Through the centuries sociologists have sought to find answers as to how social order is possible or how society works. This search has given rise to the development of a number of sociological perspectives. One of these sociological perspectives is the conflict perspective.
The primary originator of this perspective is Karl Marx (1818 – 1883). He lived during the early period of industrialization when the majority of people in such societies were poor. This background led to his contributions to the conflict perspective. Karl Marx, in the conflict perspective, regards society as continuously changing in response to conflict over persistent social inequality.
This perspective views society as a system and focuses on the major structural features of entire societies to give an understanding of how societies survive and change. It is a macro theory, in that, it focuses on society as a whole and completely ignores the individual. It is based on a structural system and sees the structure of society as determining the behavior of the individual.
The conflict perspective is completely negative and stresses conflict and competition over control of resources. Social order results from dominant groups (capitalists) making sure that subordinate groups (proletariats) are loyal to the institutions that are the dominant groups sources of wealth, power and prestige. The dominant groups will use constraint and coercion, and even force, to control the subordinate groups. Proletariats see the situation as normal and natural and this results in a ‘false consciousness’ of reality which help maintain the system.
For Karl Marx, all society consisted of a minority of powerful elites. These were the dominant group who possessed the means of production. That is, they owned the large industries and so they exploited the labor of the subordinate group. The dominant group ensured that society operated in a way that served the interest of that group. This ensured that they always had the larger of an unequal share of resources such as wealth, prestige and social status.
Karl Marx saw conflict as necessary and desirable to bring about social change. This social change would then result in the equal distribution of wealth and resources. After viewing the suffering of the masses, Karl Marx hoped that they would rise up against oppression and bring about a social change where there would be an equal distribution of resources.
The conflict that Marx spoke about was not necessarily violence. Conflict referred to tension, differences in beliefs and values, conflict of interest and competition. These all exist in every society and according to Marx, they are the basis for social change.