What Is Conflict Perspective?

The conflict perspective is a view of society that posits conflict as a normal feature of social life. According to its adherents, conflict influences the distribution of power and the direction and magnitude of social change. The conflict perspective is one of two major sociological theories. Also known as the "conflict model," it gives sociologists explanations for happenings in history and in society. Outlined by theorists such as Karl Marx, the conflict perspective is antithetical to the order perspective.


The conflict perspective was most famously proposed by Karl Marx in the mid-1800s. Marx, whose many teachings stressed the dynamic tension between the classes, believed that conflict defined the happenings of society. He believed that this conflict would determine the major events and outcomes of history. His conflict perspective believed that the split between the divisions of labor resulted in conflict between the masses and drove the social changes of the time.


Under the conflict perspective, the basic form of interaction in society is not cooperation, but competition, and this leads to conflict. Because the individuals and groups of society compete for advantage, there is constantly conflict for change. When there are large groups competing, such as Marx's bourgeois and proletariat, the outcome is often major social change. This conflict can arise from the desire to own the means of production, to own the power or land, or to own the realm of political power, and can be revolutionary, as it was in many of the communist societies that practiced Marxist teachings.


One major teaching of the conflict perspective has it that conflict arises from the dissimilar goals and interests of different social groups--the oppressed, the dominant, the powerful, or the powerless. The conflict can arise in different areas: law, religion, education, or media, and can be found in the powerful protecting their monopoly on these holdings, or the powerless attempting to change the status quo.


The outcomes of the conflict perspective have had a major impact on social events in the world for two centuries. The Russian Revolution of 1917 can be seen as an outcome of the conflict perspective. This event illustrates the major revolutionary power of the rise of one social group against another. Even more modern conflict theorists stress the power of the have-nots against the haves. In any society, conflict theorists argue that there is the potential for revolutionary conflict as the few in power maintain control over the many out of it.


Another theory related to the conflict perspective argues not against the conflict model, but for the duality of social life. These theorists argue that the nature of society can be found in examples of both the conflict perspective and the order perspective. Believers of this theory find examples of harmony and integration in society, side by side with competition and subordination.

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