology, and political science.

Joas, Hans, and Wolfgang Knöbl. 2011. Conflict sociology and conflict theory. In Social Theory: Twenty introductory lectures . By Hans Joas and Wolfgang Knöbl, 174–198. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

This book gives an exhaustive and readable overview of contemporary sociological theorizing. It was originally published in German (Sozialtheorie) in 2004. The chapter not only introduces the main authors and discussions of the classical conflict theory paradigm of the 1950s and 1960s, but it also depicts the failure of conflict theory to establish itself fully as an independent sociological paradigm.

Turner, Jonathan H. 2003. The structure of sociological theory . Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

The four sub-chapters about conflict theorizing offer a very dense and systematic account of classical and contemporary conflict theory, especially in its neo-Weberian, neo-Marxian, and feminist variety. Turner presents the theories in a very analytic way, summarizing each of them by providing tables of major, empirically testable propositions.

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Understanding Conflict Theory

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Conflict theory states that tensions and conflicts arise when resources, status, and power are unevenly distributed between groups in society and that these conflicts become the engine for social change. In this context, power can be understood as control of material resources and accumulated wealth, control of politics and the institutions that make up society, and one's social status relative to others (determined not just by class but by race, gender, sexuality, culture , and religion, among other things).

"A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut." Wage Labour and Capital (1847)

Marx's Conflict Theory

Conflict theory originated in the work of Karl Marx , who 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). Focusing on the economic, social, and political implications of the rise of capitalism in Europe , Marx theorized that this system, premised on the existence of a powerful minority class (the bourgeoisie) and an oppressed majority class (the proletariat), created class conflict because the interests of the two were at odds, and resources were unjustly distributed among them.

Within this system an unequal social order was maintained through ideological coercion which created consensus--and acceptance of the values, expectations, and conditions as determined by the bourgeoisie. Marx theorized that the work of producing consensus was done in the "superstructure" of society, which is composed of social institutions, political structures, and culture, and what it produced consensus for was the "base," the economic relations of production. 

Marx reasoned that as the socio-economic conditions worsened for the proletariat, they would develop a class consciousness that revealed their exploitation at the hands of the wealthy capitalist class of bourgeoisie, and then they would revolt, demanding changes to smooth the conflict. According to Marx, if the changes made to appease conflict maintained a capitalist system, then the cycle of conflict would repeat. However, if the changes made created a new system, like socialism , then peace and stability would be achieved.

Evolution of Conflict Theory

Many social theorists have built on Marx's conflict theory to bolster it, grow it, and refine it over the years. Explaining why Marx's theory of revolution did not manifest in his lifetime, Italian scholar and activist  Antonio Gramsci  argued that the power of ideology was stronger than Marx had realized and that more work needed to be done to overcome cultural hegemony, or  rule through common sense . Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, critical theorists who were part of The Frankfurt School , focused their work on how the rise of mass culture--mass produced art, music, and media--contributed to the maintenance of cultural hegemony. More recently, C. Wright Mills drew on conflict theory to describe the rise of a tiny "power elite" composed of military, economic, and political figures who have ruled America from the mid-twentieth century.

Many others have drawn on conflict theory to develop other types of theory within the social sciences, including feminist theory , critical race theory , postmodern and postcolonial theory, queer theory, post-structural theory, and theories of globalization and world systems . So, while initially conflict theory described class conflicts specifically, it has lent itself over the years to studies of how other kinds of conflicts, like those premised on race, gender, sexuality, religion, culture, and nationality, among others, are a part of contemporary social structures, and how they affect our lives.

Applying Conflict Theory

Conflict theory and its variants are used by many sociologists today to study a wide range of social problems. Examples include:

  • How today's global capitalism creates a global system of power and inequality.
  • How words play a role in reproducing and justifying conflict.
  • The causes and consequences of the gender pay gap between men and women.

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conflict perspective in sociology essay

Book contents

  • The Cambridge Handbook of Social Problems
  • Copyright page
  • About the Contributors
  • Introduction
  • Part I General Concerns and Orientations in the Study of Social Problems
  • Part II Historical and Theoretical Issues in the Study of Social Problems
  • Chapter 11 Settlement Sociology
  • Chapter 12 Chicago School: City as a Social Laboratory
  • Chapter 13 Luhmann's Sociological Systems Theory and the Study of Social Problems
  • Chapter 14 The Conflict Approach
  • Chapter 15 Radical Interactionism and the Symbolism of Methamphetamine
  • Chapter 16 Social Constructionism
  • Part III Problems of Discrimination and Inequality
  • Part IV Problems of Institutions

Chapter 14 - The Conflict Approach

from Part II - Historical and Theoretical Issues in the Study of Social Problems

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 March 2018

The conflict approach calls attention to the many social inequalities that underlie social problems in contemporary society. The roots of this approach lie in the nineteenth-century work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which informed the development in the 1960s of conflict theory in the discipline of sociology and the theory's use in the study of social problems. The conflict approach is often seen as a counterpoint to the functional approach, which dominated sociology before the 1960s. This chapter examines the history of the conflict approach, presents its basic assumptions, and discusses its application to several kinds of social problems. The theme of the chapter is that the conflict approach has made important contributions to the study of social problems and underscores the need for fundamental changes in social, economic, and political arrangements for social problems to be successfully addressed.

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  • The Conflict Approach
  • By Steven E. Barkan
  • Edited by A. Javier Treviño , Wheaton College, Massachusetts
  • Book: The Cambridge Handbook of Social Problems
  • Online publication: 16 March 2018
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108656184.015

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Conflict Theory in Sociology: Assumptions and Criticisms

conflict theory examples assumptions definition

In Marx’s view of society, conflict was inherent between social groups because resources were limited. Those who had access to these scarce resources had every incentive to deny them to those who did not. 

This, in a nutshell, is the conflict theory in sociology.

Conflict theory is most commonly associated with the philosophy of Karl Marx (1818-1883), who is sometimes referred to as the father of sociological conflict theory – one of the three sociological paradigms . 

Marx famously summed up conflict theory like this:

“The history of all hitherto existing society, is the history of class struggles”. (Marx & Engels, 1998)

Definitions of Conflict Theory

Some scholarly definitions of conflict theory include:

  • “Conflict between groups arises at least in part from competition for limited resources or conflicting goals” (McKenzie & Gabriel, 2017)
  • “Conflict theory posits that conflict is a fundamental part of the social order” (Chernoff, 2013)
  • “people develop negative attitudes towards others as a result of competition with those others over limited resources” (Major, 2006)

Three Conflict Theory Assumptions

Conflict theory is not a single unified theory, but rather an umbrella term used for a variety of perspectives, all of which share three underlying assumptions in common: 

  • Humans are rational beings acting to maximize their self-interest.
  • The resources which humans seek are limited.
  • The pursuit of scarce resources by rational self-interested actors will necessarily lead to conflict. 

Conflict theories stand in contrast to consensus theories in sociology, which, while agreeing with the first two propositions stated above, differ from the third.

This is to say, consensus theorists believe that a division of scarce resources among rational, self-interested actors can also be arrived at through a mutually beneficial agreement, rather than through conflict alone. 

Related: Conflict Theory Examples

Conflict Theory vs Consensus Theory

Consensus theory is the main competing theory to conflict theory (see: conflict theory vs consensus theory ). According to this theory, societies can reach an equilibrium whereby groups can cooperate and live peacefully alongside one another.

The theory does not hold that society is fundamentally fair and equal. However, it does posit that social change needs to take place through incremental institutional change rather than conflict (as opposed to the structural-functionalist perspective of social change).

For example, in a democracy, people can achieve change not by overthrowing a government but by convincing enough electors to vote for their perspective.

The struggle between conflict and consensus approaches is evident within left-of-center politics. Center-left groups tend to embrace consensus theory whereby social change is achieved through incrementalism. Farther-left groups, such as communists, embrace a view of the world that is based on a power struggle, oppression, and revolution.

Evolution of Conflict Theory Since Marx

1. ludwig gumplowicz.

The Polish – Austrian sociologist Ludwig Gumplowicz ( 1838 – 1909) provided a more comprehensive formulation of conflict theory, transcending Marx’s narrow focus on economic factors for conflict.

For Gumplowicz, conflict was the basis of civilization, state formation, and the legal system. The laws in any society, according to Gumplowicz, were not based on any idea of social welfare but were rather written by victorious groups in social conflict to serve their own self-interest. 

2. C. Wright Mills

The American sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916-1962) used conflict theory to explain the formation of power elites in society.

The power elites, according to Mills, were the people in a society who had near unlimited access to the state and its resources, such as the government and large corporations.

By contrast, the ordinary citizen is powerless as the power elites can manipulate state power to their end. 

Strengths of Conflict Theory

1. explains the oppressive nature of capitalism.

Marx was, primarily, focused on capitalism and class struggle. According to Marx, capitalism inherently involves the oppression of the workers by the capitalist class that controls the resources.

Thus, whenever there are fights between unions and employers , or internal social conflicts between the popular masses and corrupt oligarchs, Marx’s theorization that the world is defined by conflict over resources re-plays itself in real life.

In other words, this theory has stood for over 150 years as an example of man’s tendency to oppress his potential competitor for access to resources. Over and again, the theory’s predictions seem to come to fruition.

2. Explains Social Stratification

Conflict theory explains why societies tend to be stratified into groups of people with power and those without power.

For example, societies have achieved social stratification by creating caste systems, the patriarchy , apartheid, and other institutional and social measures that sustain the power of the dominant groups to access and control resources and deny access to those resources to the subjugated groups.

3. No Society has Achieved Peaceful Equality

Conflict theory can explain why no society has successfully achieved peaceful equality. All societies have, historically, faced moments of revolution and violence.

For example, ancient Rome was overcome with the gluttony of the few which led to its collapse. Similarly, even historically peaceful societies like the United States have bloodied histories of violent struggles between black slaves and white slave owners and even women versus men.

These examples demonstrate how conflict theory goes beyond just class struggle and into other intersectional areas of group identity, such as race and gender.

Conflict theory helps to explain these regular outbreaks of conflict within societies by highlighting that it’s a result of conflict between social groups .

Criticisms of Conflict Theory

1.  the consensus theory critique.

The consensus theory in sociology is the logical antithesis of the conflict theory. It states that human beings are almost as likely, if not more, to cooperate with each other to distribute scarce resources justly, rather than engage in conflict and attempt to subjugate the other. 

2. Conflict Theory Ignores Stability

History is made up of both periods of upheaval and periods of stability. By focusing only on conflict and strife, and ignoring the long stretches of peace and stability, the conflict theory takes a partial view of history and human society, akin to focusing only on the troughs of a waveform and ignoring the crests. 

Conflict Theory and Dialectic Materialism

The conflict theory is an example of dialectic materialism.

Dialectic simply means something that results from the action of two or more opposing forces.

The German philosopher Hegel (1770 – 1831)  expanded the meaning of the term to mean a contradiction inherent in all material phenomena.

We can see this dialectical nature of the material world all around us – that the world is complex and full of contradictions is a statement most of us would agree with. 

In Hegelian dialectics, this inner contradiction of all material beings is capable of being resolved through analysis and synthesis.

A very simple formulation of Hegelian dialectic can be presented as:

  • Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis

Marx, while agreeing with Hegel that the material world is full of inner contradictions, disagreed that they could be peacefully resolved.

In the Marxian view, such inner contradictions could only be successfully resolved through a complete social and structural reorganization. 

