Conflict Theory in Sociology – Definition and Overview

Sociology from the starting emphasized on three kinds of theories.

  1. Functionalist Theory
  2. Conflict Theory
  3. Interactionism Theory

The whole purpose of this perspective was not to see an only positive aspect of life like Functionalist Theory. It accounted for the differences and conflict found between the societies. It was important to solve those problems before it gets to dissolve societies within themselves.

These theories were entirely different from each other. Conflict theory at the time of its emergence does not gain much popularity and importance. But after some time it began to stabilize the fact that it is the most needed theory for the betterment of our society. For example Industrialization, French revolution made people realize that they should have their perspective rather than always following tenants or political party’s orders.

Even now its theories are much of an important place in research work. The man who is also called as the father of Conflict Perspective or theory is none other than Karl Marx. His research work regarding Conflict theory will be discussed in detail below.


Conflict theory, in short, was the theory which showed everybody how the difference in rights and power in different groups can lead to conflicts and tension among the various groups of people. The power and rights worked as the key factors in determining a person’s position in society.

This factors can either be achieved by them, for example on a merit basis and hard work at any organization or ascribed too that is the rights and freedom given to them because of their parental rights, for example, a businessman son is given the whole business without any hard work. It is just his right to own the business.

From the 18th century when Europe was witnessing the rise of capitalism, Karl Marx came up with the causes of differences and conflicts between the ruling class and the subject class. Ruling classes were the landlords or upper-class people who had plenty of resources and imposed many rules and their superiority over the subject class.

Subject classes were the ones with no power and were mainly peasants and low-class people. They faced the maximum exploitation due to which there was a social imbalance in those times. The political parties and churches supported Ruling classes wholeheartedly contributing to more conflicts.

Karl Marx at that time opposed this indifference by stating that this will hamper society growth. He forecasted that this exploitation will lead to revolt one day. And his forecasting came true at the time of industrialization and the French revolution. He certainly believed that if the changes cannot dominate this system, then again society will be in hands of capitalism. He argued that a strong change can only bring a better society and needed development.


We all know that when Marx gave his idea upon Conflict theory, his ideas were not appreciated by other sociologists mainly the ones favouring Functionalist theory. Post his death, his work tremendously got its place. An Italian scholar Antonio Gramsci stood for Marx theory and said that this theory should have been in practice and should be modified to get better results.

Development was seen during this time was that many sociologists formulated new theories like feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, theories of globalization and world systems.

Feminist Theory

Karl Marx was the biggest supporter of women empowerment from the beginning. Other scholars also worked hard to remove the inequality between men and women.

Critical Race Theory

Society conflicts were due to race also. Sociologists also researched this theory in which they examined the theory between society and race.

Queer Theory

This theory was researched under Lauren Berlant, Leo Bersani in which they emphasized on gay and lesbian relationships. Firstly it was considered as slang but afterwards, this concept was removed that it is slang. It was popular in the time of 1990 and many scholars highly recommended that differences should not be based on anyone partner’s choice.

Marx categorized society into four types:-

  1. Primitive Communism– It represents the egalitarian society where subaltern The practice was the lowest or negligible.
  2. Ancient Society-It represents the classification of two major classes i.e. masters and slaves.
  3. Feudal Society-In feudal societies there were two kinds of classes which are lords and serfs.
  4. Capitalist Society-In capitalist society, two types of the division were capitalist and labours at the time of capitalist society, sociologist conflict theory mainly came into the picture because of the conflicts.

After Marx, Weber researched Conflict theory but he urged that classification is not based on the ascribed status it is based on the efficiency of a person, i.e. his/her status. The production rate of a person to a country or family decides the classification.

  1. The Propertied Upper class- They were mainly the rich people who had a lot of land and money under them. They usually do not have to work a lot to learn something. Rest three people worked under them.
  2. The Property less White Collar Workers– They were not as rich as Upper-Class People. They had well-dignified jobs at a place where they can be seen as the bosses.
  3. The Petty bourgeoisie– They were the small-scale merchants working under the white-collar workers.
  4. Manual Working Class– They were mainly the farmers and lower-class people whose economic condition was poor. They worked under people in a hostile condition sometimes earning very less.


Conflict theory is studied even at this time to solve many problems in society. This theory acts as a key element in sorting many problems at a wide range. Some of the examples where conflict theory is applied are as follows:-

  1. By the different classes, environmental pollution is caused on some level. It is further studies on which scale every class affect pollution.
  2. The feminist theory came along with Conflict Theory. It studies how women are in general considered as lower than man. What can be the results if women place in society is always kept at a lower rank?
  3. Power has always been the factor determining Conflict Theory. So this theory also studies how power affects Capitalism factor on a global scale. This theory researches the inequalities present in Capitalism.
  4. Words which have escaped somebody mouth cannot get back. So the words play a vital role in the conflict part of any society. Many times a person says something else and his meaning is taken otherwise. So the word importance is also studied under the application of Conflict Theory.

Karl Marx and weber were indeed the major contributors of Conflict theory under Sociology but then some sociologist in recent times have also done a tremendous job at modifying it for better.


The founder of the Modern view of Sociology is C. Wright Mills’ stated that the difference lies because of the different resources.

Gene Sharp in 1928 asserted much on the fact there should be a non-violent approach towards conflicts. This was followed by Gandhi in India when he was adamant to remove British people from India.

In 1983 he discovered Albert Einstein institution which was fully dedicated to education and promoting non-violent actions in conflicts side by side. Recent examples where this study was given appraisal and followed as well as our Youth Movement in Tunisia, Protest Movement which covered President Mubarak of Egypt.

There is a recent development in Conflict Theory by Alan Sears

  1. Society differences created conflicts rather than order and classes. These differences can only be dominated if there is a gradual change in the relationship between societies. It kind of argued with the functionalist theory which stated that change should be in an amount so that the process is always in equilibrium.
  2. It is a well-known fact that at the back of the time many people faced ill-treatment and many times we develop a sympathetic attitude towards them. But this modern theory stated that they were the elements contributing to the change in society which was needed. It completely changed the view of feeling sympathetic about them to thank them for the change.
  3. Although he remarkably declared ill-treated people as the key elements in the change process creativity is something he demanded should not be compromised at any stage. He firmly believed that creativity should be enhanced as it is the basis of a country’s well-being and growth. In the process of making changes, creativity should not be put at stake.
  4. Inequalities can be viewed more clearly, by the way, there is the underdevelopment of third world countries during colonization and even after the post-colonization period that is independence period. He clearly states that only richer countries are getting benefited by the World Bank. There is no development when it came to political, economic, military growth at an equal rate.
Share on:

I am Prerna Jha, pursuing mechanical engineering from KIIT, Odisha, But I Love to Read and Write Sociology Related Concepts and Theories. I have done schooling from MVM School, Bilaspur. I have interest in writing love stories or any specific genre. I pursue a great interest in quilting. Right now I am an aspiring writer who writes for various pages. I have participated in many social events. I am a social animal who likes to have maximum participation in any fest.