Conflict Theory

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Conflict theory is one of the major theoretical frameworks within sociology which posits that the distribution of resources between elements within a social system is the primary factor and determinant to the structure and dynamics of that system. As such it is focused on the unequal distribution of resources, arguing that individuals and groups within society have access to differing amounts of material and nonmaterial resources. Thus the social structure that emerges out of this is seen to be essentially a mechanism for more powerful groups to use their resources in order to exploit groups with less power. According to the conflict perspective, society is made up of individuals competing for limited resources and this competition over scarce resources is at the heart of all social relationships. Conflict theory emphasizes the role of coercion and power in producing social order. This paradigm of social theory is primarily derived from the works of Karl Marx, who saw society as fragmented into groups that compete for social and economic resources. Social order is maintained by domination, with power in the hands of those with the greatest political, economic, and social resources. Conflict theory sees society as a dynamic entity constantly undergoing change as a result of competition over scarce resources. Whereas functionalism understands society as a complex system striving for balance and stability, the conflict perspective views social life as competition and conflict that ultimately leads to abrupt change through revolution.