Thus, for Marx, the inner contradictions of the capitalist mode of production, which brought the ruling and the working classes in conflict with each other,  could only be resolved through a class struggle and a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Despite his comprehensive statement of the conflict theory, Marx’s account remained limited in its scope due to its exclusive focus on class as the only faultline of social conflict.

Related: Role Conflict Examples

The conflict theory has near-universal application to a wide variety of phenomena.

This stems from its roots in dialectical materialism, or the observation that all things are made up of contradictions, much like Biblical juxtapositions of good vs evil, light vs dark, and so on.

The junctures at which these contradictions meet represent faultlines from which conflicts erupt.

However, for critics of the theory, contradictions do not need violent resolution. Sometimes, they can also be resolved through analysis, reflection, and cooperation.

Just as human nature is not always base and self-interested. History is replete with examples of humans – both individually and collectively – acting out of a complete disregard for self-interest, solely for altruistic purposes.

Thus, the conflict theory, despite its seeping explanatory powers, comes with its limitations. 

See More Examples of Sociology Here

Atwood, M. (1972) Survival: A thematic guide to Canadian literature. Los Angeles: Anansi.

Chernoff, C. (2013). Conflict theory of education. In J. Ainsworth (Ed.), Sociology of education: An a-to-z guide (Vol. 1, pp. 146-147). SAGE Publications, Inc., https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781452276151.n84  

Christie, D.J. (2011)   The encyclopedia of peace psychology. London: Wiley.

Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The souls of Black folk . New York: Bantam Classic.

Durkheim, E. (1938). The rules of sociological method. The University of Chicago Press.

Hess, A.J. (June, 2020) How student debt became a $1.6 trillion crisis  CNBC https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/12/how-student-debt-became-a-1point6-trillion-crisis.html  

Huntington, S. P. (1993). The clash of civilizations?. Foreign Affairs . 72 (3), 22–49. doi : 10.2307/20045621

Lasswell, H. D. (1941). The Garrison State. American Journal of Sociology , 46 (4), 455–468. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2769918  

Marx, K. and Engels, F. (1998) The communist manifesto: Introduction by Martin Malia. London: Penguin.

McKenzie, J., & Gabriel, T. (2017). Applications and extensions of realistic conflict theory: moral development and conflict prevention. In Norms, groups, conflict, and social change (pp. 307-324). Routledge.


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Conflict Theory in Sociology

Charlotte Nickerson

Research Assistant at Harvard University

Undergraduate at Harvard University

Charlotte Nickerson is a student at Harvard University obsessed with the intersection of mental health, productivity, and design.

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On This Page:

Conflict theory in sociology posits that society is characterized by various inequalities and conflicts that arise due to differences in power, resources, and social status. It emphasizes the competition between groups, often framing issues in terms of dominance and subordination. This theory challenges the status quo and highlights social change driven by these conflicts.

Key Takeaways

  • Conflict theories emphasize looking at the history and events in a society in terms of structural power divisions, such as social class.
  • Although few modern sociologists call themselves conflict theorists, scholars as notable as Karl Marx (1818–1883), Max Weber (1864–1920), Talcott Parsons (1902–1979), and Ralf Dahrendorf (1929–2009) have formulated theories as to what causes conflict, its normalcy, and the impact it has on societies.
  • A structural conflict approach, such as Marxism , believes that society is in a conflict between the classes. They believe that the Bourgeoisie oppress the Proletariat through various social institutions without their full knowledge.
  • Some sociologists, such as Crouch (2001), categorize conflict theories across two axes: momentous vs. mundane and exceptional vs. endemic. This categorization reflects when and the extent to which theorists believe that conflict is pathological in a society.
  • Sociologists have used conflict theory to frame and enhance discussions as far-ranging as historical events to individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures and gender discrimination in the workplace.

Marx conflict theory

What is Conflict Theory?

Conflict theory is a general term covering a number of sociological approaches, which appose functionalism and which share the idea that the basic feature of all societies was the struggle between different groups for access to limited resources.

Conflict theories assume that all societies have structural power divisions and resource inequalities that lead to groups having conflicting interests (Wells, 1979).

For example, Marxism emphasizes class conflict over economic resources, but Weber suggests that conflict and inequality can be caused by power and status independently of class structures.

Evolution of Conflict Theory

Large-scale civil unrest and large demographic dislocations, extreme poverty, and a wide gap between the interests and wealth of workers and owners led to the development of Marxist conflict theory, which emphasizes the omnipresence of the divides of social class.

Later, conflict theory manifested in World Wars and Civil Rights movements, empowerment movements, and rebuttals of colonial rule (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Although people have been spreading conflict from a folk knowledge context for millennia, the philosophy underlying conflict theory — and intentional thinking around how people understand conflict and how they can resolve it in constructive ways — stems from the thinking of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and George Simmel.

However, sociologists such as Bartos and Wehr (2002) propose the definition that conflict is any situation where actors use conflict action against each other in order to attain incompatible goals or to express their hostility.

When two or more individuals pursue incompatible interests, they are in a relationship of conflict. For example, if the workers in a factory wish to work as little as possible and be paid as much as possible, and the owners want the workers to work as much as possible with as little pay as possible, then the workers and owners have incompatible interests (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Conflict can also manifest when groups do not necessarily have incompatible goals but feel hostility toward each other.

Hostility arises out of non-rational decision-making, which is impulsive and often at odds with the actions rational analysis (such as prospect or utility theory) may suggest.

Because of this contradiction, conflict behavior heavily influenced by hostility can be damaging to the actor’s interest in the long term (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Finally, “conflict behavior” covers many types of behavior. Conflict behavior can consist of rational actions (actions that consider and accurately judge all possible outcomes) and the expression of hostility, as well as behavior that is either coercive (such as causing great physical harm to an opponent) or cooperative (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Understanding Conflict Theory

Functionalist approaches to conflict theory.

Functionalist theories, particularly those of structural functionalism, which dominated the US in the 1940s and 1950s, tend to see conflict as momentous and exceptional (i.e., unusual). When conflict is momentous, it is likely to result in major upheavals and potentially momentous change.

Functionalism, in sum, is a theory based on the premise that every aspect of society — such as institutions, roles, and norms — serves some purpose to society and that all of these systems work together with internal consistency (Wells, 1979).

Talcott Parsons (1964) is the most prominent structural functionalist who studied conflict. Parsons believed that conflict generally did not overwhelm social relations, and thus, that overwhelming, momentous conflict was exceptional.

When conflict does happen in a social situation, it is because there is something psychologically wrong with one of these essential institutions, and thus, conflict is a harbinger of potentially major change (Crouch, 2001).

Marxist Approach to Conflict Theory

Marx’s version of conflict theory focused on the conflict between two primary classes within capitalist society: the ruling capitalist class (or bourgeoisie), who own the means of production, and the working class (or proletariat), whose alienated labor the bourgeoisie exploit to produce a profit.

If the power of the ruling class is challenged by, say, strikes and protests, the ruling class can use the law to criminalize those posing a threat, and media reporting will be manipulated to give the impression that the ruling class’s interests are those of the whole nation.

For Marxists, the appearance of consensus is an illusion; it conceals the reality of one class imposing its will on the rest of society.

Coercion – the use of the army, police, and other government agencies to force other classes to accept the ruling class ideology.

In contrast to functionalist theories of conflict, Marxist theories of conflict see conflict as endemic and momentous (Marx, 2000). Endemic conflict theories see conflict as an inherent aspect of social relations and likely to occur at many points over the course of a relationship.

Conflict is endemic to social relations, according to Marxism, because of the belief that society is based upon class relations and that those from different class groups have opposing interests.

This conflict is implicit in every interaction, and conflict does not only exist when it overtly manifests itself in actions.

Indeed, according to Marxists, weaker parties in class conflict may be powerless or too fearful to express conflict openly (Rowthorn, 1980).

Radical criminology is an example of conflict theory applied to the study of crime and the criminal justice system.

It emphasizes the power disparities and structural inequalities present in society, suggesting that laws and the criminal justice system primarily serve the interests of the dominant or elite groups, often marginalizing or criminalizing the less powerful groups.

Marxist vs. Functionalist Approaches to Conflict

While a functionalist may view the conflict between a supervisor and their employees as a symptom of something being wrong in the organization, a Marxist sociologist may view this conflict as a reflection of the reality of the relationship between the supervisor and his workers.

An absence of conflict would deny the inherent and fundamental divides underlying every structural divide in a Marxist society (Crouch, 2001).

Although both functionalism and Marxism disagree as to whether or not conflict is inherent to social interactions, both approaches agree that conflict is likely to bring about disorder and potentially radical social change.

In the case of Marxism, a momentous class conflict will lead to a catastrophic dissolution of class relations.

Indeed, in a way, some sociologists have called it ironic (Couch, 2001) that the ongoing social order according to Marxism resembles that of the functionalist social order. All institutions tend to attempt to maintain the current social order.

Conflict as Mundane

Conflict can also be seen as mundane — unlikely to lead to an upheaval and radical social change. According to institutionalized conflict theory, for example, in cases where institutions are separated from each other, it is unlikely that conflict will spread between institutions.

This desire to separate institutions emerged in response to the fascism and extreme movements arising out of the early-mid 20th century. In particular, political sociologists were interested in how different identities in conflict could run together or cross-cut each other (Lipset, 1964; Crouch, 2001).

When groups tend to hold more identities in conflict with another group, the conflict is more widespread and more intense.

For example, one would expect a society where most blacks were working-class Catholics and most whites were bourgeois protestants to be in greater and more intense conflict than one where a significant proportion of whites were working-class Catholics and so on.

Conflict, Micro-functionalism, and Applied Sociology

Micro-functionalism, in short, is a form of functionalism that stresses the separateness of social institutions. Micro-functionalism and applied sociology see conflict as mundane and exceptional.

Like functionalism, to microfunctionalists, conflict is unusual and pathological, and events such as strikes, divorces, crime, and violence are seen as indicators of malfunctioning but mundane malfunctioning.

Applied sociology, in its study of social problems such as marriage, poverty, and social movements, similarly sees conflict in these domains as pathological but unlikely to cause a great upheaval in greater society.

Critical Sociology and the Normalization of Conflict

Critical sociologists, such as feminist sociologists, see conflict as both endemic and mundane.

Generally, modern sociologists have seen conflict as both endemic and mundane and thus regarded as normal, leading to the disappearance of distinctive conflict sociology in recent years (Crouch, 2001).

Some critical sociologists, such as Ralf Dahrendorf, see conflict as not only endemic and functional but also capable of sustaining the social order in itself.

People innovated and created institutions, in Dahrendof’s approach (1972), by openly expressing and working out differences, difficulties, and contradictions.

This provides a radical contrast to structural functionalism in contending that the endemicity and mundanity — as opposed to the momentousness and exceptionality — of conflict preserves social structures rather than destroying them (Crouch, 2001).

Dahrendorf wrote from the cultural context of the conflicted history of Germany in the early-to-mid 20th century (Dahrendorf 1966). Postwar German sociologists, such as Habermas (1981), tended to stress open dialogue and communication in the working out of conflicts.

The works of Max Weber led to an increasing view of conflict as normalized (Weber, 1978). Weber, unlike Marx, did not reduce social relations to material class interests.

For him, conflict could be about any number of factors, from idealistic beliefs to symbolic orders, and none were necessarily any more important than the others (Crouch, 2001).

