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The Social Conflict Theory

After a series of interviews during a period of almost half a century, the theme of social conflicts reappeared in the field of sociology. This theme determined the origin of discipline rather than the subject area. According to Mark and Conte, the brain behind the social conflict theory was one of the central themes widely applied in the study of social research; this study method was widely applied by the Anglo-Saxon sociologists (Merton 130).


The problem of conflict in a sense resembles as the problem of the integration of communities. It is a common principle for sociologists to attempt to reduce all actually occurring conflicts among the given social groups to a common principle. This leads either to some empty generalization (every society has social conflict) or an empirically unjustified simplification (all societies have a history of conflicts and class struggle). Therefore, it seems more justified to classify the problems under the heading of social conflicts leading to a clear distinction between all of them.

For instance, wars and political struggles are two different types of conflicts that should have a distinct classification. Sociologists say there are exogenous conflicts that result from external aggression and endogenous conflicts, which originate from within in every society. If we confine ourselves to endogenous conflicts, we find that there are major subdivisions perceived directly. For instance, slaves versus their masters in Rome, black versus whites in the U.S., Protestants versus Catholics in Netherlands, and Conservatives versus laborites in England (Bartos 45). All these opposing groups produce internal conflicts that fall, perhaps, in separate categories. Despite the criteria one uses for classification (such as the contention object), the structural origin of the groups and the form of conflict results in distinct types.

The intent of this theory is to overcome the predominant nature of unexplained historical events by deriving these events from a social structure. It involves explaining certain social conflict processes in a prognostic connection. It is important to produce a proof that social conflict are based on certain social structural arrangements and are always bound to arise whenever such structural arrangements are present.


Structural Functioning Theory

This theory holds that a society is best understood as a complex system having various interdependent organs that work together to enhance stability. It was the dominant sociological approach used in the United States and Western Europe in the twentieth century. Despite the theory incorporating these multiple perspectives, the part of the system that can be understood to have contributed meeting the needs of the whole approach is the social system.

The approach came as a defining moment to the discipline of sociology. A well-known social theorist Comte used the term sociology to attempt to gain the legitimacy for this emerging field by integrating it with biological sciences. Durkheim was another theorist who was strongly associated with functional theory. His sociology focused on the interconnection between parts of the society and their contribution to the society as a whole. He discussed the function of religion as a part of the society and the obscure intimate relationship the society has with it (Griffin 78).

One proposition derived from the theory is that people have a social capital and greater amount of such capital results in benefits. Well integrated members of society who are endowed with social capital remain key members of the institution to maximize the potential of their capital. The assumption of this theory is that society is cohesive if only it consists of various intermediate groups who share some norms. This assumption leads to another proposition that the more the integration exists between the groups, the more cohesion the whole society attains. The absence of this cohesion leads to violence towards themselves and each other. Structural functional theorists assume that there are widely acceptable limits on what is good and just for the society. The members of the society generally agree on what social position is most important for their society.

The criticism of this theory is that it overemphasizes social cohesion while, at the same time, ignoring social conflicts. It insists on integration among the various parts of the society by treating it as an interconnected whole. Critics also point on the theory’s weakness in dealing with a social change, which is viewed as an interrupter for the social system.

Symbolic Interaction Theory

According to Herbert Blumer, symbolic interaction theory is a process of integrating the formation of meaning of individuals. He came up with the three principles to the theory that is meaning, language, and thought. It led to the idea about the creation of a personal self and generalization of the larger community. In particular, the meaning of events, behaviors, and objects are derived from an interpretation that people provide to them, and they vary from person to person.

The first principle of meaning states that an individual acts towards people and things based upon the meaning given to those people and things. Symbolic interactionism views this principle as very important in human behavior. The second principle of language gives a person the means by which one can negotiate meaning symbolically. Naming was basic in human society because it exerts meaning to an object that a human can derive a discourse. The third principle of thought modifies each individual’s interpretation of symbols. Language based thoughts distinguished as a mental conversation, which requires role taking and imagination from different points of view (Anderson 60).

The critics of symbolic interactionism argue that the theory neglects the macro level of social interpretation. Thus, it misses the larger issues by focusing predominantly on the trees rather than the forest. There is also a criticism regarding the influence of social institutions and forces on an individual’s interaction. The theory is quite strong in that it provides a basis to understand the establishment of meaning. It falls under the class of humanistic theory, which has creative interaction and freewill while it also uses ethnography to find meaning.

In conclusion, symbolic interaction theory is a useful theory to evaluate human interaction. Conflicts among individuals arise largely due to the different meaning derived from communication problems. Therefore, it is easy to see how large problems can arise from unopened lines of communication based on the assumptions that each person makes.

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