Social Conflict Theory


In sociology, there exist numerous sociological theories as well as many theorists. Therefore, it is necessary to study them if one wants to understand sociology. This paper will be focused on social conflict theory and Max Weber, a famous sociologist.


Social Conflict Theory

In general, social conflict theory is focused on the conflicts in society to explain different social events and changes. Conflict theory is based on the unequal distribution of scarce resources and power among the members of society. Those resources are usually different for each theorist, but most conflict theorists usually focus on Webers three systems of stratification: class, status, and power. Usually, social conflict theory considers power as the central feature of society. Social conflict theorists, unlike structural functionalists, do not think that society is held together with the help of collective agreement based on a set of cultural standards. The fundamental of social conflict theory is where power is located and who uses or does not use it. Nevertheless, in social conflict theory, power is not always bad: power is only a primary factor that guides society and social relations to some states or changes.

In general, there are three different models in social conflict theory. The first one is Marxism. For Marxist theory, power is the capacity that can influence the life situations of the members of society. Power is a basis of the structuring relations in society. As a result, dominant power is located mostly in the hands of people who own and control the means of life or the important resources. The structures of capitalism represent a conflict between the two fundamental classes of society, the working class, and the capitalist one, and this conflict cannot be resolved. That conflict is a consequence of the logic of capitalist reproduction. Capitalists are always interested in increasing surplus value, for example, by extending the working day, reducing wages, introducing labor-saving technologies, and so on. Those goals are always contrary to the interests of the working class, and two classes struggle. Governments can influence this struggle, but they are usually the instruments of the ruling class. Ideally, they should be liberal and protect those who need it. However, according to Marxism, governments usually act to secure the stability of capitalist society, and they protect capitalists. Therefore, ideal classless society should be created, where there will be no social classes, and power will be equal for everybody.

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The second model in social conflict theory is Parsonian conflict theory of Dahrendorf. Dahrendorf states that he is focused on exclusively the relations of authority. Those relations are part of social structure. As a result, they permit the systematic derivation of group conflicts. Moreover, in places where the authority relationships are present, the superordinate element is expected by society to control. Commands, warning, and prohibitions represent the behavior of the subordinate element. Therefore, Dahrendorf is concerned with the legitimated compliance relations. There are both consensus and conflict in all authority relations. As a result, individuals have mutual social interests as well as opposing, potentially opposing, or always opposing latent interests. Unlike Marxism that states that capitalists have dominant power in society, Dahrendorf states that society consists of a set of imperatively coordinated associations that are associations where members are subject to imperative control or authority. Any of the associations dominates.

The third model is elite conflict theory of C. Wright Mills. According to this theorist, power has to deal with all decisions people make about the arrangements, under which they live. Unlike Dahrendorf, Mills is not focused only on authority, or legitimately power. Like Pareto, Mosca, and Aron, Mills shows the difference between elites and masses. According to Mills, elites have power by virtue of their location in three key institutions that are connected with each other in society: the political institution, which is ruled by the Federal Government, the economic one, which is ruled by several hundred corporations, and the military institution. Mills does not agree with both the class struggle model of the Marxists and the pluralist picture of Dahrendorf. According to Mills, in the USA, the elites have the capacity to manage and manipulate public opinion and the consent of people.

Max Weber

Max Weber was a German sociologist born in 1864 in Erfurt, Prussia. He died in 1920 in Munich, Germany. This sociologist and political economist is commonly famous for his thesis of the Protestant ethic that relates Protestantism to capitalism as well as for his ideas concerning bureaucracy. Webers influence on sociological theory is significant.

Analysis of social structure was the early approach of Max Weber. In the 1890s, he conducted an investigation of farm labor conditions east of the Elbe. Weber found out that farm laborers had showed growing individualism. They preferred urban independence to the rural estates, even if they lost their income. In that individualism, Weber saw evidence for the independent impact of ideas. Later, he used his experience in the famous studies of religious impact that dominated in society and economic development. Weber focused on the study of Protestant ethic. His investigation of the sociology of religion started with the publication of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism . Two observations of that study were as follows. In many parts of the world, significant economic development was a result of the work of monastic orders focused on a life of the spirit; and ascetic Protestant sects contributed to economic success, especially during the early phase of capitalism. A strange positive relationship between ascetic religions and economic enterprise existed despite the fact that the Protestant reformers had stated that being rich was harmful. Weber found out that the strange relationship occurred because both Puritan religion and capitalist enterprise were based on a systematization of life. Then, Weber focused on the study of comparative religion. In particular, he studied the social ethics of different world religions and their impact on social life and social organization. The analysis of Confucianism showed that this religion formed society where each member was a small part of the system. The power of king and legal authority is very high, and they rarely conflict with society. Bureaucracy plays an important role. In Hinduism, social rules and organization differ. There are clearly defined social classes with different amount of power, and this rule cannot be violated. Thus, the Brahmans are the social group with the greatest power and authority, and all members of society follow them.

Weber also focused on the analysis of social action. He tried to specify the meaning of ideas and concepts that were already widely used. Instead of using holistic or a particularistic approach, Weber decided to use an intermediate position, shifting from historical evidence to the formulation of concepts and from concepts to historical evidence again. Weber stated that although much action in society was based on almost unconscious conformity, there was rudimentary consciousness of meaning in any behavior. Weber focused on the difference between the minimally meaningful conventional action and innovative action. Weber stated that conceptualization of collectivities was more important than one of structures. According to Weber, there are two group formations. The first one is based on material interest, and the second one on feelings of affinity. Weber believed that the power of authority was a universal phenomenon. According to him, there are three types of domination in authority relationships: charismatic, traditional, and legal domination. They form the relationships between a supreme ruler, an administrative body, and the ruled people. Three types of authority should be treated not as labels but as concepts to base programs of research on.

Webers impact on the social science was great. His thoughts on Protestant ethic started a controversy among scientists that continues even now. Some sociologists agree with Weber, while other present arguments against the connection between religion and economic development. Webers analysis of bureaucracy has also caused many debates.

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In conclusion, social conflict theory states that social relations and changes are based on the conflicts between different social groups. There are three different models in this theory: Marxism, Parsonian conflict theory, and the theory of C. Wright Mills. Max Weber was a great German sociologist famous for his study of religion and social and economic development, bureaucracy, and social action.

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