Conflict, Hostility, and Rationality/Irrationality

One way that sociologists propose to reduce conflict is through rational decision-making.

Weber (1978) argued that there are two types of rationality involved in decision-making processes.

The first, instrumental rationality, is directed at carrying out a specific goal, such as buying the best car with the money one has or deciding which topics to revise in order to pass an exam the next day.

The other type of rationality that Weber proposes is value rationality, when the objective is to conform to a vaguely defined set of values, such as when a religious person is trying to determine which among various ways of practice is most appropriate (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Sociologists consider the implementation of so-called rational decision-making to be effused with difficulties. Different individuals in different contexts can differ greatly in what they consider to be a rational choice .

However, sociologists agree that an action is rational if they consider the set of all relevant alternatives and assess every outcome correctly. Of course, this is unlikely in practice, and thus, few actors make decisions completely rationally.

One form of non-rational decision-making that sociologists consider to drive conflict is hostility. Conflicts that start rationally may end non-rationally. For example, a demonstration planned to let a group’s point of view be known may turn into a riot with rock throwing, the burning of cars, and looting.

Conflict and hostility have a reciprocal relationship: hostility can add fuel to and intensify conflict behavior, and conflict can intensify hostility. As conflicts continue and actors inflict harm on each other, participants may become motivated by desires beyond reaching their original goals, such as inflicting as much harm on the perceived enemy as possible (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Causes of Conflict

Generally, sociologists agree that conflict occurs due to groups having incompatible goals. However, these incompatible goals generally arise from several factors: including contested resources, incompatible roles, and incompatible values.

Contested Resource

Contested Resources draws three main categories that contested resources fit into: wealth, power, and prestige. Generally, wealth involves tangibles, such as money or land (Weber, 1978)

For example, children hearing the reading of the will of a deceased parent may suddenly come into conflict as they each believe that they deserve more money than was allocated to them.

The land has also been the source of a number of historical and contemporary conflicts, such as the conflict over East Jerusalem and Golan Heights between Israel, Palestine, and Syria (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

An actor, according to Bartos and Wehr (2002), is powerful if they can coerce others into doing what they want by either promising to reward the action they desire or by threatening to punish them for failing to do so.

Power is generally unequally distributed, and parties in a power relationship can either dominate another or when one party has greater power potential than the other.

For example, after WWI, the Treaty of Versailles allowed the Allied powers to dominate Germany, requiring the country to pay heavy reparations to the Allied forces.

However, with the rise of Hitler, Germany was rearmed, increasing the country’s power potential. Thus, Germany was able to invade Austria and Czechoslovakia with impunity (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Prestige can also be a contested resource. Generally, those held in high respect (high prestige) have power, and those who have power are often held in high respect. Actors can have high prestige in certain situations and much lower prestige in others.

Incompatible Roles

Incompatible goals within an organization may arise out of incompatible roles. In the study of conflict, sociologists have emphasized vertical role differentiation, which assigns different roles to different positions within the power hierarchy.

Although many sociologists have studied the conflict arising from role differentiation, they have not generally agreed on whether role differentiation causes conflict.

In contrast, an organization can have role differentiation because members have partial and specific responsibilities, such as that of an engineer or a salesperson.

Although these roles are different in nature, those playing these rules do not refer to their relationships as those of superiors and subordinates (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Nonetheless, the roles of a horizontally integrated organization can still be incompatible.

For example, while an engineer may need to design a building that has beams visible from the atrium for structural stability reasons, this may contradict an architect or interior designer’s desire to have a clean, modern space without visible construction elements.

Incompatible Values

Groups separated from each other can also develop cultures that encourage incompatible values. This can happen due to separation, the values of communities and systems, or role differentiation.

Separation can occur on either the individual or group level. In either case, those separated from others develop unique sets of values, as their interactions with those in their ingroups are more intense than those in the outgroup.

One extreme example of isolation is cults. Cults can range from religious cults that may, for example, worship an ancient god to secular cults such as militias that oppose the government.

These organizations are generally small and have clearly defined beliefs, values, and norms that make them distinct from both other cults and mainstream cultures (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Those in groups also tend to form their own group identities, where they tend to value themselves more highly than others value them (Where, 2002).

This “ethnocentric” view — manifested today in the form of nationalism, for example (Chrristenson et al. 1975) — makes it easier for actions inflicted by other groups, however unintentional, to be seen as slights on the ethnocentric group (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Community and System Values

The American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1951) noted that in the creation of a social arrangement, actors have to decide whether the relationships among themselves are affective or affectively neutral; self or collectively oriented; universalistic or particularistic; specific or diffuse; ascription or achievement-oriented.

In making these decisions, societies adopt a set of cultural values.

Small tribal societies tend to adopt communal values, and large societies tend to adopt system values (Bartos and Wehr, 2002), which in themselves can lead to goal incompatibility (conflict) between societies.

Communal values emerge from face-to-face interactions and tend to be effective, collectivistic, particularistic, ascriptive, and diffuse, while system values tend to be the opposite.

Habermas (1987) considers these opposing communal and system values to be a potential source of social conflict. Advanced industrial societies, in Habermas’ view, tend to “colonize” and “deform” communal life.

Role Differentiation

Finally, role differentiation can directly create incompatible goals by means of nudging those with different goals to act in incompatible ways.

Roles can emphasize, as discussed previously, communal or system values.

For example, a pastor may emphasize love (an affective communal value) while a businessman may value efficiency — a system value — as more important than love in a business context (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Examples of Conflict

The cuban missile crisis.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union became close to nuclear war (Downing, 1992). The Soviet leader Kruschev installed medium-range missiles in Cuba.

The president of the United States had to negotiate the risks of reacting too strongly (nuclear war) with the drawbacks of responding weakly (increasing the influence of the Soviet Union).

That is to say, the United States and the Soviet Union had deeply conflicting interests: the Soviet Union wanted to increase its missile supremacy, and the United States wanted to curtail it (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Conflict and Individualism

Although some societies (such as Japan) can preserve some features of small groups, most wealthy, industrialized Western societies tend to encourage individualism, which encourages members of a society to formulate and develop their own values rather than accepting those of the larger groups (Bartos and Wehr, 2002).

Individual personality differences — such as extraversion, aggression, talkative, and problem-solving styles — may lead to the development of incompatible values.

One’s alignment with individualism or collectivism can also have a great impact on styles of decision-making in conflicts.

According to LeFebvre and Franke (2013), for example, participants with higher levels of individualism tended to favor rational approaches to decision-making, while those with higher levels of collectivism tended to value staying loyal to the interests of their ingroups.

A Conflict Theory of Sexual Stratification

Collins (1971) attempts to explain employment discrimination against women as the result of a sexual stratification system constructed from the perspectives of Freud and Weber.

In short, Weber argued that conflict emerges over a struggle for as much dominance over other groups as resources permit.

In the early 1970s, women tended to comprise a low number of professional and manual labor positions relative to men.

For example, in 1971, 18% of college professors were female, and 3.3% of lawyers and judges were. Historically, explanations for this imbalance involved a perceived lack of training and a low commitment to professional work in favor of child rearing (Collins, 1971).

However, as Collins demonstrates, neither of these is necessarily true.

Rather, Collins suggests that women belong to a lower class in a sexual stratification system. This is evidenced by how women in the 1970s who took on managerial roles tended to do so mostly in professions dominated by women (such as nursing).

Collins then goes on to theorize that men’s large size and high sexual and aggressive drives have led to the historical subjugation of women by men.

In this system, according to Collins (1971), women can be acquired as sexual property and thus subjugated to the role of “menial servants” (Levi-Strauss, 1949).

Bartos, O. J., & Wehr, P. (2002). Using conflict theory: Cambridge University Press.

Binns, D. (1977). Beyond the sociology of conflict. New York: St. Martin’s.

Collins, R. (2014). A Conflict Theory of Sexual Stratification1. Social Problems, 19(1), 3-21. doi:10.2307/799936

Crouch, C. J. (2001). Conflict Sociology. In N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (pp. 2554-2559). Oxford: Pergamon.

Downing, B. (1992). The military revolution and political change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

Habermas, J. (1987). 8. The Tasks of a Critical Theory of Society. In Modern German Sociology (pp. 187-212): Columbia University Press.

LeFebvre, R., & Franke, V. (2013). Culture Matters: Individualism vs. Collectivism in Conflict Decision-Making. Societies, 3(1), 128-146. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2075-4698/3/1/128

Lévi-Strauss, C. (1949). L”efficacité symbolique. Revue de l”histoire des religions, 5-27.

Marx, K. (2000). Selected writings (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Weber, M. (1978). Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology (Vol. 1). Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

Wells, A. (1979). Conflict theory and functionalism: Introductory sociology textbooks, 1928-1976. Teaching Sociology, 429-437.

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Functionalist and Conflictual Theories in Sociology Essay

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Public discourse, evolution vs revolution.

When it comes to designing sociopolitical and economic policies, it is important to have a sociological understanding of the basic principles of the society’s functioning. The reason for this is apparent – such an understanding will enable one to predict the long-term effects of these policies’ implementation. As Pitt (2010) pointed out, “Sociology focuses on the patterns and the intended and unintended consequences of purposive human action… Sociology is the key to understanding the development and the practices of social institutions” (p. 187). As of today, the sociological analysis is commonly conducted within the methodological framework of either the Functionalist or Conflictual paradigm, as such that appear to be the most discursively consistent with the realities of a contemporary living in the West. The main theoretical premise of Functionalism is that there are strongly defined systemic subtleties to the functioning of just about every human society – the suggestion reflective of the “whole is larger than the sum of the parts” principle.

In its turn, this implies the dialectically predetermined essence of the social, political, and cultural tensions within the society and presupposes the appropriateness of the specifically evolutionary (as opposed to revolutionary) approach to resolving them. The proponents of the Conflict Theory, on the other hand, suggest that the above-mentioned tensions come about as a result of the institutionalized oppression of the socially/economically underprivileged society members by the rich and powerful – something that presupposes the dialectical soundness of the society’s revolutionary (abrupt) transformations, as such that are being predetermined by the objective laws of history. Nevertheless, even though the Functionalist and Conflictual outlooks on the society, in general, and the qualitative aspects of how it functions, in particular, do differ rather substantially, there is a good reason to believe that they are mutually complementary to an extent. In my paper, I will aim to substantiate the validity of this suggestion at length while comparing/contrasting what can be deemed the three most distinctive societal conventions of both theories.

As it can be inferred from the Conflict Theory’s very name, it is primarily concerned with identifying the major driving forces that induce the conflictual essence of the interrelationship between the society’s members. The theory’s main axiomatic assumption, in this respect, is that the concerned state of affairs is determined by the factor of class/cultural stratification – something that implies the thoroughly objective quintessence of conflict, as the actual instrument of keeping the society on the path of progress. Karl Marx is commonly referred to as someone who contributed to the theory’s development more than anyone else did. This simply could not be otherwise, as the Marxist conceptualization of human society presupposes that the latter never ceases to undergo a qualitative transformation – all because of the continually transforming essence of how the “surplus product” (Marxist term) is generated and distributed within it.

