The application of conflict theory to daily life

¶ … billion people on the planet, social and political conflicts are inevitable. No two people are alike, even when they are from the same family, let alone from the same ethnic, religious, cultural, or national backgrounds. Conflict theory is one of the most salient theories in the social sciences, because it brings together elements of sociology and psychology, and can be applied to almost every practical area of research including economics and criminology. Conflict theory originally evolved from the sociological theories of Karl Marx, who investigated the ways conflict between different social classes in any given society can lead to problems like alienation and disenfranchisement (Turner, 1975). Alienation and disenfranchisement in turn create the potential for deviant behavior and criminality, which is why it is important to understand conflict theory and how it impacts our daily lives. Conflict theory also illustrates the ways power structures and social institutions perpetuate themselves. For example, dominant groups create and maintain social norms and laws (Quinney, 2000). The “conduct norms” of less powerful groups often come into conflict with dominant culture norms, leading to the production of deviant or criminal definitions surrounding the everyday behavior of the individual members of these less powerful groups (Keel, 2008). For example, wearing a head scarf is considered normative in Muslim cultures but not in non-Muslim cultures. If dominant groups continue to create and maintain social norms and the laws that extend from those norms, minority and subordinate groups lack the opportunity or wherewithal to create meaningful change. Subordinate groups experience frustration from the inability to achieve upward social mobility or gain power in society, leading to intergroup conflict, miscommunication, and often to criminal behavior. Although modern democratic societies do their best to minimize social conflict through such things as welfare programs, affirmative action programs, and diversity training, an increasingly heterogeneous world makes conflict practically inevitable.

What I have learned about conflict theory can easily be applied to the issues that impact my daily life, including the current events I encounter in the media each day. The current presidential race illustrates the diverse ways Americans perceive and address conflict. All the candidates acknowledge that social conflict remains a problem in the United States, but have different solutions to the problem. For example, Bernie Sanders advocates socialist systems to reduce class conflict in society. Most of the other candidates would prefer to rely on the free market system to enable social conflict to emerge, while still providing the means by which disadvantaged individuals and groups can empower themselves. Learning about conflict theory has helped me to better understand the candidates’ positions, and better understand the differences between their assumptions, values, and goals. I have watched the political debates with a more intelligent and critical eye now that I see that politicians continually deal with issues that are directly related to conflict theory. Moreover, I have come to realize that some politicians deny the efficacy of conflict theory. For example, when politicians claim to be “tough on crime,” they are essentially ignoring the class conflict issues that are often the root causes of crime. A politician that valued conflict theory would propose programs of community enrichment and job development services in disenfranchised communities, or promote prisoner re-entry programs to reduce recidivism rates. When the overarching issue of conflict is taken into account, though, I can see how listening to the “conflicting” nominees running for president in each party state their beliefs how our country should be run will impact my decision to which party I will choose to vote form, which will in turn effect my personal life. Finally, I appreciate the fact that conflict theory can explain some of the racial conflicts we continue to experience in our society. Even though all races are considered equal, there are still some groups of races that feel more superior to others, leading to a perpetual race conflict. Fortunately, I was raised to treat everyone the same no matter what a person’s race, gender, or culture. I would prefer that the leaders in our society would not feed social conflicts or racism.

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Conflict theory can impact my personal and career goals. As I am from a dominant culture background, I need to remain sensitive to the way white privilege operates. It is relatively simple to forget conflict theory and how it impacts workplace communication when part of a dominant culture. Conflict theory can remind me that some individuals and groups have experienced conflict due to perceived low social status. It is important to be respectful of where others have come from and recognize their experiences and perspectives. I also know that I will not always be in a position of power, and am willing to be humble and accept that fact. The goal is to create harmonious workplace environments, in which diversity becomes a main strength of the organization and not a weakness. Different opinions and points-of-view do not need to devolve into conflict. Instead of trying to maintain power over others, elite groups should try to solicit input from subordinate groups. Because a diverse workplace can enhance the potential for conflict to arise, it is important to remember how to communicate and especially how to listen. My goal in life is to treat everyone with respect. I have a diverse group of friends who have thankfully taught me already how to treat others with dignity and respect regardless of our different social statuses, backgrounds, religions, and political beliefs. When we do disagree, we try to avoid actual conflict by remembering our shared values and ideals. We are all human beings, equal under God and therefore conflict can be avoided by simply remembering this fact.


Keel, R. (2008). Culture conflict theory. Retrieved online:

Quinney, R. (2000). Conflict theory of crime. In Constructions of Deviance. Belmont: Wadsworth.

Turner, J. H. (1975). Marx and Simmel Revisited: Reassessing the Foundations of Conflict Theory. Social Forces, 53(4), 618-627.

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