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Social Conflict Theory

Social Conflict Theory

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the key ideas and basic components of social conflict theory.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Images from; Public Domain

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on the social-conflict approach. As always don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.


So the social-conflict approach is one of the three major theoretical approaches in sociology. So what exactly is this approach? This approach is really based on conflict, and it really sees all interactions in society surrounding conflict. And specifically, it's a conflict of inequalities, and it's based over resources. So it's a competition for resources.

And the social-conflict approach sees social structures in society as tools to really help some win this conflict and limit others chances of getting resources. And this approach is a macro-level level orientation. Now, one thing you'll notice about the social-conflict approach, it's not saying specifically what conflict is the base for the inequalities. There are different subdivisions of the social-conflict approach, which all view a different conflict as the main one in society. And it's really about a way of looking at issues rather than saying one of the social conflict issues is the strongest.

Now this approach was really started by Karl Marx. Karl Marx, you've probably heard of before, he's often credited as the founder of communism. And he was instrumental in the development of the social-conflict approach. When Marx was alive he saw the economic class as the biggest conflict facing the world, as the biggest issue facing the world.

And this specific class conflict was between the bourgeoisie and proletariat Now the bourgeoisie, you can think of as the owners. These are the people that own the means of production. They're the factory owners. They're the bosses. They are the people that are places in power, and they actually get to pay other people to work. They're proletariat. And you can consider them the workers. And he saw all of society as this conflict between those two different groups.

He also saw a revolution as a key component to society. So he didn't the revolution was a bad thing. He thought revolution was something that was necessary to help keep the balance between the owners and the workers because by default the owners are the ones with much more power.

Now another person that really contributed to this viewpoint was Max Weber. Weber did a bunch of research looking at the connection to in capitalism and the growth of Protestantism. Now what he was interested in was that Protestantism was around in Europe, but it was-- capitalism was spreading so fast in places where Protestantism was around. And he really looked at this idea that cultural influences can be embedded within religions. And this can have an impact on economic systems.

Now another one of the major contributors to this view of the social-conflict approach is C. Wright Mills. C. Wright Mills saw this competition between the power elite and the rest of the civilization. Now the power elite are a really small group of people, and they're really the top most powerful people within a society. So, they're the top business owners, the top corporate people, the top politicians, the top generals. They together become this really small elite group, and they're the power elite they're called.

And C. Wright Mills saw that there was a conflict between the power elites' goals and what's good for the rest of society. So he really saw the power elite as a major threat to freedom.

So today's takeaway message, the social-conflict approach is based on a view that society is a place for conflict-based inequalities, and there's a competition for resources. This is a macro-level approach. So it's really broad, zoomed out approach of what society is like. So you're looking really far back at the social structures Karl Marx was the first to found this viewpoint, and he argued that economic class was the biggest source of inequality in life.

Max Weber saw a lot of connections between capitalism and Protestantism, and he was another one who really contributed to this social conflict approach. And C. Wright Mills, another sociologist, and he saw this idea of the power elite at the top really being a danger to the rest of society.

That's it for this lesson. Good work and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace. 366

Terms to Know
Macro-level Orientation

​A zoomed out look at the social structures and institutions that shape society.

Power Elite

​A small group composed of the top corporate, political, and military people.

Social Conflict Theory

An approach to social theory that argues that society is characterized by various inequalities and conflicts that cause people to act socially, producing change.

People to Know
C. Wright Mills

An American sociologist famous for the "sociological imagination" and for the concept of the power elite.

Karl Marx

​An economist and sociologist who argued that class is the fundamental inequality in society.

Max Weber

​Renowned sociologist who theorized that conflict in society was also about power and social prestige.