In its turn, the concerned process is defined by the ever increased effectiveness of “collective production” (due to the ongoing technological progress and the resulting “division of labor”), on one hand, and the fact that this is achieved at the expense of the representatives of the social elites being in the position to subject hired workers to the various forms of economic exploitation/societal oppression, on the other. As Nedelmann (1993) noted, “For Marx the contradiction between reason and reality in modem society is rooted in the contradiction between collective production and private appropriation, and between labor and capital in the modern capitalist economy” (p. 49). In its turn, this creates the objective prerequisites for the social antagonisms within the capitalist society to intensify as time goes on – something that eventually results in triggering a revolution. The inevitability of such an eventual scenario is prearranged by the fact that the most distinctive features of just about every modern society are: domination (by the elites), conflict (between the elites and those disadvantaged society members who aspire to attain a socially dominant status) and oppression (exercised by the representatives of the dominant social group).

As of today, the Conflict Theory has been effectively stripped of its Marxist overtones. Nevertheless, it continues to stress out that conflict is, in fact, the enabling tool of progress – even despite the fact that most people are naturally driven to think of it in the necessarily negative terms. The “modernized” version of the Conflict Theory is associated with Ralf Dahrendorf (1929-2009) – a British sociologist who suggested that the continuation of antagonistic tensions within the society is not always facilitated by the factor of class-stratification. According to Harris (2002), “For Dahrendorf conflict became central to social life, but not necessarily the large-scale schematic class conflict predicted by Marxists. Instead, all of us were engaged, in various ways and in various groupings, in the struggle for advantage” (p. 115). It is rather ironic that, despite its clearly Marxist roots, the “modernized” Conflict Theory serves the purpose of justifying Neoliberalism – the ideology that promotes the idea that one’s personal rights and freedoms (in the sense of how he or she goes about trying to attain a dominant status within the society) cannot be restricted, even if at the expense of undermining the society’s operational integrity from within.

The Functionalist explanation of conflict is much different. According to the theory’s advocates (such as Emil Durkheim and Georg Simmel), conflict is best discussed in terms of “dysfunction” and as such, it should be avoided, “Functionalists… specifically emphasize the importance of social order. In every society, it is important to maintain the status quo so that the society can function effectively. When this social order is not maintained, it results in a condition of conflict and disarray in the society” (“Difference between Functionalism and Conflict Theory, 2015, para. 3). Such a point of view naturally derives out of the Functionalist outlook on the society as a continually evolving organism, the qualitative characteristics of which are reflective of the essence of the relationship between its integral parts. In this respect, we need to mention the theory’s main conceptual provisions.

They are as follows: a) Society is a part of the surrounding reality. As such, it functions in accordance with basic societal laws, consistent with the laws of nature. b) Society is in the position to regulate the functioning of its systemic components. c) “Social facts” (as defined by Durkheim) studied by sociology, are thoroughly impartial, which in turn presupposes the possibility for them to be subjected to scientific inquiry. As Turner (1993) argued, regarding the Functionalist take on the “dysfunctional” nature of a conflict, “Society means durable associations between people living together… (enabled by) the existence of rules which are upheld as duties, and the fundamental relationship between the individual and the group is the reciprocal relationship between duty and interest” (p. 10). Hence, the sociology’s primary objective (as seen by Functionalists) – to be gaining analytical insights into what causes people to adhere to the communal forms of existence while willing to conform to the socially constructed code of public ethics. In its turn, this is supposed to serve the purpose of increasing the measure of the society’s resilience to conflict.

According to Functionalists, the more primitive a particular society happened to be; the higher is the measure of its members’ psychological similarity – something that explains the phenomenon of the primitive societies’ spatial longevity. At the same time, however, this is also the reason why such societies usually fall behind in terms of a sociocultural advancement – those who tend to perceive the surrounding reality similarly are incapable of evolving. Alternatively, the higher is the measure of the society’s complexity (technological advancement), the more likely it would be for it to remain utterly sensitive to the externally applied stimuli, which in turn results in undermining the extent of its resilience. The reason for this is apparent – along with enabling people to remain on the path of progress, industrial (complex) societies encourage them to work on refining their sense of self-identity.

As a result, this often results in prompting people to prioritize their personal interests above those of the society, as a whole. After all, the very paradigm of an industrialized/urban living implies that while remaining affiliated with it, people grow increasingly “atomized”, in the psychological sense of this word. Hence, Durkheim’s conceptualization of the Homo Duplex , “Homo Duplex… (is) the idea that embodied individuals are internally divided between their egoistic impulses and their capacity for “reaching beyond” these asocial passions” (Shilling & Mellor, 1998, p. 196). In its turn, this presupposes the necessity for the institutionalization of the “civilized living” public discourse, to which all of the society members would be able to relate, regardless of their socioeconomic status – the main precondition for the structurally complex society to continue evolving. This, of course, calls for the adoption of a particular ideology by the society. Functionalists believe that such a development would prove beneficial for all.

The proponents of the Conflict Theory do not quite agree. According to them, the governmentally endorsed public discourse serves one purpose only – it is there to strengthen the hegemonic dominance of the rich and powerful over the socially/economically disadvantaged citizens, “Conflict Theory portrays society as a class hierarchy and societal development as being shaped by class conflict and power. The power of a class is rooted in its solidarity and it is called forth in the struggle for its fair share in the pros­perity of society” (Nedelmann, 1993, p. 48). To prove the validity of such their point of view, they often refer to the role that organized religion plays within the society, as an integral part of justifying the relational status quo in it. Specifically, this role is concerned with providing the “spiritual” legitimation to the continual domination of the rich and powerful over the poor and weak.

The religion’s main goal, in this regard, is to make the exploited individuals believe that the lack of social justice in the capitalist society is thoroughly “natural”, so that these people would be less likely to consider shaking off the yoke of socioeconomic oppression. In fact, the advocates of the Conflict Theory point out to the fact that by exposing the exploited populations to the officially endorsed discourse of “behavioral propriety”, those at the society’s top seek to turn the former into their willing collaborators – the actual objective of the bourgeoisie’s hegemonic aspirations, “in the event of a revolutionary movement, the proletariat should support the bourgeoisie” (Cristea, 2013, p. 79). It is understood, of course, that this implies the counterproductive essence of the governmentally endorsed public discourses, as such that constitute a certain obstacle on the way of the society’s revolutionary transformation. The reason for this is that, contrary to the Functionalist point of view on the matter, the society’s prolonged socioeconomic stability results in more and more of the “surplus product” being accumulated in the hands of the elite members, which in turn slows down the process of the society’s infrastructural improvement and sub-sequentially makes it less competitive.

As it was implied earlier, the Functionalist paradigm in sociology presupposes the appropriateness of the specifically evolutionary approach to increasing the extent of the society’s functional efficacy. The reason for this has to do with the paradigm’s close affiliation with the Systems Theory. According to it, the process of a particular system (such as human society) becoming progressively more complex results in the emergence of the qualitatively new patterns of this system’s functioning. These patterns, however, do not directly derive from what used to be the same system’s operative principles, before it has reached a new level of complexity. One of the main reasons for this is that, as a system grows ever more complex, its overall quality becomes increasingly affected by what happened to be the quality of the interactive relationship between this system’s integral elements, and less influenced by the actual quality of each of these elements.

Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) was the first Functionalist to discuss social issues in conjunction with the mentioned Systems Theory – all thanks to his realization that, “All social systems are defined in terms of the relations between their “internal” parts and between the system and its environment… the notion of functional contribution is essential in understanding the continuity of various parts of a system” (Turner, 1999, p. 168). Therefore, while implementing a particular policy, policy-makers must prioritize warranting the beneficence of the planned implementation’s long-term effects above everything else. What it means is that the highly systemic policy of a societal importance cannot be beneficial to the society’s overall well-being and abrupt (revolutionary) at the same time. The reason for this is that a particular revolutionary change taking place within the society is necessarily concerned with affecting only a few out of the whole spectrum of this society’s functional aspects – something that according to Functionalists presupposes the fallaciousness of the idea of “revolutionary change”, as the tool of the society’s betterment.

Conflictualists, on the other hand, insist on something entirely opposite. According to them, for the society to grow increasingly advanced, in the technological, societal, and cultural senses of this word, it must be willing to undergo revolutionary changes on a continual basis. And, it must be admitted that their line of reasoning, in this respect, is just as scientifically sound as the earlier outlined Functionalist one. While promoting the idea of revolutionary change, the proponents of the Conflict Theory refer to the foremost principle of Hegelian dialectics, concerned with the transformation of quantity into quality, “The intensification of quantification in each aspect of life… leads not to mechanistic stasis, but on the contrary to a discontinuous release of potential that is essentially qualitative and, as such, unquantifiable” (Robinson, 2003, p. 715). What this means is that, contrary to the Functionalist take on the subject matter in question, the prospect of a revolutionary change taking place within the society is highly desirable – not the least because it correlates perfectly well with the fundamental laws of nature. According to the Conflict Theory, revolution is bound to occur in the society which has “ripened” for such a turn of events – even if the overwhelming majority of its members does not recognize the signs of the “revolutionary situation” in the making. To illustrate the validity of such their suggestion, Conflictualists refer to the French Revolution of 1792 and the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917.

As it was suggested in the Introduction, there is a certain rationale to think that despite their formal incompatibility, the Functionalist and Conflictual theories are, in fact, mutually complimentary. I believe that what has been said earlier, regarding the axiomatic premises of both theories, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. The reason for this is that in the aftermath of having read through the analytical part of this paper, one should gain a better awareness of what account for the circumstantial determinants of taking practical advantage of the discussed theories. After all, the provided analysis helps to highlight the main weaknesses of Functionalism and Conflictualism. For example, Functionalism clearly downplays the fact that the Darwinian laws of biological evolution (which apply to people as much as they do to plants and animals) predetermine the impossibility of reaching a consensus among the society members, as to what should be deemed the universally applicable values of one’s socially integrated living. The Conflict Theory, on the other hand, fails to explain how it is possible for human societies to preserve their structural integrity – despite the uniqueness of the existential agenda, on the part of every particular individual. At the same time, however, both Functionalism and the Conflict Theory appear thoroughly observant of the empirically tested principles of the society’s functioning.

It is most likely that the proponents of both theories will continue to accuse each other of “short-sightedness” in the future. However, there is a good reason to expect that, as time goes on, Functionalism and the Conflict Theory will be deemed progressively less antagonistic, at least for as long as their practical deployment is being concerned. In this respect, a certain parallel can be drawn between these theories, on one hand, and the Theory of Relativity/Quantum Mechanics, on the other. After all, as the example of the latter indicates, it is indeed possible for two clearly dichotomic scientific theories to be considered equally useful, in the practical sense of this word. Apparently, the manifestations of the surrounding physical/social reality are much more phenomenological than most people tend to think of them. This again goes to substantiate the validity of the paper’s original thesis. Therefore, it will only be logical to conclude this paper by reinstating that it is indeed appropriate to expect the eventual unification of Functionalism and Conflictualism within the methodological framework of a single sociological theory.

Cristea, I. (2013). The evolution of the concept of hegemony in Antonio Gramsci’s works. Cogito, 5 (3), 76-86.

Difference between Functionalism and Conflict Theory . (2015). Web.

Harris, D. (2002). Teaching yourself social theory . London, GB: SAGE Publications.

Nedelmann, B. (1993). Sociology in Europe: In search of identity . Berlin/Boston, DE: De Gruyter.

Pitt, B. (2010). What is sociology’s contribution beyond the humanities and other social sciences? Society, 47 (3), 186-192.

Robinson, B. (2003). Socialism’s other modernity: Quality, quantity and the measure of the human. Modernism/Modernity, 10 (4), 705-728.

