The History Of The Conflict Perspective

The History Of The Conflict Perspective


Throughout history, there have been several attempts to explain the underlying factors of man’s behaviour. Questions regarding why people embark on riots, protests, and revolutions form the threshold of these attempts. Noteworthy, as humans continue to evolve, so have these theories also followed suit.

The Conflict Perspective is the brainchild of one of these attempts. As a theory, it continually evolves with various explanations for conflict. Hence, different layers of sociological opinions on conflict make up this perspective today. In light of this, this essay examines the history of the Conflict Perspective. It also takes a cursory attempt at the nature of conflict perspective.

Karl Marx – German philosopher

Popularly described as the conflict theory, the conflict perspective attempts to explain the general patterns of conflict in society. It examines conflict in the light of how it starts, how it varies, and its impacts on society. Noteworthy, the early works of Karl Marx represent the foremost ideas of the conflict perspective.

According to him, competition for scarce resources invariably leads to conflict in society. Put in context, the wealthy and powerful inevitably hold on to their wealth. In the process, the poor and helpless are oppressed and exploited. By and large, these realities drive the consciousness for development. In turn, this consciousness leads to conflict. Hence, as long as inequality exists in a society, conflict is only being bred even if it has not occurred. (Crossman, 2019)

Furthermore, the fundamental consideration of this perspective is the uneven distribution of scarce resources in society. However, this is not often the case for conflict theorists. Instead, many conflict theorists hinge their opinions on Weber’s stratification systems of class, status, and power. Resultantly, people conceive power as a fundamental feature – without thinking – of society. This fact is why questions regarding the location of power and who wields power form the bedrock of the conflict perspective.

Additionally, the conflict perspective is capable of three distinct senses of use. Firstly, it is relevant in describing the theoretical traditions dealing with power, domination, conflict, and social change. Secondly, it is relevant to explain the analysis of social conflicts in various sociological paradigms and behavioural sciences. Finally, it has a connection to the body of research relating to domination, change, power structures, and conflict. Noteworthy, all these senses stem from their usage across history. (Crossman, 2019)

Generally, the evolution of conflict perspective through the ages affords the analysis of its history. As such, the history of the conflict perspective is traceable to the conflict theory evolution, which gained momentum in the 1950s. This period was a time when the leading structural functionality overemphasized the idea of a consensual society without conflict. At the heart of this revival were Ralf Dahrendorf and Lewis Coser. (Crossman, 2019)

Nevertheless, before then, Karl Marx had laid a solid springboard for the perspective today. In the mid-1800s, Karl Marx’s early works on capitalism introduced the idea of conflict. Through capitalism, Marx postulated that the bourgeoisie minority would exert their influence to oppress the proletariat majority. (Crossman, 2019)

Noteworthy, there have been suggestions that the idea thrives on a pyramid distribution of goods and services in society. At the pyramid, the top is a small fraction of elites – bourgeoise – dictating the rules to the more significant faction of society. This exercise of this power is linked to their excessive control over power and resources. (Lumen Sociology)

Further, Marx maintained that this ideological class maintains its control and force legitimately on the proletariat. Precisely, the bourgeoisie will set up bodies of laws, rules, systems, and structures to institutionalize their dominance. Hence, the bourgeoise prevents the proletariat from climbing up the social ladder. More, the bourgeoise subjects them to harsh conditions. (Lumen Sociology)

As a result, class consciousness would invariably drive awareness of inequality. The consequence of this, as Marx theorized, is a revolt by the subjugated class. Nevertheless, this is not all. If consequently, the revolt favours the proletariat, and social roles are reversed, leading to the emergence of another conflict. However, in this case, the bourgeoisie is now the revolter, seeking a return to how things were.

Apart from Marx, Ludwig Gumplowicz and Lester F. Ward were also foremost conflict theorists. Though developed independently, both had similar theories. They considered conflict from the perspective of anthropology and evolution as against Marx’s economic factors. (Lumen Sociology)

In the early 20th Century, German Sociologist Max Weber agreed with Marx – but not completely. He added that inequalities in social structure and political power also cause conflict. This fact is because, as Weber noted, race, gender, and education lead to inequalities. Also, how people react to inequality is based on differences in class and the perception of the legitimacy of the ruling class.

Also, in the early 20th century, Georg Simmel theorized that conflict is a medium for the integration and stabilization of society. According to him, how intense conflict is, is underpinned by how emotionally involved the parties are.

To him, the depth of solidarity also determines how intense conflict is. Simmel also believed that conflict depends on a group’s resolve to foster internal solidarity, reduce disagreement, and centralize power. He further maintained that settling conflicts reduce tension and hostility, thereby fostering future agreements.

Between the 1930s and the 1940s, the Frankfurt School – of German Philosophers – further birthed the critical theory, which elaborates on Marx’s principles. Specifically, the critical theory attempts to expand the conflict theory, as it incorporates other social sciences and philosophy. It addresses inequality from the perspective of structural issues, identifies change-makers, and charts realistic goals for development. (Lumen Sociology)


More recently, a different perspective of conflict has surfaced. Janet Saltzman presented a feminist model to explain the forces of gender inequality and possible solutions. In a similar line of events, Critical Race grew a perspective from a legal analysis of racism and race. It considers structural inequality through power, prestige, and wealth associated with being white. (Lumen Sociology)

Some quarters believe that the Conflict theory is not an established paradigm in social theory. However, it, no doubt, represents the foundation of several sociological paradigms. It has also inspired other sociological opinions to conflicts and power play in society.

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