Conflict Theory Assignment

Conflict Theory Assignment Words: 2803

The several social theories that emphasize social conflict have roots in the ideas of Karl Marx (1818-1883), the great German theorist and political activist. The Marxist, conflict approach emphasizes a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical method of analysis, a critical stance toward existing social arrangements, and a political program of revolution or, at least, reform.

Marx summarized the key elements of this materialist view of history as follows: In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

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The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness (Marx 1971:20). Marx divided history into several stages, conforming to broad patterns in the economic structure of society. The most important stages for Marx’s argument were feudalism, capitalism, and socialism.

The bulk of Marx’s writing is concerned with applying the materialist model of society to capitalism, the stage of economic and social development that Marx saw as dominant in 19th century Europe. For Marx, the central institution of capitalist society is private property, the system by which capital (that is, money, machines, tools, factories, and other material objects used in production) is controlled by a small minority of the population.

This arrangement leads to two opposed classes, the owners of capital (called the bourgeoisie) and the workers (called the proletariat), whose only property is their own labor time, which they have to sell to the capitalists. Economic exploitation leads directly to political oppression, as owners make use of their economic power to gain control of the state and turn it into a servant of bourgeois economic interests. Police power, for instance, is used to enforce property rights and guarantee unfair contracts between capitalist and worker.

Oppression also takes more subtle forms: religion serves capitalist interests by pacifying the population; intellectuals, paid directly or indirectly by capitalists, spend their careers justifying and rationalizing the existing social and economic arrangements. In sum, the economic structure of society molds the superstructure, including ideas (e. g. , morality, ideologies, art, and literature) and the social institutions that support the class structure of society (e. g. , the state, the educational system, the family, and religious institutions).

Because the dominant or ruling class (the bourgeoisie) controls the social relations of production, the dominant ideology in capitalist society is that of the ruling class. Ideology and social institutions, in turn, serve to reproduce and perpetuate the economic class structure. Thus, Marx viewed the exploitative economic arrangements of capitalism as the real foundation upon which the superstructure of social, political, and intellectual consciousness is built. (Figure 1 depicts this model of historical materialism. Marx’s view of history might seem completely cynical or pessimistic, were it not for the possibilities of change revealed by his method of dialectical analysis. (The Marxist dialectical method, based on Hegel’s earlier idealistic dialectic, focuses attention on how an existing social arrangement, or thesis, generates its social opposite, or antithesis, and on how a qualitatively different social form, or synthesis, emerges from the resulting struggle. ) Marx was an optimist. He believed that any stage of history based on exploitative economic arrangements generated within itself the seeds of its own destruction.

For instance, feudalism, in which land owners exploited the peasantry, gave rise to a class of town-dwelling merchants, whose dedication to making profits eventually led to the bourgeois revolution and the modern capitalist era. Similarly, the class relations of capitalism will lead inevitably to the next stage, socialism. The class relations of capitalism embody a contradiction: capitalists need workers, and vice versa, but the economic interests of the two groups are fundamentally at odds.

Such contradictions mean inherent conflict and instability, the class struggle. Adding to the instability of the capitalist system are the inescapable needs for ever-wider markets and ever-greater investments in capital to maintain the profits of capitalists. Marx expected that the resulting economic cycles of expansion and contraction, together with tensions that will build as the working class gains greater understanding of its exploited position (and thus attains class consciousness), will eventually culminate in a socialist revolution.

Despite this sense of the unalterable logic of history, Marxists see the need for social criticism and for political activity to speed the arrival of socialism, which, not being based on private property, is not expected to involve as many contradictions and conflicts as capitalism. Marxists believe that social theory and political practice are dialectically intertwined, with theory enhanced by political involvement and with political practice necessarily guided by theory. Intellectuals ought, therefore, to engage in praxis, to combine political criticism and political activity.

Theory itself is seen as necessarily critical and value-laden, since the prevailing social relations are based upon alienating and dehumanizing exploitation of the labor of the working classes. Marx’s ideas have been applied and reinterpreted by scholars for over a hundred years, starting with Marx’s close friend and collaborator, Friedrich Engels (1825-95), who supported Marx and his family for many years from the profits of the textile factories founded by Engels’ father, while Marx shut himself away in the library of the British Museum.