Shilling, C., & Mellor, P. (1998). Durkheim, morality and modernity: Collective effervescence homo duplex and the sources of moral action. British Journal of Sociology, 49 (2), 193-209.

Turner, B. (1999). Classical sociology . London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Turner, S. (1993 ). Emile Durkheim: Sociologist and moralist . Florence, US: Routledge.

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IvyPanda. (2020, November 24). Functionalist and Conflictual Theories in Sociology. https://ivypanda.com/essays/functionalist-and-conflictual-theories-in-sociology/

"Functionalist and Conflictual Theories in Sociology." IvyPanda , 24 Nov. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/functionalist-and-conflictual-theories-in-sociology/.

IvyPanda . (2020) 'Functionalist and Conflictual Theories in Sociology'. 24 November.

IvyPanda . 2020. "Functionalist and Conflictual Theories in Sociology." November 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/functionalist-and-conflictual-theories-in-sociology/.

1. IvyPanda . "Functionalist and Conflictual Theories in Sociology." November 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/functionalist-and-conflictual-theories-in-sociology/.


IvyPanda . "Functionalist and Conflictual Theories in Sociology." November 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/functionalist-and-conflictual-theories-in-sociology/.

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4.11: Conflict Theory

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Learning Outcomes

  • Summarize conflict theory
  • Apply conflict theory

Sociological Paradigm #2: Conflict Theory

Conflict theory looks at society as a competition for limited resources. This perspective is a macro-level approach most identified with the writings of German philosopher and sociologist Karl Marx (1818–1883), who saw society as being made up of two classes, the bourgeoisie (capitalist) and the proletariat (workers), who must compete for social, material, and political resources such as food and housing, employment, education, and leisure time. Social institutions like government, education, and religion reflect this competition in their inherent inequalities and help maintain the unequal social structure.

In the economic sphere, Marx focused on the “mode of production” (e.g., the industrial factory) and “relations of production” (e.g., unequal power between workers and factory owners). The bourgeoisie owns and controls the means of production, which leads to exploitation due to the profit motive. In this arrangement, proletarians have only their labor to sell, and do not own or control capital. False consciousness is Marx’s term for the proletarian’s inability to see her real position within the class system, a mis-recognition that is complicated by the control that the bourgeoisie often exerts over the media outlets that disseminate and normalize information. These are just some of the structural constrains that prevent workers from joining together in what Marx called class consciousness , or a common group identity as exploited proletarians and potential revolutionaries.

Watch this video for an overview of Marx’s conflict theory.

An interactive or media element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here: http://pb.libretexts.org/its/?p=70

portrait of Max Weber in 1894. He's wearing a suit, has a trimmed, full-beard.

German sociologist Max Weber agreed with some of Marx’s main ideas, but also believed that in addition to economic inequalities, there were inequalities of political power and social structure that caused conflict. Weber noted that different groups were affected differently based on education, race, and gender, and that people’s reactions to inequality were moderated by class differences and rates of social mobility, as well as by perceptions about the legitimacy of those in power.

Ida B. Wells articulated the conflict perspective when she theorized a connection between an increase in lynching and an increase in black socio-economic mobility in the United States from the late 1800s into the mid-20th century. She also examined competition within the feminist movement as women fought for the right to vote, yet the presumably egalitarian mainstream suffragist movements were headed by white women who excluded black women from suffrage. W.E.B. DuBois also examined race in the U.S. and in U.S. colonies from a conflict perspective, and emphasized the importance of a reserve labor force, made up of black men. Race conflict paradigms will be examined later in the course in the module devoted to race and ethnicity.

Race and Conflict Theory

W.E.B. DuBois is a classic sociologist who, after earning a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895 (the first black man to do so), went on to an extremely productive career with extensive publication, research, theorizing, and activism. The Philadelphia Negro (1896) is considered one of the first examples of scientifically framed and conducted sociology research. DuBois’ study included over 2,500 in-person interviews conducted with African American households in the seventh ward of Philadelphia and even had visual representations of data such as bar graphs to illustrate the realities of racism [1]

He entered the national stage with an article written for The Atlantic in 1897 in which he described double consciousness . Read the following passage from DuBois’ article as he articulates double consciousness:

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa; he does not with to bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he believes—foolishly, perhaps, but fervently—that Negro blood has yet a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without losing the opportunity of self-development.” [2]

C. Wright Mills, who coined the term sociological imagination , also used conflict theory to examine systems of power and the ways in which government, military, and corporations forming a power elite (1956) in the United States in the 1950s. Bernie Sanders raised these issues in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by pointing out that both Republican and Democrat candidates were accepting campaign contributions from banks and investment firms on Wall Street, which he argued would make them subject to corporate influence.


Just as structural functionalism was criticized for focusing too much on the stability of societies, conflict theory has been criticized because it tends to focus on conflict to the exclusion of recognizing stability. Many social structures are extremely stable or have gradually progressed over time rather than changing abruptly, as conflict theory would suggest.


Gender and conflict Theory

Black and white photograph of two female suffragettes holding a poster saying "Votes for Women"

Feminist theory was developed to fill a void in Marxism and neo-Marxism that examined class, but not gender as a distinct category. Feminist theory examines gender and gender inequality and also points out the male-centric aspects of conflict theory. It focuses on analyzing the limitations faced by women when they claim the right to equality with men. Additionally, feminist scholars examine the gendered nature of human interactions, which makes it a microsociological as opposed to a macrosociological theory.

Feminist scholars study a range of topics, including sexual orientation, race, economic status, and nationality. However, at the core of feminist sociology is the idea that, in most societies, women have been systematically oppressed, and that men have been historically dominant. This system of seemingly “natural” male control is referred to as patriarchy .

From the early work of women sociologists like Harriet Martineau, feminist sociology has focused on the power relationships and inequalities between women and men. How can the conditions of inequality faced by women be addressed?

Feminist theory has been criticized for its early focus on the lived experiences of white, educated women—which represent just a small subset within American society. Intersectional theory examines multiple, overlapping identities that include black, Latina, Asian, gay, trans, working class, poor, single parent, working, stay-at-home, immigrant, and undocumented women, among others. This synthesis of analytical categories takes into consideration the various lived experiences of a more diverse range of women.

To take a contemporary example, the #MeToo movement began when white actress Ashley Judd came forward in 2017 and claimed that film producer Harvey Weinstein invited her to his hotel room, greeted her in a bathrobe, and asked her to massage him or watch him shower. The phrase “me too” had actually been coined in 2006 by Turana Burke, a black activist who sought to bring attention to women who had been sexually assaulted. Many other wealthy, white, powerful woman came forward and said or tweeted #MeToo. Within one year, the #MeToo movement had become intersectional, stretching across industries, racial and ethnic backgrounds, age, sexual orientation, and gender identities.



  • Cole, N.L. updated 2017. How WEB DuBois Made His Mark on Sociology. https://www.thoughtco.com/web-dubois-birthday-3026475 ↵
  • Dubois, W.E.Burghardt. 1897. Strivings of the Negro People. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1897/08/strivings-of-the-negro-people/305446/ ↵
  • Modification, adaptation, and original content. Authored by : Sarah Hoiland for Lumen Learning. Provided by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Theoretical Perspectives. Authored by : OpenStax. Located at : http://cnx.org/contents/02040312-72c8-441e-a685-20e9333f3e1d/Introduction_to_Sociology_2e . License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]
  • Karl Marx & Conflict Theory: Crash Course Sociology #6. Authored by : Crash Course. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gR3igiwaeyc&index=7&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtMJ-AfB_7J1538YKWkZAnGA . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • Feminist Theory. Authored by : William Little. Provided by : BC Campus. Located at : https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology/chapter/chapter1-an-introduction-to-sociology/ . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • The Feminist Perspective. Provided by : Boundless. Project : Boundless Sociology. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • WSPU leaders. Provided by : Wikipedia. Located at : https://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragette#/media/File:Annie_Kenney_and_Christabel_Pankhurst.jpg . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright
  • image of Max Weber. Located at : https://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Weber#/media/File:Max_Weber_1894.jpg . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright

Sociology of Poverty: Functionalist and Conflict Perspectives

Defining Poverty : Poverty is the state of being financially incapable of affording the essentials for the prevailing standard of living (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020). Within this understanding of poverty, the prevailing standard of living and basic human needs, while overlapping are not synonymous. Basic human needs include goods that are necessary for survival, ie. food, water and shelter. While the prevailing standard of living, as defined by economist Elizabeth Ellis Hoyt- is not material things consumed but instead are the sum-total, not of things, but of satisfaction attained (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020). From this definition, one can go about understanding poverty, not in absolutes but in relative terms, being in poverty is relative to how everyone else in a society/country lives. This is part of the reason why the poverty line differs from country to country. The first reason being that cost of living (ie. cost of goods and services) differ. But also because the prevailing standard of living differs (CrashCourse, 2017).

Taking this definition of poverty as the foundation, this paper will analyse poverty from two major sociological perspectives. These perspectives aim to look at the structure of society and how the prevailing structure causes or allows for the existence of poverty. The essay will compare and contrast the analysis of the two theories, however, the aim of the comparison is not to state which theory is superior. Instead, how the two theories differ and at times build on each other.

Functionalism & Poverty

Defining functionalism: Functionalists view society as if it were a machine, that singular aspect of society (ie. social structure) performs a function that is indispensable to the smooth running of said society. Hence, any ‘dysfunction’ of any aspect of society is a deviation from the norm and hence will need to be fixed. Proposed by 19th-century french sociologist Emile Durkheim every aspect or structure in society performs a function in society- either a latent or a manifest function. Manifest functions are the intended consequences of a social structure, while latent functions are unintentional. For example, one of the societies’ most prominent and primal social structures is the family (CrashCourse, 2017). The latent function of a family includes providing financial and emotional support, socialization, etc. these are the functions that are expected of a family, on the other hand, latent functions of a family could include stimulating the economy and paying taxes (Vibal, 2014). These are functions that support other social structures. Hence, the social structure of society fulfils the manifest function of supporting everyone within the structure (ie. the members of the family) and the latent function of supporting (as per the aforementioned example) the social structure that is the economy and the government. Lastly, if a function performed by a social structure is harmful to society, that function is referred to as dysfunctions- effects that disrupt the smooth operating of society (Nicki Lisa Cole, 2020).

Functionalism and Poverty: On the surface, poverty appears to be a dysfunction, however, according to Durkheim this is untrue stating instead that poverty or social inequality is necessary for the smooth functioning of society. This view on poverty can be better recognized by understanding the functionalist perspective on social stratification, specifically class stratification. According to the David-Moore thesis, stratification and inequality are necessary and beneficial to society to motivate individuals to train for and perform complex roles (Bell). And that the basis of class inequality is dependant on the degree of benefit that each occupation to society as well as the degree of complexity a job possesses. The if an occupation offers a great benefit to society then that occupation is considered valuable (LumenLearning). For example, the job of a doctor is complex, the basis on which this complexity is derived is that medical training and education average 10 years. Additionally, doctors offer a service that is core to survival and can not be replaced, hence the job of a doctor is both valuable as well as complex. To conclude the David-Moore thesis, a job that is valuable and complex needs to be economically and socially rewarded. It is the varying degrees of social and economic reward that causes class stratification.

