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Conflict Theory Introduction. Theoretical Roots 1. Marx and Weber – Coercion not consensus is what maintains social order. 2. Marx saw a two tier system of Proletariat and Bourgeoisie struggling for control of the means of economic production.

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conflict theory introduction
Conflict Theory Introduction

Theoretical Roots

1. Marx and Weber – Coercion not consensus is what maintains social order.

2. Marx saw a two tier system of Proletariat and Bourgeoisie struggling for control of the means of economic production.

3.Weber – agreed in the importance of wealth, but argued that power and status were of equal importance.

4. Both saw different groups in conflict over social scarcities.

  • 60’s open social conflict
  • Functionalism, based on stability, equilibrium, and consensus did not fit the relevant social conditions
  • The “two faces” of society, integration theory (rulers) and coercion theory (ruled).
  • Society is an entity that is in a constant state of change
  • Change results from social conflict and dissent.
traditional views on society
Traditional Views on Society
  • Power is a zero sum game
    • those with power dominate and control the powerless.
  • Those with power set to establish a social structure that helps them maintain control
  • Authority positions are widely distributed in society and people only have power in some of them.
    • President Corp v. family reunion
  • In a real sense, functionalists are utopian.
    • The Functionalists present a society with the absence of power struggles (or conflict)
ralf dahrendorf
Ralf Dahrendorf

The central questioned of social thought:

How do societies adhere?

1. Two well established positions:

Utopians (believed in Functional Theory of Society coherence by consensus)

Rationalists (coherence Conflict Theory of Society by constraint and domination)

2. The conflict between the two positions is long.

  • Aristotle vs. Plato, Hobbes vs. Rousseau, Kant vs. Hegel and as time goes on the debate has intensified.
the need for conflict theory
The Need for Conflict Theory
  • Unless you believes that all philosophical arguments are irrelevant, the debate was exposed the fundamental alternatives of knowledge, moral and political orientation.
  • Utopians are represented by the Functional theory of society
  • Rationalists are represented by the conflict theory of society
  • The two positions are mutually exclusive in most fields and people, but not is sociology.
  • One criticism of Parsons: Parsons is not aware of the rationalists conception of society,
    • how can functionalism explain daily conflict and disequilibria in society?
functionalist vs conflict theories
Functionalist vs. Conflict Theories


  • Every society is relatively persistent, stable structure of elements.
  • Every society is a well integrated structure of elements.
  • Every element in a society has a function. (i.e. contributes to the maintenance).
  • Every function in the social structure is based on a consensus of values between members.
functionalist principles
  • Stability
  • Integration
  • Functional Coordination
  • Consensus
  • How can the theory explain a situation where an employee starts a strike that leads to a general revolt against the society?
conflict theory
Conflict Theory
  • Society is at every point subject to the processes of change. Change is everywhere.
  • Society displays at every point dissensus and conflict. Conflict is everywhere.
  • All components in a society contributes to its disintegration and change.
  • Society is based on coercion of some membership by others.
conflict theory principles






dahrendorf s conflict theory
Dahrendorf’s Conflict Theory
  • Relations of authority become productive of clashes of role interest.
  • Leading to the formation of organized antagonistic groups within social organizations and societies.
power and authority
Power and Authority
  • Certain people are entrusted with the right to exercise effective coercion over others.
    • there is a differential distribution of power and authority
    • In society and social associations
  • The central thesis is that the distribution of authority invariably becomes the determining factor of system social conflicts.
  • Power is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his/her will despite the resistance of others, regardless of the base of power.
    • power is essentially tried to the personality of the individual.
bases of power
Bases of Power
  • Reward
    • The power person controls the positive and/or negative reinforcements for the target person(s).
  • Coercive
    • The power person controls the punishments feared by the target person(s).
  • Legitimate
    • The target believes the power person has the justifiable right to demand the performance of certain behaviors from the target.
  • Referent
    • The power person derives power from the respect or admiration the target has for the power person.
  • Expert
    • The power person has power over the target because of some special knowledge or expertise.
  • Authority is the probability that a command, with a specific content, will be obeyed by a given group of people.
    • authority is always associated with the social position (status).
  • Dahrendorf is only concerned in his presentation with authority
    • authority alone is part of the social structure, and therefore permits systematic development of group conflict.
the nature of authority
The Nature of Authority
  • Authority always produces structure conflicts in all societies because:
    • Authority relations are always relations of super and subordination.
    • The super ordinate is expected to control the subordinate.
    • Expectation are attached to status positions rather than the character of the individual.
    • Authority relations specify the persons subject to control and the spheres within which control is permissible.
      • In all socialized relations, there is a duty to obey.
    • Since the authority relations are legitimate, non-compliance results in negative sanctions.
      • The function of the legal system to support the exercise of legitimate authority.
conflict in associations
Conflict in Associations
  • An association is the coordination of organized aggregates of roles into domination and subjection categories.
  • Conflict analysis investigates the generation of conflict groups by the authority relations generated in imperatively coordinated associations.
    • Are domination and subjection roles of authority relation a common feature of all forms of associations and organizations?
  • Everyone takes part in a large number of different authority relations of imperatively coordinated associations and all authority relations are two sided; domination/subjection.
    • In some associations we are dominant but in others we are subjugated.
conflict in associations cont
Conflict in Associations (cont.)
  • In conflict analysis the unit of analysis is always a specific association and the dichotomy of positions within the association.
  • Authority is a zero sum concept, not power!
    • No matter how subtle the distribution there is always the line between those that have authority (no matter how little), and those who do not.
elites and ruling classes
Elites and Ruling Classes
  • Elites are those in society who represent the dominant group in any given imperatively coordinated association.
    • In general the number in the subordinate group is always larger than the number in the super ordinate group.
      • However, for post industrial society the number of people clearly subjected to authority in imperatively coordinated association decreases with time.
    • Ruling groups are no more than ruling groups within defined associations.
elites and ruling classes cont
Elites and Ruling Classes (cont.)
  • There may be conflict between the ruling groups of different associations, in this context the expression “ruling class” is misleading.
  • The upper structure of society is not necessarily the ruling conflict group.
masses and the suppressed
Masses and the Suppressed
  • The masses (those without authority) are not unorganized or without effective force.