Later, Vladimir I. Lenin (1870-1924), leader of the Russian revolution, made several influential contributions to Marxist theory. In recent years Marxist theory has taken a great variety of forms, notably the world-systems theory proposed by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974, 1980) and the comparative theory of revolutions put forward by Theda Skocpol (1980). Marxist ideas have also served as a starting point for many of the modern feminist theorists. Despite these applications, Marxism of any variety is still a minority position among American sociologists.

Functionalism is the oldest, and still the dominant, theoretical perspective in sociology and many other social sciences. This perspective is built upon twin emphases: application of the scientific method to the objective social world and use of an analogy between the individual organism and society. The emphasis on scientific method leads to the assertion that one can study the social world in the same ways as one studies the physical world. Thus, Functionalists see the social world as “objectively real,” as observable with such techniques as social surveys and interviews.

Furthermore, their positivistic view of social science assumes that study of the social world can be value-free, in that the investigator’s values will not necessarily interfere with the disinterested search for social laws governing the behavior of social systems. Many of these ideas go back to Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), the great French sociologist whose writings form the basis for functionalist theory (see Durkheim 1915, 1964); Durkheim was himself one of the first sociologists to make use of scientific and statistical techniques in sociological research (1951).

The second emphasis, on the organic unity of society, leads functionalists to speculate about needs which must be met for a social system to exist, as well as the ways in which social institutions satisfy those needs. A functionalist might argue, for instance, that every society will have a religion, because religious institutions have certain functions which contribute to the survival of the social system as a whole, just as the organs of the body have functions which are necessary for the body’s survival.

Functionalist theories have very often been criticized as teleological, that is, reversing the usual order of cause and effect by explaining things in terms of what happens afterward, not what went before. A strict functionalist might explain certain religious practices, for instance, as being functional by contributing to a society’s survival; however, such religious traditions will usually have been firmly established long before the question is finally settled of whether the society as a whole will actually survive.

Bowing to this kind of criticism of the basic logic of functionalist theory, most current sociologists have stopped using any explicitly functionalistic explanations of social phenomena, and the extreme version of functionalism expounded by Talcott Parsons has gone out of fashion. Nevertheless, many sociologists continue to expect that by careful, objective scrutiny of social phenomena they will eventually be able to discover the general laws of social behavior, and this hope still serves as the motivation for a great deal of sociological thinking and research.

RATIONAL CHOICE AND EXCHANGE THEORY {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM Symbolic interactionism, or interactionism for short, is one of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology. This perspective has a long intellectual history, beginning with the German sociologist and economist, Max Weber (1864-1920) and the American philosopher, George H. Mead (1863-1931), both of whom emphasized the subjective meaning of human behavior, the social process, and pragmatism.

Although there are a number of versions of interactionist thought, some deriving from phenomenological writings by philosophers, the following description offers a simplified amalgamation of these ideas, concentrating on points of convergence. Herbert Blumer, who studied with Mead at the University of Chicago, is responsible for coining the term, “symbolic interactionism,” as well as for formulating the most prominent version of the theory (Blumer 1969). Interactionists focus on the subjective aspects of social life, rather than on objective, macro-structural aspects of social systems.

One reason for this focus is that interactionists base their theoretical perspective on their image of humans, rather than on their image of society (as the functionalists do). For interactionists, humans are pragmatic actors who continually must adjust their behavior to the actions of other actors. We can adjust to these actions only because we are able to interpret them, i. e. , to denote them symbolically and treat the actions and those who perform them as symbolic objects. This process of adjustment is aided by our ability to imaginatively rehearse alternative lines of action before we act.

The process is further aided by our ability to think about and to react to our own actions and even our selves as symbolic objects. Thus, the interactionist theorist sees humans as active, creative participants who construct their social world, not as passive, conforming objects of socialization. For the interactionist, society consists of organized and patterned interactions among individuals. Thus, research by interactionists focuses on easily observable face-to-face interactions rather than on macro-level structural relationships involving social institutions.

Furthermore, this focus on interaction and on the meaning of events to the participants in those events (the definition of the situation) shifts the attention of interactionists away from stable norms and values toward more changeable, continually readjusting social processes. Whereas for functionalists socialization creates stability in the social system, for interactionists negotiation among members of society creates temporary, socially constructed relations which remain in constant flux, despite relative stability in the basic framework governing those relations.