In summary, the crux of the David-Moore thesis is that social stratification and as extension poverty is necessary because it performs a (latent) function and not a disfunction. The existence of stratification is based on occupation means that individuals will strive towards occupations that best suit them, as well as occupations that offer the most benefit to society, as it is these jobs that bring about the most rewards.

Criticism: The most prominent criticism of this theory is that it does not take into consideration how other social stratifying factors; such as race, gender, access to education, generational wealth, etc, can play a role in the occupation and ultimately the class one falls into (LumenLearning). The theory instead is built on the assumption that society is egalitarian and the only differentiating factor is an individual’s desire. Another prominent criticism is that oftentimes the relationship between social benefit and socio-economic reward is not consistent. This is best highlighted in occupations within media and entertainment, for example, actors do not necessarily require a high level of education nor do they offer a societal reward greater than teachers. Regardless, actors gain higher socio-economic rewards than teachers. Lastly, while the David-Moore thesis offers a way in which one can measure socio-economic reward (income and opportunity), as well as offers a measure of complexity on the basis of education. However, it does not offer an absolute manner by which one can measure societal benefit, nor is the correlation between complexity or income always positive. For example, a teacher who specialises in educating individuals with learning disabilities has more educational requirements, but will ultimately work with fewer people, there is no way to say whether this implies that a teacher who specializes in this field offers greater societal benefit than a general teacher.

Conflict Theory & Poverty

Defining conflict theory: Proposed by Marx and Engels, conflict theory is the sociological theory that looks at society in terms of a power struggle between groups within society over limited resources, under a post-industrialised capitalist society these resources are the modes of production (Hayes, 2021). The struggle for power is what Marx states as ultimately resulting in societal change ie. historical materialism (CrashCourse, 2017). While conflict theory can be applied to any number of sociological studies such as gender, race, etc, the first and most prominent use of conflict theory is the study of class conflict. Here the two competing groups are the proletariat (the working class) and the bourgeois (the capitalist class), who are struggling overpower which manifests as the means of production. Marx states this conflict between classes as the central conflict in society and the source of social inequality in power and wealth (CrashCourse, 2017). The emphasis on resources as the base of power can not be overstated, those who own the modes of production will then ultimately also have control over societies superstructure- culture, norms, politics, religion, etc . Hence, the superstructure grows out of the base and reflects the ruling class’ interests. As such, the superstructure justifies how the base operates through exploitation and keeps the power in the hands of the elite (Cole, 2020).

Conflict theory and poverty: Unlike functionalism’s viewpoint of class stratification and poverty being necessary to society, conflict theory argues the opposite. Stating instead that social stratification does not benefit society as a whole but instead only a small section- the bourgeoise. Acknowledging this inequality and the root of said inequality is only one facet of conflict theory’s analysis of poverty, another focal point is how this power or ownership occurs in the first place. Another key distinguishing factor is that the functionalist perspective makes the assumption that individuals who are highly skilled and trained will be able to gain high socio-economic rewards, and ultimately avoid poverty (Barkan, 2018). However, from the perspective of conflict theory, class stratification is caused by a lack of opportunity that an individual is born into. Implying that individuals are either born into the bourgeoisie or the proletariat class (Barkan, 2018). In this way conflict theory actively acknowledges and addresses the critique that functionalism fails to.

By exploiting the superstructures the bourgeois is able to maintain their hold on the means of production, this exploitation is broadly two-fold. The proletariat being the class that performs manual labour to produce goods, ie. without the proletariat’s class, the means of production owned by the bourgeois would be powerless. In spite of this, the bourgeoise undervalues this labour by underpaying the proletariat, ultimately allowing for the bourgeois to hold power. The second method is through what Marx refers to as alienation , this is the process by the working conditions and constant exploitation faced by the workers leaves them isolated and unable to work in solidarity to fight for power. According to this theory, the only way for the proletariat class to escape the position as the oppressed class is to gain the means of production.

Comparing the theories

Similarly to how conflict theory is able to address the faults of the functionalist perspective on poverty, the same occurs inversely. It is conflict theories’ emphasis on change through struggle that results in neglecting to consider the importance of societal stability. According to American sociologist Herbert J. Gans, poverty continues to exist because it is functional for society (Barkan, 2018). In fact, some of these (latent) functions benefit those in poverty, the very existence of poverty is a source of employment for physicians, attorneys, and other professionals who provide services to the poor. Some critics acknowledge that societies are in a constant state of change, but point out that much of the change is often minor, not revolutionary (Boundless). For example, many modern capitalist states have avoided a communist revolution, and have instead instituted elaborate social service programs (Boundless).

YouTube. (2017). Social Class & Poverty in the Us: Crash Course Sociology #24. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8PEv5SV4sU&t=331s . 

Nicki Lisa Cole, P. D. (2020). How sociology helps us study intended and unintended consequences. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/manifest-function-definition-4144979.

Hayes, A. (2021, July 27). Conflict theory definition. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/conflict-theory.asp.

Boundless. (n.d.). Boundless sociology. Lumen. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-sociology/chapter/theoretical-perspectives-in-sociology/.

Natasha Dmello

8.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Media and Technology

Learning objectives.

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Discuss how we analyze media and technology through various sociological perspectives

It is difficult to conceive of any one theory or theoretical perspective that can explain the variety of ways in which people interact with technology and the media. Technology runs the gamut from the match you strike to light a candle all the way up to sophisticated nuclear power plants that might power the factory where that candle was made. Media could refer to the television you watch, the ads wrapping the bus you take to work or school, or the magazines you flip through in a dentist's waiting room, not to mention all the forms of new media, including Instagram, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, and the like. Are media and technology critical to the forward march of humanity? Are they pernicious capitalist tools that lead to the exploitation of workers worldwide? Are they the magic bullet the world has been waiting for to level the playing field and raise the world’s poor out of extreme poverty? Choose any opinion and you will find studies and scholars who agree with you––and those who disagree.


Because functionalism focuses on how media and technology contribute to the smooth functioning of society, a good place to begin understanding this perspective is to write a list of functions you perceive media and technology to perform. Your list might include the ability to find information on the Internet, television’s entertainment value, or how advertising and product placement contribute to social norms.

Commercial Function

As you might guess, with nearly every U.S. household possessing a television, and the 250 billion hours of television watched annually by people in the United States, companies that wish to connect with consumers find television an irresistible platform to promote their goods and services (Nielsen 2012). Television advertising is a highly functional way to meet a market demographic where it lives. Sponsors can use the sophisticated data gathered by network and cable television companies regarding their viewers and target their advertising accordingly. Whether you are watching cartoons on Nick Jr. or a cooking show on Telemundo, chances are advertisers have a plan to reach you.

And it certainly doesn’t stop with television. Commercial advertising precedes movies in theaters and shows up on and inside public transportation, as well as on the sides of building and roadways. Major corporations such as Coca-Cola bring their advertising into public schools, by sponsoring sports fields or tournaments, as well as filling the halls and cafeterias of those schools with vending machines hawking their goods. With rising concerns about childhood obesity and attendant diseases, the era of soda machines in schools may be numbered. In fact, as part of the United States Department of Agriculture's Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act and Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Initiative, a ban on junk food in school began in July 2014.

Entertainment Function

An obvious manifest function of media is its entertainment value. Most people, when asked why they watch television or go to the movies, would answer that they enjoy it. And the numbers certainly illustrate that. While 2012 Nielsen research shows a slight reduction of U.S. homes with televisions, the reach of television is still vast. And the amount of time spent watching is equally large. Clearly, enjoyment is paramount. On the technology side, as well, there is a clear entertainment factor to the use of new innovations. From online gaming to chatting with friends on Facebook, technology offers new and more exciting ways for people to entertain themselves.

Social Norm Functions

Even while the media is selling us goods and entertaining us, it also serves to socialize us, helping us pass along norms, values, and beliefs to the next generation. In fact, we are socialized and resocialized by media throughout our whole lives. All forms of media teach us what is good and desirable, how we should speak, how we should behave, and how we should react to events. Media also provide us with cultural touchstones during events of national significance. How many of your older relatives can recall watching the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on television? How many of those reading this textbook followed the events of September 11 or Hurricane Katrina on television or the Internet?

Just as in Anderson and Bushman's (2011) evidence in the Violence in Media and Video Games: Does It Matter? feature, debate still exists over the extent and impact of media socialization. One recent study (Krahe et al. 2011) demonstrated that violent media content does have a desensitizing affect and is correlated with aggressive thoughts. Another group of scholars (Gentile, Mathieson, and Crick 2011) found that among children exposure to media violence led to an increase in both physical and relational aggression. Yet, a meta-analysis study covering four decades of research (Savage 2003) could not establish a definitive link between viewing violence and committing criminal violence.

It is clear from watching people emulate the styles of dress and talk that appear in media that media has a socializing influence. What is not clear, despite nearly fifty years of empirical research, is how much socializing influence the media has when compared to other agents of socialization, which include any social institution that passes along norms, values, and beliefs (such as peers, family, religious institutions, and the like).

Life-Changing Functions

Like media, many forms of technology do indeed entertain us, provide a venue for commercialization, and socialize us. For example, some studies suggest the rising obesity rate is correlated with the decrease in physical activity caused by an increase in use of some forms of technology, a latent function of the prevalence of media in society (Kautiainen et al. 2011). Without a doubt, a manifest function of technology is to change our lives, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Think of how the digital age has improved the ways we communicate. Have you ever used Skype or another webcast to talk to a friend or family member far away? Or maybe you have organized a fund drive, raising thousands of dollars, all from your desk chair.

Of course, the downside to this ongoing information flow is the near impossibility of disconnecting from technology that leads to an expectation of constant convenient access to information and people. Such a fast-paced dynamic is not always to our benefit. Some sociologists assert that this level of media exposure leads to narcotizing dysfunction , a result in which people are too overwhelmed with media input to really care about the issue, so their involvement becomes defined by awareness instead of by action (Lazerfeld and Merton 1948).

Conflict Perspective

In contrast to theories in the functional perspective, the conflict perspective focuses on the creation and reproduction of inequality—social processes that tend to disrupt society rather than contribute to its smooth operation. When we take a conflict perspective, one major focus is the differential access to media and technology embodied in the digital divide. Conflict theorists also look at who controls the media, and how media promotes the norms of upper-middle-class White people in the United States while minimizing the presence of the working class, especially people of color.

Control of Media and Technology

Powerful individuals and social institutions have a great deal of influence over which forms of technology are released, when and where they are released, and what kind of media is available for our consumption, which is a form of gatekeeping. Shoemaker and Vos (2009) define gatekeeping as the sorting process by which thousands of possible messages are shaped into a mass media-appropriate form and reduced to a manageable amount. In other words, the people in charge of the media decide what the public is exposed to, which, as C. Wright Mills (1956) famously noted, is the heart of media’s power. Take a moment to think of the way “new media” evolve and replace traditional forms of hegemonic media. With hegemonic media, a culturally diverse society can be dominated by one race, gender, or class that manipulates the media to impose its worldview as a societal norm. New media weakens the gatekeeper role in information distribution. Popular sites such as YouTube and Facebook not only allow more people to freely share information but also engage in a form of self-policing. Users are encouraged to report inappropriate behavior that moderators will then address.

