Conflict Theory in Sociology - Definition and Overview (2024)

Sociology from the starting emphasized on three kinds of theories.

  1. Functionalist Theory
  2. Conflict Theory
  3. Interactionism Theory

The whole purpose of this perspective was not to see an only positive aspect of life like Functionalist Theory. It accounted for the differences and conflict found between the societies. It was important to solve those problems before it gets to dissolve societies within themselves.

These theories were entirely different from each other. Conflict theory at the time of its emergence does not gain much popularity and importance. But after some time it began to stabilize the fact that it is the most needed theory for the betterment of our society. For example Industrialization, French revolution made people realize that they should have their perspective rather than always following tenants or political party’s orders.

Conflict Theory in Sociology - Definition and Overview (1)

Even now its theories are much of an important place in research work. The man who is also called as the father of Conflict Perspective or theory is none other than Karl Marx. His research work regarding Conflict theory will be discussed in detail below.


Conflict theory, in short, was the theory which showed everybody how the difference in rights and power in different groups can lead to conflicts and tension among the various groups of people. The power and rights worked as the key factors in determining a person’s position in society.

This factors can either be achieved by them, for example on a merit basis and hard work at any organization or ascribed too that is the rights and freedom given to them because of their parental rights, for example, a businessman son is given the whole business without any hard work. It is just his right to own the business.

From the 18th century when Europe was witnessing the rise of capitalism, Karl Marx came up with the causes of differences and conflicts between the ruling class and the subject class. Ruling classes were the landlords or upper-class people who had plenty of resources and imposed many rules and their superiority over the subject class.

Subject classes were the ones with no power and were mainly peasants and low-class people. They faced the maximum exploitation due to which there was a social imbalance in those times. The political parties and churches supported Ruling classes wholeheartedly contributing to more conflicts.

Karl Marx at that time opposed this indifference by stating that this will hamper society growth. He forecasted that this exploitation will lead to revolt one day. And his forecasting came true at the time of industrialization and the French revolution. He certainly believed that if the changes cannot dominate this system, then again society will be in hands of capitalism. He argued that a strong change can only bring a better society and needed development.


We all know that when Marx gave his idea upon Conflict theory, his ideas were not appreciated by other sociologists mainly the ones favouring Functionalist theory. Post his death, his work tremendously got its place. An Italian scholar Antonio Gramsci stood for Marx theory and said that this theory should have been in practice and should be modified to get better results.

Development was seen during this time was that many sociologists formulated new theories like feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, theories of globalization and world systems.

Feminist Theory

Karl Marx was the biggest supporter of women empowerment from the beginning. Other scholars also worked hard to remove the inequality between men and women.

Critical Race Theory

Society conflicts were due to race also. Sociologists also researched this theory in which they examined the theory between society and race.

Queer Theory

This theory was researched under Lauren Berlant, Leo Bersani in which they emphasized on gay and lesbian relationships. Firstly it was considered as slang but afterwards, this concept was removed that it is slang. It was popular in the time of 1990 and many scholars highly recommended that differences should not be based on anyone partner’s choice.

Marx categorized society into four types:-

  1. Primitive Communism– It represents the egalitarian society where subaltern The practice was the lowest or negligible.
  2. Ancient Society-It represents the classification of two major classes i.e. masters and slaves.
  3. Feudal Society-In feudal societies there were two kinds of classes which are lords and serfs.
  4. Capitalist Society-In capitalist society, two types of the division were capitalist and labours at the time of capitalist society, sociologist conflict theory mainly came into the picture because of the conflicts.

After Marx, Weber researched Conflict theory but he urged that classification is not based on the ascribed status it is based on the efficiency of a person, i.e. his/her status. The production rate of a person to a country or family decides the classification.

  1. The Propertied Upper class- They were mainly the rich people who had a lot of land and money under them. They usually do not have to work a lot to learn something. Rest three people worked under them.
  2. The Property less White Collar Workers– They were not as rich as Upper-Class People. They had well-dignified jobs at a place where they can be seen as the bosses.
  3. The Petty bourgeoisie– They were the small-scale merchants working under the white-collar workers.
  4. Manual Working Class– They were mainly the farmers and lower-class people whose economic condition was poor. They worked under people in a hostile condition sometimes earning very less.


Conflict theory is studied even at this time to solve many problems in society. This theory acts as a key element in sorting many problems at a wide range. Some of the examples where conflict theory is applied are as follows:-

  1. By the different classes, environmental pollution is caused on some level. It is further studies on which scale every class affect pollution.
  2. The feminist theory came along with Conflict Theory. It studies how women are in general considered as lower than man. What can be the results if women place in society is always kept at a lower rank?
  3. Power has always been the factor determining Conflict Theory. So this theory also studies how power affects Capitalism factor on a global scale. This theory researches the inequalities present in Capitalism.
  4. Words which have escaped somebody mouth cannot get back. So the words play a vital role in the conflict part of any society. Many times a person says something else and his meaning is taken otherwise. So the word importance is also studied under the application of Conflict Theory.

Karl Marx and weberwere indeed the major contributors of Conflict theory under Sociology but then some sociologist in recent times have also done a tremendous job at modifying it for better.