Three generalizations can be made about the masses:

      • Not necessary the majority of an association
      • Members are not necessarily connected by like culture
        • Feminist Movement
      • Existence is related to a particular association
the structure of power in america by c wright mills
The Structure of Power in AmericabyC. Wright Mills
  • The basic problem of power
    • Who is making the decisions
  • Today, power means the manipulation of consent
  • Today, power is employed without the reason or conscious of the obedient
three types of power
Three Types of Power
  • Authority
    • Power that is justified by the beliefs of the voluntarily obedient
  • Manipulation
    • Power that operates without the awareness of the powerless
  • Coercion
    • Power that operates through the use of threats of punishment for non-compliance (fear)
the modern world
The Modern World
  • The majority have lost faith in traditional loyalties
    • They are not radical
    • They are not liberal
    • They are not conservative
  • Today the majority are inactionary!
    • Idiots
    • Altogether private people
history and society
History and Society
  • Throughout history
    • A few men have been so placed that their decisions modify the milieu of many other men
  • A constant thread
    • History is marked by the continual concentration and centralization of the means of power
    • Economic, political, and military
  • Today
    • The concentration is so great that a very few men (elites) can control the fate of the worlds people
three tiers of power
Three Tiers of Power
  • The Power Elite
  • Decisions of national and international consequence
  • The triangle of power
    • Military-industrial complex
  • A joining of the high military, the corporate executives, and the political directorate
  • The power elite of America
the power elite
The Power Elite
  • Since WWII the economy has become dominated by a few hundred corporations
    • The Walmartization of America
  • Inter-related with the military and the political spheres of social structure
  • The corporate man and the military one have forced the purely political into subordination
  • Today there is an ascendancy of the corporate man in politics and the military
  • Creating a permanent War Economy in America
the power elite cont
The Power Elite (cont.)
  • The permanent military threat has led to the dominance of the military view of reality (the global economy)
  • Political and economic action is now judged in terms of military definitions (the global market place)
  • The reason for the military domination
    • America does not have the suitable agencies for a democratic handling of international affairs
2 mid level elite
2. Mid-Level Elite
  • A common interpretation of the American power structure
    • Competing interests groups
      • Veto groups
  • The conception is in accord with the folklore of how American democracy works
  • The politician as broker between competing interests
mid level elite cont
Mid-level Elite (cont.)
  • Involved in the moderate to minor decisions that affect everyday life
    • Price of milk, minimum wage, electricity costs
    • Represented by local politicians, business leaders, and community patriots
      • Senators, Representatives, farmers, and labor unions are generally in the middle tier of power
      • Mid-level powers react rather than lead!


    • Not the international affairs
    • Not the decisions that rock the lives of the masses
3 the masses
3. The Masses
  • The third tier of power in America
  • The influence of the masses continues to decrease in proportion to the centralization of power
  • The masses have become mere markets for the elites and mid-level powers
  • Each person thinks things out, formulates an opinion, and then adds a voice to the “great chorus”
the masses cont
The Masses (cont.)
  • In theory and folklore
    • People are presented with problems
    • Discussion ensue
    • People formulate viewpoints
    • The viewpoints are organized
    • The organized viewpoints compete
    • One viewpoint “wins out”
    • People act on the basis of the winning viewpoint or their representatives are instructed to act
    • The desired action takes place
  • The above mythical image of democracy is still used by the power elite as justification for power in America.
the problem with the mythical conception of american democracy
The Problem with the Mythical Conception of American Democracy
  • The issues that shape lives are neither raised nor decided by any public at large
  • Free associations in America can, and are smashed or weakened by mass media denigration (Femi-Nazi)
  • Many forces work to destroy the public will
    • Mass media of distraction
    • Government sponsored, supported, or ignored terror
    • Organized fanatics in search of the “disloyal”
  • The public lose the will for decision making because they lack the instruments for decision
    • “The president must know more than we do!”
the masses and america
The Masses and America
  • For such a mythical image of American Democracy to be real requires:
    • The open and free flow of information and knowledge on inter-national and national issues
    • Nationally responsible political parties that openly debate (disagree on) the issues of the nation
    • Intelligentsia that make information concrete and relevant to the national issues
    • That the force of law be on the side of the publics freedom, rather than the corporations freedom
  • Unless these exist there are no vehicles for the exertion of a public will.