These emphases on symbols, negotiated reality, and the social construction of society lead to an interest in the roles people play. Erving Goffman (1958), a prominent social theorist in this tradition, discusses roles dramaturgically, using an analogy to the theater, with human social behavior seen as more or less well scripted and with humans as role-taking actors. Role-taking is a key mechanism of interaction, for it permits us to take the other’s perspective, to see what our actions might mean to the other actors with whom we interact.

At other times, interactionists emphasize the improvisational quality of roles, with human social behavior seen as poorly scripted and with humans as role-making improvisers. Role-making, too, is a key mechanism of interaction, for all situations and roles are inherently ambiguous, thus requiring us to create those situations and roles to some extent before we can act. Interactionists tend to study social interaction through participant observation, rather than surveys and interviews.

They argue that close contact and immersion in the everyday lives of the participants is necessary for understanding the meaning of actions, the definition of the situation itself, and the process by which actors construct the situation through their interaction. Given this close contact, interactionists could hardly remain free of value commitments, and, in fact, interactionists make explicit use of their values in choosing what to study but strive to be objective in the conduct of their research.

Symbolic interactionists are often criticized by other sociologists for being overly impressionistic in their research methods and somewhat unsystematic in their theories. These objections, combined with the fairly narrow focus of interactionist research on small-group interactions and other social psychological issues, have relegated the interactionist camp to a minority position among sociologists, although a fairly substantial minority. Bureaucratic Form According to Max Weber ??? His Six Major Principles Before covering Weber’s Six Major Principles, I want to describe the various multiple meanings of the word “bureaucracy. A group of workers (for example, civil service employees of the U. S. government), is referred to as “the bureaucracy. ” An example: “The threat of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts has the bureaucracy in Washington deeply concerned. ” Bureaucracy is the name of an organizational form used by sociologists and organizational design professionals. Bureaucracy has an informal usage, as in “there’s too much bureaucracy where I work. ” This informal usage describes a set of characteristics or attributes such as “red tape” or “inflexibility” that frustrate people who deal with or who work for organizations they perceive as “bureaucratic. Weber noted six major principles. 1. A formal hierarchical structure Each level controls the level below and is controlled by the level above. A formal hierarchy is the basis of central planning and centralized decision making. 2. Management by rules Controlling by rules allows decisions made at high levels to be executed consistently by all lower levels. 3. Organization by functional specialty Work is to be done by specialists, and people are organized into units based on the type of work they do or skills they have. 4.

An “up-focused” or “in-focused” mission If the mission is described as “up-focused,” then the organization’s purpose is to serve the stockholders, the board, or whatever agency empowered it. If the mission is to serve the organization itself, and those within it, e. g. , to produce high profits, to gain market share, or to produce a cash stream, then the mission is described as “in-focused. ” 5. Purposely impersonal The idea is to treat all employees equally and customers equally, and not be influenced by individual differences. . Employment based on technical qualifications (There may also be protection from arbitrary dismissal. ) The bureaucratic form, according to Parkinson, has another attribute. 7. Predisposition to grow in staff “above the line. ” Weber failed to notice this, but C. Northcote Parkinson found it so common that he made it the basis of his humorous “Parkinson’s law. ” Parkinson demonstrated that the management and professional staff tends to grow at predictable rates, almost without regard to what the line organization is doing.

The bureaucratic form is so common that most people accept it as the normal way of organizing almost any endeavor. People in bureaucratic organizations generally blame the ugly side effects of bureaucracy on management, or the founders, or the owners, without awareness that the real cause is the organizing form. Iron cage is a sociological concept introduced by Max Weber. Iron cage refers to the increasing rationalization of human life, which traps individuals in an “iron cage” of rule-based, rational control.

He also called such over-bureaucratized social order “the polar night of icy darkness”. The original German term is stahlhartes Gehause; this was translated into ‘iron cage’, an expression made familiar to English language speakers by Talcott Parsons in his 1958 translation of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Recently some sociologists have questioned this translation, arguing that the correct term should be ‘shell as hard as steel’ and that the difference from the original translation is significant. A more literal translation from German would be “steel-hard housing. Weber wrote: “In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the ‘saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment. ‘ But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage. ” Weber became concerned with social actions and the subjective meaning that humans attach to their actions and interaction within specific social contexts. He also believed in idealism, which is the belief that we only know things because of the meanings that we apply to them. This led to his interest in power and authority in terms of bureaucracy and rationalization

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