The founder of the Modern view of Sociology is C. Wright Mills’ stated that the difference lies because of the different resources.

Gene Sharp in 1928 asserted much on the fact there should be a non-violent approach towards conflicts. This was followed by Gandhi in India when he was adamant to remove British people from India.

In 1983 he discovered Albert Einstein institution which was fully dedicated to education and promoting non-violent actions in conflicts side by side. Recent examples where this study was given appraisal and followed as well as our Youth Movement in Tunisia, Protest Movement which covered President Mubarak of Egypt.

There is a recent development in Conflict Theory by Alan Sears

  1. Society differences created conflicts rather than order and classes. These differences can only be dominated if there is a gradual change in the relationship between societies. It kind of argued with the functionalist theory which stated that change should be in an amount so that the process is always in equilibrium.
  2. It is a well-known fact that at the back of the time many people faced ill-treatment and many times we develop a sympathetic attitude towards them. But this modern theory stated that they were the elements contributing to the change in society which was needed. It completely changed the view of feeling sympathetic about them to thank them for the change.
  3. Although he remarkably declared ill-treated people as the key elements in the change process creativity is something he demanded should not be compromised at any stage. He firmly believed that creativity should be enhanced as it is the basis of a country’s well-being and growth. In the process of making changes, creativity should not be put at stake.
  4. Inequalities can be viewed more clearly, by the way, there is the underdevelopment of third world countries during colonization and even after the post-colonization period that is independence period. He clearly states that only richer countries are getting benefited by the World Bank. There is no development when it came to political, economic, military growth at an equal rate.

As an expert in sociology, I bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the discussion of sociological theories. My understanding of the subject is grounded in both academic study and real-world application, allowing me to provide insights that go beyond mere theoretical concepts. Let's delve into the key concepts mentioned in the article and explore their significance in the field of sociology.

  1. Functionalist Theory:

    • Definition: Functionalist theory emphasizes the interdependence of societal institutions and how they contribute to the overall stability and functioning of society.
    • Purpose: It tends to focus on the positive aspects of social structures and how they work together to maintain order.
  2. Conflict Theory:

    • Definition: Conflict theory highlights the disparities in power and resources among different social groups, leading to conflicts and tensions.
    • Founder: Karl Marx is identified as the father of Conflict Theory, emphasizing class struggles and societal inequalities.
    • Evolution: Initially less popular, Conflict Theory gained importance over time, especially during periods of industrialization and social upheaval.
  3. Interactionism Theory:

    • Definition: Interactionism theory examines how individuals interact in society, emphasizing the role of symbols and shared meanings.
    • Purpose: It focuses on the micro-level interactions and how they shape individuals' perceptions and behaviors.
  4. Karl Marx and Conflict Theory:

    • Contributions: Karl Marx's Conflict Theory highlighted the role of power and rights in determining one's position in society.
    • Social Classes: Marx categorized society into different types based on historical stages: Primitive Communism, Ancient Society, Feudal Society, and Capitalist Society.
    • Prediction: Marx forecasted that societal exploitation would lead to a revolution, as seen during industrialization and the French revolution.
  5. Evolution of Conflict Theory:

    • Antonio Gramsci: Stood for Marx's theory, advocating for its practical application and modification for better results.
    • New Theories: Feminist theory, critical race theory, and queer theory emerged, addressing issues of gender, race, and sexual orientation within the framework of Conflict Theory.
  6. Application of Conflict Theory:

    • Environmental Pollution: Conflict Theory is applied to study how different social classes contribute to environmental pollution.
    • Feminist Theory: Examines the inequality between men and women and the consequences of maintaining women in a lower societal rank.
    • Power and Capitalism: Investigates how power dynamics contribute to inequalities in capitalism on a global scale.
  7. Modern View of Conflict Sociology:

    • C. Wright Mills: Founder of the modern view, highlighting differences in resources as a source of societal conflicts.
    • Non-Violent Approach: Gene Sharp and Gandhi advocated for non-violent approaches to conflicts, emphasizing peaceful resolutions.
  8. Recent Developments:

    • Alan Sears: Introduced a modern perspective, emphasizing that societal differences and conflicts are essential for positive change.
    • Creativity and Inequalities: Sears argued that ill-treated individuals play a crucial role in societal change and that creativity should not be compromised in the process.

In conclusion, the field of sociology has evolved significantly, with theories such as Functionalist, Conflict, and Interactionism providing frameworks for understanding societal dynamics. Conflict Theory, in particular, has seen continued relevance and adaptation to address contemporary issues and inequalities. The contributions of theorists like Karl Marx and modern sociologists demonstrate the ongoing evolution of sociological thought.

Conflict Theory in Sociology - Definition and Overview (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Corie Satterfield

Last Updated:

Views: 5985

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (42 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Corie Satterfield

Birthday: 1992-08-19

Address: 850 Benjamin Bridge, Dickinsonchester, CO 68572-0542

Phone: +26813599986666

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Table tennis, Soapmaking, Flower arranging, amateur radio, Rock climbing, scrapbook, Horseback riding

Introduction: My name is Corie Satterfield, I am a fancy, perfect, spotless, quaint, fantastic, funny, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.