Theories of conflict: Marx, Weber, Mills

Theories of conflict: Marx, Weber, Mills

Have you ever faced conflicts? We bet you have, but have you ever thought about the fact that your quarrel with your wife or a friend is nonsense, but only a minor representation of the clash of interests? Our existence is one total collision and human life on the earth is based on contradictions of interests. We will prove this with the help of the most realistic theories of conflict by famous sociologists, so go on reading.

Theories of conflict in society

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How is it to know that you are a part of a great system with artificially created contradictions? We made this article to help you to figure out why you fail to admire your life, government or officials from time to time. Go on reading to find out the potential truth and break the system!

Theories of conflict by Marx

Karl Marx revealed his major ideas considering the social conflict in his book The Capital (Das Kapital). Even if you did not read this book, can you guess the general idea of Marx`s thoughts about the theory of conflict? Of course, the famous capitalist spoke about social classes, resources, and manufacturing. Let’s regard his suppositions in a more detailed way leaning on his work, of course.

According to the philosopher, social relations, as well as the very striving for their organisation, are phenomena independent of the consciousness of individuals. The society is developing on the basis of the law of dialectics, on the unity and struggle of opposites, in this case — classes. There’s a good quote from Marx`s book:

“…which division enlarges its materials by the expansion of the community, by the increase of population, and more especially, by the conflicts between different tribes, and the subjugation of one tribe by another.”

Class relations, as Marx thought, are necessary relations that exist in any society. They are characterised by a constant distribution of the material and spiritual resources of community among the classes. The distribution cannot take place without infringing on one’s interests, therefore appear conflicts in society.

Theories of conflict by Marx

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The main provisions of the theory of conflict (Marx) are the following:

  • more uneven distribution of resources between classes generates a sharper and deeper contradiction;
  • the awareness of the interests and goals that make existence optimal is directly related to the recognition of the illegal allocation of resources for these purposes;
  • knowledge of the unlawful and uneven distribution of resources in society contributes to the union of the oppressed classes and the open struggle with other higher communities;
  • the conflict between classes will be resolved by force in case of greater polarisation between the ruling class and the oppressed class;
  • the internal structure and ideological affiliation of class leaders affect the polarisation of social classes;
  • significant structural changes in the system of society and the order of class relations occur as a result of violent forms of conflict;
  • more substantial redistribution of society’s resources between classes can be expected from violent conflict.

Marx believed that the basis of the social conflict is economic relations and relations arising in the process of production. The totality of production relations affects all other systems of social relations: political, legal, state, family, collective, etc. The society develops progressively due to causal relationships. Naturally, the historical process of the development of society is based on a single striving of individuals and social groups depending on a fair distribution of resources among classes.

Theories of conflict by Weber

Weber’s ideas were anti-Marxist especially concerning Marx's concept of socio-economic formation and class struggle. Weber was interested in disputes in the political sphere. He distinguished three ideally-typical forms of power: traditional, charismatic and rational in his book Economy and Society. He believes that modern bourgeois society is characterised by a developed legal and civic consciousness, which increases the possibility of harmony in society. But consent does not exclude political conflict between classes, strata, groups with different material and spiritual interests.

Theories of conflict by Weber

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Weber stresses that one of the primary sources of conflicts in society is the bureaucracy that has developed in it. Analysing the specifics of bureaucrats, he emphasised that the conflict between the duties that an official must fulfill and his or her psychology is a reality that must always be taken into account. It means that feelings, attitudes, habits of irresponsible work, embezzlement, etc. always in one or another way characterise the class of bureaucrats.

In the sociology of religion, Weber concludes that the cause of socio-religious conflicts is the opposite of religious attitudes, values, orientations, expressed in different types of religious worldview. He drew attention to the connection of religious leaders and their peculiarities and characteristics with certain social status groups in society: Hindu Brahmins (Hinduism), Jewish Levites (Judaism), Christian saints (Christianity). Each of them had a peculiar way of life, certain religious convictions that they imposed on other people and thereby maintained their high status in society. The existence and development of religions, their connection with political elites are directly related to the existence of the religious elite and its interests.

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From Weber's point of view, society is not something whole and organised, like a socio-economic formation, but a precise balance of opposing status groups, each of which has its economic interests, political ambitions, worldview (understanding of the world, other people and itself). There is a constant conflict between these groups for strengthening and raising their status. Thus, the focus of Weber was the conflict of various status groups, distinguished by economic interests, political ambitions, and systems of life orientation. Saying it in more simple words, people have discords because they are all different. Accordingly, if Marx looked on conflicts more pragmatically, Weber paid attention to psychological dogmas.

Theories of conflict by Mills

A well-known American sociologist Charles Wright Mills subjected the method of structural and functional analysis to severe conceptual criticism. In his works, especially in the book The Power Elite he described the meaning of the industrial alliance and the political and military-bureaucratic elite. Mills claimed that any sociological analysis is worth something only if it concerns a power struggle:

  • between conflicting classes;
  • between the governors and the governed;
  • between influential people and ordinary people.
Theories of conflict by Mills

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He also composed three groups of questions for sociologists, that they must solve in the future to define types of conflicts in new changing societies:

  • What is the structure of this particular society as an entity?
  • What is the place of this society in the history of the humankind?
  • What people prevail in this society in this period?

The author, eventually, was sure that the answers to these questions would give the future sociologists a picture of a society with all its contradictions, conflicts and harmony, order and disorder, progress and regress.

In conclusion, it is necessary to say, that one should not accept any of the theories above while these three authors were chosen not accidentally. Each of them analyses a particular aspect of human life: Marx’s theory is connected with a material aspect; Weber’s one – with mind and logic; and Mills` one – with the role of an individual in the community. So, conflicts exist in all aspects of social life. It is a paradox, but maybe it is not so bad? The human race grew up on contradictions, so to struggle against something or somebody means to move forward.

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