Understanding Conflict Through Sociological Perspective

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 6 May 2016

Understanding Conflict Through Sociological Perspective

Conflict is the struggle for agency or power in society. Social conflict or group conflict occurs when two or more actors oppose each other in social interaction, reciprocally exerting social power in an effort to attain scarce or incompatible goals and prevent the opponent from attaining them. It is a social relationship wherein the action is oriented intentionally for carrying out the actor’s own will against the resistance of other party or parties. We define conflict as a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns. Within this simple definition there are several important understandings that emerge.

The contemporary discipline of sociology is theoretically multi-paradigmatic. Modern sociological theory descends from the historical foundations of functionalist (Durkheim) and conflict-centered (Marx) accounts of social structure, as well as the micro-scale structural (Simmel) and pragmatist (Mead) theories of social interaction. Contemporary sociological theory retains traces of these approaches. In the present situation, the conflict theory is one of the two main theoretical frameworks of sociological understanding.

Functionalism aims only toward a general perspective from which to conduct social science. Methodologically, its principles generally contrast those approaches that emphasize the “micro”, such as interpretivism or symbolic interactionism. Its emphasis on “cohesive systems”, however, also holds political ramifications.

Functionalist theories are often therefore contrasted with “conflict theories” which critique the overarching socio-political system or emphasize the inequality of particular groups. The works of Durkheim and Marx epitomize the political, as well as theoretical, disparities, between functionalist and conflict thought respectively. Objectives

1. To know the basic meaning of the term ‘conflict’.

2. To understand the conflict theory proposed by Karl Marx.

3. To evaluate classic and modern conflict theories.

Research Methodology

The research project is descriptive and analytic in nature. The research project is mainly based on secondary sources which include books and web pages. I’ve used empirical methods in making this project by referring to various books kept in the library.

These methods do not include field work and mainly depend on electronic resources. I owe my chief source of inspiration to our respected faculty. The data base referred is not copied from any other source and is purely authentic and genuine.

Conflict can be defined in multiple ways1:
1. An active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles. 2. If beliefs, needs or facts, etc ‘conflict’, they are very different and cannot easily exist at the same time or both be true. What is Conflict? Definitions and Assumptions About Conflict We define conflict as a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.

Within this simple definition there are several important understandings that emerge: Disagreement – Generally, we are aware there is some level of difference in the positions of the two (or more) parties involved in the conflict. But the true disagreement versus the perceived disagreement may be quite different from one another. In fact, conflict tends to be accompanied by significant levels of misunderstanding that exaggerate the perceived disagreement considerably. If we can understand the true areas of disagreement, this will help us solve the right problems and manage the true needs of the parties. Parties involved – There are often disparities in our sense of who is involved in the conflict.

Sometimes, people are surprised to learn they are a party to the conflict, while other times we are shocked to learn we are not included in the disagreement. On many occasions, people who are seen as part of the social system (e.g., work team, family, and company) are influenced to participate in the dispute, whether they would personally define the situation in that way or not. In the above example, people very readily “take sides” based upon current perceptions of the issues, past issues and relationships, roles within the organization, and other factors. The parties involved can become an elusive concept to define.

Perceived threat – People respond to the perceived threat, rather than the true threat, facing them. Thus, while perception doesn’t become reality per se, people’s behaviors, feelings and ongoing responses become modified by that evolving sense of the threat they confront. If we can work to understand the true threat (issues) and develop strategies (solutions) that manage it (agreement), we are acting constructively to manage the conflict. Needs, interests or concerns – There is a tendency to narrowly define “the problem” as one of substance, task, and near-term viability.

However, workplace conflicts tend to be far more complex than that, for they involve ongoing relationships with complex, emotional components. Simply stated, there are always procedural needs and psychological needs to be addressed within the conflict, in addition to the substantive needs that are generally presented. And the durability of the interests and concerns of the parties transcends the immediate presenting situation. Any efforts to resolve conflicts effectively must take these points into account. So, is it still a simple definition of conflict?

I think so, but we must respect that within its elegant simplicity lies a complex set of issues to address. Therefore, it is not surprising that satisfactory resolution of most conflicts can prove so challenging and time consuming to address. Conflicts occur when people (or other parties) perceive that, as a consequence of a disagreement, there is a threat to their needs, interests or concerns. Although conflict is a normal part of organization life, providing numerous opportunities for growth through improved understanding and insight, there is a tendency to view conflict as a negative experience caused by abnormally difficult circumstances. Disputants tend to perceive limited options and finite resources available in seeking solutions, rather than multiple possibilities that may exist ‘outside the box’ in which we are problem-solving.

There are many types of conflicts:
Studies on the main ones (person against self, person against another person, person against the world, and person against nature) had been extensive and well-known. However, knowing, isolating, and studying these types of conflict are not actually enough to make one impervious to them. 1. Person vs. self: In simpler words, the dilemma of a person.

2. Person vs. Person: The disagreement over interests or values between two human beings.

3. Person vs. Society: When the values or interests of a person conflict with the world around him.

4. Person vs. Nature: When the morals of a person are against natural laws as a whole, then he is said to be in a conflict with nature.

