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Conflict Theory

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SOCIOLOGY A Outcome 1 Joanne McAteer Conflict Theory Conflict theory is different to the consensus perspective in that it does not take for granted that there will automatically be co- operation, harmony and agreement among different groups in society. It is more focused on the inequalities with regard to power and wealth, and how some groups have more wealth than others and can therefore have power over other groups. These groups are constantly competing with each other. For example, workers want high wages, but employers want to pay them as little as possible. NHS patients want to receive a high standard of health care, but doctors have to work within their budgets. Therefore, society is made up of different competing groups, not groups working as a team. Each group has it's own interests in mind, and society is the result of how power and wealth may decide which group has the last say in how things are run. MARXISM According to Marxism, there are two classes in society - the ruling class and the subject class. The ruling class make up a small percentage of society, however, they own and control the biggest share of the wealth. Examples of the ruling class are the aristocracy, employers and the government. They have the most power because they are able to control the wealth of the country. Therefore, they can decide how to run the country to some extent. The subject class are larger in number, however are relatively poorer in comparison to the ruling class. The subject class are dependant on the ruling class to a degree, as they have no alternative but to engage in employment in order to receive wages from the ruling class. The subject class are taught to accept life as it is, that the situation can never change if society is to function successfully. As the ruling class control the educational system and the media, the subject class are 'fooled' into believing that this system is normal. ...read more.


COERCION Conflict theorists believe that coercion is inevitable in any system. Coercion means to persuade or threaten someone by the use of force. When one group in society has control over another group, (i.e. the ruling class controls the subject class) they must use coercion in order to prevent a rebellion. This can be in the form of limiting the amount of education available to the subject class, therefore preventing them from gaining access to highly paid and influential positions such as lawyers, in the media or politicians. The ruling class can influence what is shown on televisions and in the newspapers. They can use the army, police and the courts to protect them or enforce the law to prevent civil unrest. These are all things, which conflict theorists argue that the ruling class must do, in order to maintain their position in a modern capitalist society. These steps are taken when the subject class may attempt to change the structure of society. This may be due to the realisation that the ruling class is exploiting them. Conflict theorists believe that as long as there is inequality between classes, there will always be a need for coercion to be used by the ruling class. A physical show of force, however, may prove time consuming and expensive for the ruling class. In this case, Ideology will be used. This is a set of beliefs and values, which may be based on fact, opinion or perception. The ruling class must get the subject class to believe that their Ideology is the right and natural way to do things, and that there is no other way. Some examples are, the belief in market capitalism, the belief that the rights of the individual come before that of the group, the belief that inequality is healthy as it creates competition and the belief that private ownership is desirable. If a group can be 'conned' with the use of Ideology into thinking that a situation which is bad for them, is actually beneficial to them, then they are said to be in a state of false 'consciousness'. ...read more.


are taken into account. EVALUATION Like every theory, the conflict theory has it's strengths and it's weaknesses. The strengths are that it recognises that there is a structure to society, and that every part is connected to every other one. Therefore, this structure is more powerful than any individual. It makes us realise that there are different groups in society, which are the product of inequalities and these groups all have their own beliefs. This inequality can be explained through the concept of private ownership. Power and coercion can help to explain why groups do things which are not in their best interests. The weaknesses are, that in highlighting the differences and conflicts in society, conflict theorists have under estimated the amount of shared values that appear to be an important force in shaping society. Marxists see all wage earners as being equal, in that they are all part of the subject class. However, there are a great many differences between a highly paid executive and a factory production line worker. Marxists do not take into account the moment by moment choices, made by the individual, which require freewill. This should be taken into account when considering the influence that the structure of the state has on everyone's behaviour. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CONFLICT AND CONSENSUS There are many differences between the conflict and the consensus theories. According to the consensus theory, people in society work together for the same thing, whereas with conflict theory, people work in competition for what they need. Consensus theory states that society is aiming to achieve a settled harmony. However, conflict theory says that society is in constant change, due to disharmony. Another difference is that consensus theory tells us that the existing order is for everyone's benefit. Whereas the conflict perspective says the existing social order is for the benefit of the ruling class. Finally, the consensus theory states that authority is there to protect everyone. However, conflict says that authority is there to protect the ruling class. ...read more.

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