Definition of Conflict Theory
(noun) A theory that emphasizes the role of coercion, conflict, and power in society and that social inequality will inevitably occur because of differing interests and values between groups, particularly the competition for scarce resources.
Examples of Conflict Theory
Note: Conflict theory can be applied to many sociological topics such as:
- Deviance and Crime: Conflict theory suggests that deviance and crime occur due to the conflict between the powerful and the powerless or “the haves” and “have nots.”
- Poverty: Conflict theory suggests that the elite use their power to enact and enforce laws to increase and protect their own economic interests and thus lower classes can be reduced to poverty.
Conflict Theory Scholars
- Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002)
- Randall Collins (born 1941)
- W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963)
- Karl Marx (1818–1883)
- C. Wright Mills (1916–1962)
- Georg Simmel (1858–1918)
- Melvin Marvin “Mel” Tumin (1919–1994)
- Max Weber (1864–1920)
Conflict Theory Pronunciation
Syllabification: con·flict the·o·ry
- American English – /kAHn-flikt thEE-uhr-ree/
- British English – /kOn-flikt thIUH-ree/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /ˈkɑnflɪkt ˈθiəri/
- British English – /ˈkɒnflɪkt ˈθɪəri/
- Plural: conflict theories
- While conflict theory originated from the work of Karl Marx (1818–1883), there is not a singular conflict theory but rather conflict theories.
- Conflict theory attempts to explain class conflict.
- The basic assumption of conflict theory is an individual or group will dominate others and actively avoid being dominated.
- Conflict theory, functionalism and symbolic interactionism are the typical perspectives studied in sociology but postmodern perspectives are challenging this tradition.
- Conflict theory grew out of critique of functionalism.
- A type of macrosociology and theory.
- Also called:
- conflict framework
- conflict paradigm
- conflict perspective
- conflict theoretical strategy
- social conflict theory (social-conflict theory)
- “According to conﬂict theorists, educational level can be a tool for discrimination by using the mechanism of credentialism. . . . [t]his device can be used by potential employers to discriminate against minorities, working-class people, or women—that is, those who are often less educated and least likely to be credentialed because discriminatory practices within the education system limited their opportunities for educational achievement” (Andersen and Taylor 2011:348).
- “Conflict perspectives argue that society is a continuous power struggle among competing groups, often based on class, race, ethnicity, or gender” (Kendall 2006:37).
- “Postmodern theorists, believe that entirely new ways of examining social life are needed and that it is time to move beyond functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist approaches” (Kendall 2006:37).
- Economic Sociology Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Word origin of “conflict” and “theory” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
- Black, Donald. 2011. Moral Time. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Collins, Randall. 1975. Conflict Sociology: Toward an Explanatory Science. New York: Academic Press.
- Coser, Lewis A. 1956. The Functions of Social Conflict. New York: Free Press.
- Dahrendorf, Ralf. 1959. Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Goldstone, Jack. 1991. Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
- Marx, Karl.  1887. Das Kapital. Moscow: Progress.
- Moore, Barrington. 1966. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Mosca, Gaetano.  1939. The Ruling Class. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Paige, Jeffrey. 1975. Agrarian Revolution: Social Movements and Export Agriculture in the Underdeveloped World. New York: Free Press.
- Rex, John. 1981. Social Conflict: A Conceptual and Theoretical Analysis. London: Longman.
- Simmel, Georg.  1955. Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
- Skocpol, Theda. 1979. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Tilly, Charles. 1978. From Mobilization to Revolution. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
- Turner, Jonathan H. 1984. Societal Stratification: A Theoretical Analysis. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Weber, Max. [1921–22] 1979. Economy and Society. Chicago: University of California Press.
- Wright, Erik Olin. 1997. Class Counts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “conflict-theory.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved October 20, 2021 (https://sociologydictionary.org/conflict-theory/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
conflict theory. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/conflict-theory/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “conflict theory.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed October 20, 2021. https://sociologydictionary.org/conflict-theory/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“conflict theory.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2021. <https://sociologydictionary.org/conflict-theory/>.