The above given types of conflict can be due to the disagreement on the following topics: 1. Values This is one of the prickliest types of conflict considering that values come in different shades and colors depending where you came from. Every religion and every culture have their own set of values that can clash. Opinions differ and when people disagree on what is “right”, value conflict begins. When either or both parties start imposing their values, conflict can escalate. Sometimes, they are triggered by a simple word or gesture. 2. Interests

Conflicts of interest are some of the more common types experienced by many of us interacting with all the other people. The issues are many – money, time, resources including procedural and psychological issues (trust, respect, honesty, fairness, etc). The conflict ensues when someone had invested so much of himself (psychologically and emotionally) into a project. This sense of interest takes over his reason and his sense of objectivity is clouded. There are other types of conflict, but the preceding ones are the most universal.

Types of Responses to conflict:

In addition to the behavioral responses summarized by the various conflict styles, we have emotional, cognitive and physical responses to conflict. These are important windows into our experience during conflict, for they frequently tell us more about what is the true source of threat that we perceive; by understanding our thoughts, feelings and physical responses to conflict, we may get better insights into the best potential solutions to the situation. Emotional responses: These are the feelings we experience in conflict, ranging from anger and fear to despair and confusion. Emotional responses are often misunderstood, as people tend to believe that others feel the same as they do. Thus, differing emotional responses are confusing and, at times, threatening. Cognitive responses: These are our ideas and thoughts about a conflict, often present as inner voices or internal observers in the midst of a situation.

Through sub-vocalization (i.e., self-talk), we come to understand these cognitive responses. For example, we might think any of the following things in response to another person taking a parking spot just as we are ready to park: Physical responses: These responses can play an important role in our ability to meet our needs in the conflict. They include heightened stress, bodily tension, increased perspiration, tunnel vision, shallow or accelerated breathing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat. These responses are similar to those we experience in high-anxiety situations, and they may be managed through stress management techniques. Establishing a calmer environment in which emotions can be managed is more likely if the physical response is addressed effectively.

Works of Karl Marx
In the Critique of the Political Economy Marx writes: In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

At some stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters (leg cuffs). Then, begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.

Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production.

No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, [A] Feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society.

The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals’ social conditions of existence – but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation.2 Karl Marx, a German revolutionary, emphasized his materialist views on ownership and means of production. He argued that what is most valued is a result of human labor and founded his ideas based on a capitalistic community, meaning a majority of the money is owned by only a small percentage. This causes a distinction between two classes, the industrialists and the working class.

The industrialists, the ones that make up the small percentage, own the means of production. The working class is those earning their wages by selling their labor. Problems become noticeable because the upper class is looking to get the most production possible for the least amount of money. A Surplus value is created; the profit industrialists hold onto caused by workers producing more than the employers actually need to repay the cost of hiring laborers. Another occurrence is exploitation; when workers receive less money than what their labor is worth. Marx believed that the gap between industrialists and the laborers would continue to grow. The industrialists would become
more and more wealthy, and the laborers continue to move towards poverty.

Conflict theory is seen throughout relationships and interactions between two groups of people including races, opposite sexes, and religions. Max Weber and Karl Marx have two different approaches to the conflict theory. Marx supports the ideas of deviance, claiming that individuals choose to engage in such rebellious and conflicting behavior as a response to the inequalities of the capitalist system. Weber discusses the conflict of stratification and its effects on power in society. He stresses property, prestige, and power as the main influences to the conflicting behaviors of groups in society.

Karl Marx argued: “The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and range. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. With the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion to the devaluation of the world of men. Labour produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity — and does so in the proportion in which it produces commodities generally.”

A commodity is a social use value produced by its owner not for personal consumption but for exchange. Marx believed that an entrepreneur has more and more to keep up with the more his company and power expands. It becomes more difficult each time his range of power increases. Eventually, the entrepreneur himself will become a commodity because he/she will no longer be able to keep up with their business and will have to put themselves (their company) up for sale on the market. Conflict of Interests:

Conflict of interest is a type of conflict interest. We can define a conflict of interest as a situation in which a person has a private or personal interest sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties as, say, a public official, an employee, or a professional.” “Social conflict is not limited to hostile or antagonistic opposition; it is not wholly a clash of coercive powers as often is implied, but of any opposing social powers”. Social conflict is usually recognized through violence, and physical behavior.

Yet, it’s more than just fighting, and killing one another. At times, it can deal with it throw a simple town in a conversation. It is acknowledged by someone’s power.” Dr. Coser, a sociologist, disagrees with the majority of American sociologists who, he contends, have badly neglected and misunderstood the concept and function of social conflict. He defines social conflict as ‘… a struggle over the values and claims to scarce status, power and resources in which the aims of the opponents are to neutralize, injure, or eliminate their rivals’. He believes that the prevalent tendency is to look upon conflict as dysfunctional and pathological


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 6 May 2016

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