In addition, some conflict theorists suggest that the way U.S. media are generated results in an unbalanced political arena. Those with the most money can buy the most media exposure, run smear campaigns against their competitors, and maximize their visual presence. Almost a year before the 2012 U.S. presidential election, the candidates––Barack Obama for the Democrats and numerous Republican contenders––had raised more than $186 million (Carmi et al. 2012). Some would say that the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Committee is a major contributing factor to our unbalanced political arena. In Citizens United , the Supreme Court affirmed the right of outside groups, including Super Political Action Committees (SuperPACs) with undisclosed donor lists, to spend unlimited amounts of money on political ads as long as they don't coordinate with the candidate's campaign or specifically advocate for a candidate. What do you think a conflict perspective theorist would suggest about the potential for the non-rich to be heard in politics, especially when SuperPACs ensure that the richest groups have the most say?

Technological Social Control and Digital Surveillance

Social scientists take the idea of the surveillance society so seriously that there is an entire journal devoted to its study, Surveillance and Society . The panoptic surveillance envisioned by Jeremy Bentham, depicted in the form of an all-powerful, all-seeing government by George Orwell in 1984 , and later analyzed by Michel Foucault (1975) is increasingly realized in the form of technology used to monitor our every move. This surveillance was imagined as a form of constant monitoring in which the observation posts are decentralized and the observed is never communicated with directly. Today, digital security cameras capture our movements, observers can track us through our cell phones, and police forces around the world use facial-recognition software.

Feminist Perspective

Take a look at popular television shows, advertising campaigns, and online game sites. In most, women are portrayed in a particular set of parameters and tend to have a uniform look that society recognizes as attractive. Most are thin, White or light-skinned, beautiful, and young. Why does this matter? Feminist perspective theorists believe this idealized image is crucial in creating and reinforcing stereotypes. For example, Fox and Bailenson (2009) found that online female avatars conforming to gender stereotypes enhance negative attitudes toward women, and Brasted (2010) found that media (advertising in particular) promotes gender stereotypes. As early as 1990, Ms. magazine instituted a policy to publish without any commercial advertising.

The gender gap in tech-related fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) is no secret. A 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce Report suggested that gender stereotyping is one reason for this gap which acknowledges the bias toward men as keepers of technological knowledge (US Department of Commerce 2011). But gender stereotypes go far beyond the use of technology. Press coverage in the media reinforces stereotypes that subordinate women; it gives airtime to looks over skills, and coverage disparages women who defy accepted norms.

Recent research in new media has offered a mixed picture of its potential to equalize the status of men and women in the arenas of technology and public discourse. A European agency, the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women (2010), issued an opinion report suggesting that while there is the potential for new media forms to perpetuate gender stereotypes and the gender gap in technology and media access, at the same time new media could offer alternative forums for feminist groups and the exchange of feminist ideas. Still, the committee warned against the relatively unregulated environment of new media and the potential for antifeminist activities, from pornography to human trafficking, to flourish there.

Increasingly prominent in the discussion of new media and feminism is cyberfeminism , the application to, and promotion of, feminism online. Research on cyberfeminism runs the gamut from the liberating use of blogs by women living in Iraq during the second Gulf War (Peirce 2011) to an investigation of the Suicide Girls web site (Magnet 2007).

Symbolic Interactionism

Technology itself may act as a symbol for many. The kind of computer you own, the kind of car you drive, your ability to afford the latest Apple product—these serve as a social indicator of wealth and status. Neo-Luddites are people who see technology as symbolizing the coldness and alienation of modern life. But for technophiles , technology symbolizes the potential for a brighter future. For those adopting an ideological middle ground, technology might symbolize status (in the form of a massive flat-screen television) or failure (ownership of a basic old mobile phone with no bells or whistles).

Social Construction of Reality

Meanwhile, media create and spread symbols that become the basis for our shared understanding of society. Theorists working in the interactionist perspective focus on this social construction of reality, an ongoing process in which people subjectively create and understand reality. Media constructs our reality in a number of ways. For some, the people they watch on a screen can become a primary group, meaning the small informal groups of people who are closest to them. For many others, media becomes a reference group: a group that influences an individual and to which an individual compares himself or herself, and by which we judge our successes and failures. We might do very well without the latest smartphone, until we see characters using it on our favorite television show or our classmates whipping it out between classes.

While media may indeed be the medium to spread the message of rich White men, Gamson, Croteau, Hoynes, and Sasson (1992) point out that some forms of media discourse allow competing constructions of reality to appear. For example, advertisers find new and creative ways to sell us products we don’t need and probably wouldn’t want without their prompting, but some networking sites such as Freecycle offer a commercial-free way of requesting and trading items that would otherwise be discarded. The web is also full of blogs chronicling lives lived “off the grid,” or without participation in the commercial economy.

Social Networking and Social Construction

While Tumblr and Facebook encourage us to check in and provide details of our day through online social networks, corporations can just as easily promote their products on these sites. Even supposedly crowd-sourced sites like Yelp (which aggregates local reviews) are not immune to corporate shenanigans. That is, we think we are reading objective observations when in reality we may be buying into one more form of advertising.

Facebook, which started as a free social network for college students, is increasingly a monetized business, selling you goods and services in subtle ways. But chances are you don’t think of Facebook as one big online advertisement. What started out as a symbol of coolness and insider status, unavailable to parents and corporate shills, now promotes consumerism in the form of games and fandom. For example, think of all the money spent to upgrade popular Facebook games like Candy Crush. And notice that whenever you become a “fan,” you likely receive product updates and special deals that promote online and real-world consumerism. It is unlikely that millions of people want to be “friends” with Pampers. But if it means a weekly coupon, they will, in essence, rent out space on their Facebook pages for Pampers to appear. Thus, we develop both new ways to spend money and brand loyalties that will last even after Facebook is considered outdated and obsolete.

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  • Authors: Tonja R. Conerly, Kathleen Holmes, Asha Lal Tamang
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Module 12: Education

Conflict theory on education, learning outcomes.

  • Examine the perspective of conflict theory on education
  • Examine the feminist theory on education

Conflict Theory

Conflict theorists do not believe that public schools reduce social inequality through providing equal opportunity. Rather, they believe that the educational system reinforces and perpetuates social inequalities that arise from differences in class, gender, race, and ethnicity. Where functionalists see education as serving a beneficial role, conflict theorists view it more negatively. To them, educational systems preserve the status quo and push people of lower status into obedience, which keeps them socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Boy kicking a soccer ball on a playground toward three other boys who are caged against a wall by a small metal goal post.

Figure 1.  Conflict theorists see the education system as a means by which those in power stay in power. (Photo courtesy Thomas Ricker/flickr)

The fulfillment of one’s education is closely linked to social class. Students of low socioeconomic status are generally not afforded the same opportunities as students of higher status, no matter how great their academic ability or desire to learn. Picture a student from a working-class home who wants to do well in school. On a Monday, he’s assigned a paper that’s due Friday. Monday evening, he has to babysit his younger sister while his divorced mother works. Tuesday and Wednesday, he works stocking shelves after school until 10:00 p.m. By Thursday, the only day he might have available to work on that assignment, he’s so exhausted he can’t bring himself to start the paper. His mother, though she’d like to help him, is so tired herself that she isn’t able to give him the encouragement or support he needs. And since English is her second language, she has difficulty with some of his educational materials. They also lack a computer and printer at home, which most of his classmates have, so they rely on the public library or school system for access to technology. As this story shows, many students from working-class families have to contend with helping out at home, contributing financially to the family, poor study environments, and a lack of family support. This is a difficult match with education systems that adhere to a traditional curriculum that is more easily understood and completed by students of higher social classes.

Such a situation leads to social class reproduction, extensively studied by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. He researched how cultural capital , or cultural knowledge that serves as (metaphorical) currency that helps us navigate a culture, alters the experiences and opportunities available to French students from different social classes. Members of the upper and middle classes have more cultural capital than do families of lower-class status. As a result, the educational system maintains a cycle in which the dominant culture’s values are rewarded and thus generationally reproduced. Instruction and tests cater to the dominant culture and leave others struggling to identify with values and competencies outside their social class. For example, there has been a great deal of discussion over what standardized tests such as the SAT truly measure. Many argue that the tests group students by cultural ability rather than by natural intelligence. For example, a question on the comprehensive reading section of the SAT inquires about a painting at an art museum. For a student who has not experienced art museums regularly, this question poses greater difficulty than it does for a student who grew up going to cultural events such as art exhibitions. Such mechanisms in public education reinforce and perpetuate inequalities.

This video explains how cultural capital impacts a hypothetical student.

The article referenced in the interactive above raises many important issues, and some questions we might pursue further are:

  • Are there any forms of cultural capital that can be acquired without economic capital? That is, can one cultivate habits of speech and appearance that suggest higher social status but which do not cost money? (or at least very much money?) What symbolic values are at work here?
  • If prestigious brand-name products, such as the Louis Vuitton handbag, confer some sort of high status on those who possess and display them, then how does the “branding” of the self function in our 21st-Century economy? When individuals brand themselves through social media and other public platforms, whether as employees or “influencers” and such, what status or characteristics are they trying to claim? What do they hope to gain?
  • The sociologist Charles Horton Cooley introduced the concept of the “looking glass self,” which says we develop our sense of self according to how we believe others perceive us. Can this idea help us understand how social status and economic class are related? To what extent are status and class a matter of self-conscious performance for the benefit of an imagined audience?

The Hidden Curriculum

The cycle of rewarding those who possess cultural capital is found in formal educational curricula as well as in the hidden curriculum , which refers to the type of nonacademic knowledge that students learn through informal learning and cultural transmission. This hidden curriculum reinforces the positions of those with higher cultural capital and serves to bestow status unequally.

The Hidden Curriculum ideology is very prevalent in sociology, as sociologists seek to better understand how education is shaping society as a larger unit. This video explains what this means.

This next video explains how sociologists examine the hidden curriculum from the various sociological perspectives.

Conflict theorists point to tracking , a formalized sorting system that places students on “tracks” (advanced versus low-achievers) that perpetuate inequalities. While educators may believe that students do better in tracked classes because they are with students of similar ability and may have access to more individual attention from teachers, conflict theorists feel that tracking leads to self-fulfilling prophecies in which students live up (or down) to teacher and societal expectations (Education Week 2004). The ways by which students are assigned to tracks differs both between and within schools. Today, it is less common for schools to rigidly track students in all subjects, and it is less common to track them into different vocational paths. Administrators and teachers in a given school may carefully avoid using the term “tracking” to describe the organization of their school’s curriculum. Yet, schools maintain a variety of policies that sort students into different programs of study including: test scores and grade requirements, pre- and co-requisite requirements, and teacher recommendations.

Low-track classes tend to be primarily composed of low-income students, usually minorities, while upper-track classes are usually dominated by students from socioeconomically successful groups. In 1987, Jeannie Oakes theorized that the disproportionate placement of poor and minority students into low tracks does not reflect their actual learning abilities. Rather, she argued that the ethnocentric claims of social Darwinists and the Anglo-Saxon-driven Americanization movement at the turn of the century combined to produce a strong push for “industrial” schooling, ultimately relegating the poorer minority students to vocational programs and a differentiated curriculum which she considered a lingering pattern in 20th century schools.

Some studies suggest that tracking can influence students’ peer groups and attitudes regarding other students. Adam Gamoran’s study (1992) shows that students are more likely to form friendships with other students in the same tracks than with students outside of their tracks. Since low-class and minority students are overrepresented in low tracks, and Whites and Asians generally dominate higher tracks, interaction among these groups can be discouraged by tracking. However, there is no research showing an academic benefit to low track students from such interaction.

