Social Conflict Theory

Farrington, K., & Chertok, E. (1993). Social conflict theories of the family. In P.G. Boss, W. J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. R. Schumm, & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods: A contextual approach (pp. 357-381). New York: Plenum.

Competition for scare resources: Conflict and struggle promote human social existence by ensuring that the strongest of a species survive (Darwin. Herbert Spencer (1898) suggested that conflict is a natural process which contributes to social evolution. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson . and Hobbes. 1532/1948.Historical Origins: Tendency toward conflict is a basic element of human nature (Machiavelli. 1859/1958. Malthus. 1789/1894). William Graham Sumner (1883) proposed that competition for survival caused positive social advancement. Dr. 1531/1948. 1651/1947).

Marx's regular collaborator.Historical Origins (cont. Political order: legal. Political power is the result of economic power.) Marxian Theory: conflict is a basic structural condition of society. applied social conflict to the family: the positions of men and women are analogous to the positions of owners and workers. antithesis. Werner-Wilson . Dr. Class: A material view of people: human actors produce themselves through work. Owners exploit workers. Two fundamental groups: workers and owners. Human existence is contradictory." Engels. Human thought and action occurs through a dialectic process: thesis. Conflict is an inherent part of human relations. resulting in an "economic determinism. educational. and family systems are designed to benefit owners. and synthesis. Ronald J. respectively.

It is related to social conflict and social order. exert power over others. The Importance of Power: Power: the ability to carry out own will despite resistance. There are aggressive unconscious forces which seek expression. Conflict is an integrative social force: social reality is dualistic. Werner-Wilson . 1908/1955). Conflict can be a divisive force. 1904.) Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory and Conflict: Self-interest is basic to human nature. People. as a result of their position. Ronald J. including forces that promote social order and social conflict (Simmel.Historical Origins (cont. but is managed by conscience. Dr. Conflict can unify people against a common enemy. Power is a critical element of social existence. Power is institutionalized and legitimated: this produces social order.

an individual phenomenon.Social Conflict Theory and the Field of Family Studies Conflict Theory Was Missing From Mainstream Research: popular text books did not reference conflict theory. Werner-Wilson . Dr. Ronald J. most research on conflict examined role conflict. rather than interpersonal conflict.

was moving toward positivism. Intellectual obstacles: Limited systematic attempt to link family dynamics to social structure. Ronald J. conflict was given a negative connotation. Larger social context: the family is considered a sacred institution. maledominated. Social conflict theory emerged as the field.Obstacles to Integration of Social Conflict Theory into Family Studies Zeitgeist: "equilibrium-based. like others. Dr. politically conservative. As a result. Family dynamics were emphasized as reciprocal or functional. A conflict approach does not lend itself very well to positivism. support for research on conflict in the family has been discouraged. Werner-Wilson . structural-functionalist interpretation of social reality." As a result. Family conflict was considered deviant.

including LaRossa (1977). Dr. Scholarship examined the role of the family in maintaining inequalities in male-female relationships. Sprey (1969) suggested that the family was a "system in conflict. Various texts and monographs utilized a conflict approach." Basic assumptions: Conflict is typical. Research should examine the ability of family members to deal with conflict. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson . Harmony is a problematic.Emergence of a Social Conflict Theory of the Family Sprey (1969) is credited with introducing a conflict approach to family studies. Feminist scholarship used a conflict approach to analyze general themes of gender relationships as well as the influence of the family.

in the family.) A conflict approach to the family seemed to develop within the mainstream of family studies. conflict between parents and children. force.Emergence of a Social Conflict Theory of the Family (cont. family disputes over inheritance. Werner-Wilson . including threats. Dr. The 1970s featured a variety of substantive topics: husband-wife conflict. structural barriers faced by women in higher education. relationships between siblings. Ronald J. intrafamily conflict management. intrafamily communication patterns. marital therapy and counseling.

Two possibilities that can lead to conflict: Different individuals or groups may want different things. but there is a limited supply of the commodity. parents are children disagree about issues). suggests that men and women compete for time. People pursue needs. and resources that they define as important or desirable. This is applicable to the family (e.g. Polatnick (1984) suggests that men don't do housework because it isn't profitable. children argue about use of television. Basic reason for conflict: individuals are motivated to act in accordance with their own interests. Ronald J. Dr. values. for example. shared with general conflict theory: conflict is a basic element of human social life. goals.. Werner-Wilson . Different individuals or groups want the same thing. Larossa's (1977) work on parenting.A Social Conflict Perspective of the Family Fundamental assumption.

Stratification: Definition: distribute (or withhold) resources in an unequal fashion. Power is a source of conflict. Ronald J. Stratification organizes and justifies behavior. Age and gender stratification have been used in most human societies. Werner-Wilson . providing differential opportunity structures. Most power is "legitimate" because it is sanctioned by social norms. Creates and perpetuates structural inequalities. Dr. Power structure obscures or minimizes the expression of actual conflict by family members.) Power: Some family members are better able to pursue their particular self-interests.A Social Conflict Perspective of the Family (cont.

and manner of expression: Source of personal growth (e.. social order is maintained. fulcrum for change). containing structural mechanisms which regulate power. Effective method for dealing with underlying or potential family problems. 370). Families are paradoxical. This approach suggests that structural variations of the family (e..A Social Conflict Perspective (cont.g. Ronald J. Dr.. ethnicity of family) are important.g.) Farrington and Keith suggest that the most "satisfying versions of family conflict theory [are] explicitly macrostructural in nature" (1993.g. intensity. p. families in poverty. division of household labor). if it is limited in amount. Werner-Wilson . Although conflict is present. and they are characterized by processes which operate to intensify conflicts. Benefits of conflict. families contribute to the maintenance of the existence of the social order via socialization of children and power structures (e.

Instead there has been a "rather eclectic conceptual framework" (Farrington & Keith. in critical theory and feminist theory. Werner-Wilson . Dr. Ronald J. in modified form.Present Status and Likely Future Conflict theory has peaked. Conflict theory survives. coherent conflict theory of the family. contemporary theorists do not see the social conflict approach as having much impact on the field. According to Klein and Schvaneveldt (1977). 374). p. There has not been a unified. 1983. Why? Conflict theory has only been employed by a small minority of family theorists and researchers.

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