Link to Learning

Tracking is not uncommon in the United States and can take many forms at any level of compulsory schooling. Did you experience tracking at your school? This student Ted talk explains some of the adverse consequences of separating students into high-performing, average, and below-average tracks: Student Tracking Needs to End .

To conflict theorists, schools play the role of training working-class students to accept and retain their position as lower-tier members of society. They argue that this role is fulfilled through the disparity of resources available to students in richer and poorer neighborhoods as well as through testing (Lauen and Tyson 2008). Did you know that a school’s resources are dependent on property taxes in the school district’s boundaries? This is a controversial policy, as it contributes to existing inequalities in the home and in the the neighborhood.

IQ tests have been attacked for being biased—for testing cultural knowledge rather than actual intelligence. For example, a test item may ask students what instruments belong in an orchestra. To correctly answer this question requires certain cultural knowledge—knowledge most often held by more affluent people who typically have more exposure to orchestral music. Though experts in the field of testing claim that bias has been eliminated from tests, conflict theorists maintain that this is impossible. These tests, to conflict theorists, are another way in which education does not so much provide opportunities as maintain established configurations of power.

This NPR article,  Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem , explains more about inequalities in public schools created by differences in revenue generated through property taxes.

Think It Over

  • Thinking of your school, what are some ways that a conflict theorist would say that your school perpetuates class differences?

Feminist Theory

Eight women in dresses, caps, and gowns, standing on the steps of a college in a black in white photograph.

Figure 2.  Some 1903 female graduates of Western University.

Feminist theory aims to understand the mechanisms and roots of gender inequality, particularly in education, as well as their societal repercussions. Like many other institutions of society, educational systems are characterized by unequal treatment and opportunity for women, despite the monumental progress that has been made in recent decades. The literacy rate among women worldwide is 83 percent, compared to the almost 90 percent observed for men, [1] and women around the world are still less likely than men to set foot in a school. [2]

Women in the United States have been relatively late, historically speaking, to be granted entry to the public university system. In fact, it wasn’t until the establishment of Title IX of the Education Amendments in 1972 that discriminating on the basis of sex in U.S. education programs became illegal. In the United States, there is also a post-education gender disparity between what male and female college graduates earn, despite women now graduating college at higher rates than men (Citation C). A study released in May 2011 showed that, among men and women who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010, men out-earned women by an average of more than $5,000 each year. First-year job earnings for men averaged $33,150; for women the average was $28,000 (Godofsky, Zukin, and van Horn 2011). Similar trends are seen among salaries of professionals in virtually all industries. [3]

Here are a few facts about the gendered wage gap from the AAUW (2018): [4]

Text about the gender pay gap showing the Earnings ratio as women's median earnings over men's median earnings. In 2017, this was $41,997 in women's earnings over $52,146 in men's median earnings, which equals 80%.

Figure 3 . One way to think about the gender pay gap is by looking at the difference in median earnings for men and women.

  • Women earn 80% of what men make.
  • Racial minority women earn even less when compared to white men – with the lowest being Hispanic/Latina women making 53% of what men make.
  • Utah has the largest pay gap, California has the smallest.
  • The gender gap is found across nearly all professions.

When women face limited opportunities for education, their capacity to achieve equal rights, including financial independence, is limited. Feminist theory seeks to promote women’s rights to equal education (and its resultant benefits) across the world.

Grade Inflation

Grade inflation: when is an a really a c.

In 2019, news emerged of a criminal conspiracy regarding wealthy and, in some cases, celebrity parents who illegally secured college admission for their children. Over 50 people were implicated in the scandal, including employees from prestigious universities; several people were sentenced to prison. Their activity included manipulating test scores, falsifying students’ academic or athletic credentials, and acquiring testing accommodations through dishonest claims of having a disability.

One of the questions that emerged at the time was how the students at the subject of these efforts could succeed at these challenging and elite colleges. Meaning, if they couldn’t get in without cheating, they probably wouldn’t do well. Wouldn’t their lack of preparation quickly become clear?

Many people would say no. First, many of the students involved (the children of the conspirators) had no knowledge or no involvement of the fraud; those students may have been admitted anyway. But there may be another safeguard for underprepared students at certain universities: grade inflation.

Grade inflation  generally refers to a practice of awarding students higher grades than they have earned. It reflects the observation that the relationship between letter grades and the achievements they reflect has been changing over time. Put simply, what used to be considered C-level, or average, now often earns a student a B, or even an A.

Some, including administrators at elite universities, argue that grade inflation does not exist, or that there are other factors at play, or even that it has benefits such as increased funding and elimination of inequality (Boleslavsky 2014). But the evidence reveals a stark change. Based on data compiled from a wide array of four-year colleges and universities, a widely cited study revealed that the number of A grades has been increasing by several percentage points per decade, and that A’s were the most common grade awarded (Jaschik 2016). In an anecdotal case, a Harvard dean acknowledged that the median grade there was an A-, and the most common was also an A. Williams College found that the number of A+ grades had grown from 212 instances in 2009-10 to 426 instances in 2017-18 (Berlinsky-Schine 2020). Princeton University took steps to reduce inflation by limiting the number of A’s that could be issued, though it then reversed course (Greason 2020).

Why is this happening? Some cite the alleged shift toward a culture that rewards effort instead of product, i.e., the amount of work a student puts in raises the grade, even if the resulting product is poor quality. Another oft-cited contributor is the pressure for instructors to earn positive course evaluations from their students. Finally, many colleges may accept a level of grade inflation because it works. Analysis and formal experiments involving graduate school admissions and hiring practices showed that students with higher grades are more likely to be selected for a job or a grad school. And those higher-grade applicants are still preferred even if decision-maker knows that the applicant’s college may be inflating grades (Swift 2013). In other words, people with high GPA at a school with a higher average GPA are preferred over people who have a high GPA at a school with a lower average GPA.

Ironically, grade inflation is not simply a college issue. Many of the same college faculty and administrators who encounter or engage in some level of grade inflation may lament that it is also occurring at high schools (Murphy 2017).

  • UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Literacy rate, adult male (% of males ages 15 and above). Retrieved from  https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.LITR.MA.ZS?view=chart .  ↵
  • UNESCO. Gender Equality in Education. Retrieved from http://uis.unesco.org/en/topic/gender-equality-education . ↵
  • Semuels, Alana (November 2017). "Poor Girls Are Leaving Their Brothers Behind." Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/11/gender-education-gap/546677/ . ↵
  • AAUW. "The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap." Retrieved from https://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/ . ↵
  • Modification, adaptation, and original content. Authored by : Florencia Silviera for Lumen Learning. Provided by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Theoretical Perspectives on Education. Authored by : OpenStax CNX. Located at : https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:Q7ShLma2@8/16-2-Theoretical-Perspectives-on-Education . License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]
  • Tracking (education). Provided by : Wikipedia. Located at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracking_(education) . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Cultural Capital Interactive. Authored by : Scott Barr for Lumen Learning. Provided by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Grade Inflation. Provided by : OpenStax . Located at : https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-3e/pages/16-2-theoretical-perspectives-on-education . Project : Sociology 3e. License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-3e/pages/1-introduction
  • Cultural Capital. Authored by : Sociology Live!. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DBEYiBkgp8 . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • The Hidden Curriculum | Part 2 of 2: Sociological Perspectives. Provided by : HumberEDU. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77psBGyYj94 . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • The Hidden Curriculum | Part 1 of 2: Norms, Values and Procedures. Provided by : HumberEDU. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuLhmDE9Exo . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • Image on gender pay gap. Provided by : AAUW. Located at : https://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/ . License : All Rights Reserved
  • female graduates in 1903. Provided by : Wikipedia. Located at : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Group_of_women_in_cap_and_gown_at_Western_College_on_Tree_Day_1903_(3191801017).jpg . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright

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Cavalry Crossing a Ford: an Analytical Perspective

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Imagery and symbolism, structure and form, humanity amidst conflict, conclusion: a moment captured in time.

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conflict perspective in sociology essay

  • DOI: 10.30598/baileofisipvol1iss3pp317-331
  • Corpus ID: 270104245

Land Contestation and Identity: Agrarian Conflict Between Maluku Indigenous Communities and State Authorities in A Sociological Perspective

  • Jeffry Ernest Marthen Leiwakabessy
  • Published in JURNAL SOSIAL HUMANIORA 27 May 2024
  • Sociology, Political Science, Environmental Science

45 References

Indigenous rights and agrarian justice framings in forest land conflicts in indonesia, conflict transformation and collaboration in developing social forestry in flores, indonesia, social conflict in community (study on agrarian conflict in lolak district, bolaang district, mongondow, north sulawesi), misleading icons of communal lands in indonesia: implications of adat forest recognition from a model site in kajang, sulawesi, the effects of conflict and palm oil investment between investors and communities in indonesia, problems of disputes/conflicts over land acquisition towards development for public interest in indonesia, conflict management in indonesia’s post-authoritarian democracy: resource contestation, power dynamics and brokerage, the nurturing food sovereignty from the peripheral side: the village law and the soul of agriculture in rural development in indonesia, the agrarian, structural and cultural constraints of smallholders’ readiness for sustainability standards implementation: the case of indonesian sustainable palm oil in east kalimantan, towards inclusive indonesian forestry: an overview of a spatial planning and agrarian perspective, related papers.

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Jamie Raskin: How to Force Justices Alito and Thomas to Recuse Themselves in the Jan. 6 Cases

A white chain in the foreground, with the pillars of the Supreme Court Building in the background.

By Jamie Raskin

Mr. Raskin represents Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He taught constitutional law for more than 25 years and was the lead prosecutor in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

Many people have gloomily accepted the conventional wisdom that because there is no binding Supreme Court ethics code, there is no way to force Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas to recuse themselves from the Jan. 6 cases that are before the court.

Justices Alito and Thomas are probably making the same assumption.

But all of them are wrong.

It seems unfathomable that the two justices could get away with deciding for themselves whether they can be impartial in ruling on cases affecting Donald Trump’s liability for crimes he is accused of committing on Jan. 6. Justice Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, was deeply involved in the Jan. 6 “stop the steal” movement. Above the Virginia home of Justice Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, flew an upside-down American flag — a strong political statement among the people who stormed the Capitol. Above the Alitos’ beach home in New Jersey flew another flag that has been adopted by groups opposed to President Biden.

Justices Alito and Thomas face a groundswell of appeals beseeching them not to participate in Trump v. United States , the case that will decide whether Mr. Trump enjoys absolute immunity from criminal prosecution, and Fischer v. United States , which will decide whether Jan. 6 insurrectionists — and Mr. Trump — can be charged under a statute that criminalizes “corruptly” obstructing an official proceeding. (Justice Alito said on Wednesday that he would not recuse himself from Jan. 6-related cases.)

Everyone assumes that nothing can be done about the recusal situation because the highest court in the land has the lowest ethical standards — no binding ethics code or process outside of personal reflection. Each justice decides for him- or herself whether he or she can be impartial.

Of course, Justices Alito and Thomas could choose to recuse themselves — wouldn’t that be nice? But begging them to do the right thing misses a far more effective course of action.

The U.S. Department of Justice — including the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, an appointed U.S. special counsel and the solicitor general, all of whom were involved in different ways in the criminal prosecutions underlying these cases and are opposing Mr. Trump’s constitutional and statutory claims — can petition the other seven justices to require Justices Alito and Thomas to recuse themselves not as a matter of grace but as a matter of law.

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