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Conflict theory

Info: 2436 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 19th Oct 2016 in Criminology

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With the development of the labeling theory, many researchers found experimentation and data collection easier to finding predictors in criminal behavior. Assuming that criminal behavior is constantly existent, according to Emile Durkheim, it is debatable whether crime is beneficial to society. Despite appeals for controlling crime in specific terms of the Classical School, there are complications in today’s society that can effect later generations based on the theory of conflict and control. Since competition, dominance, and control are persistent in an individual’s way of life, their behavior is dictated as such through their social class, but also within the behaviors of those opposing them, causing consistent conflict. This paper will explain conflict theories, the theorists and the variables involved, and the select policy implications that can benefit and cripple society for a more stable living environment.

Keyword(s): society, conflict, competition, criminal behavior, control, Quinney

Conflict Theory

The rich versus the poor. The right versus the wrong. The healthy versus the sick. The righteous versus the evil. What these all have in common there is conflict between them all. Whether created based on social status or by some form of problem within individual lives, conflict resides as a form of power or control over others. In today’s society, communities are overpowered by unfair wages, improper education fees, unjust regulations for jobs, and immoral methods of social prosperity within social classes. This continued with a conflict of employment, where jobs are either available for those who want to work or people complain due for certain demands without placing any effort for them. By placing conflict on certain ideals, the rationale of life is divided further to where dominance and control will deconstruct standards ways of life.

Main Idea of Conflict Theory

The main idea of the conflict theory is an offshoot of the labeling theory. Conflict theory assumes that the rich or powerful have the upper hand in society their philosophy is that conflict in society is inevitable and resources are in demand, and control over these resources brings about a majority of these conflicts in society (Williams & McShane, 2014). Whether the conflict between classes lasts between economic status and social status, the theory gathers the assumption of classes dominating one another for the sole purpose of control within a social hierarchy.

Complex or Abstract?

The perspective of the conflict theorists would be categorized as complex because of the variety of philosophies within the conflict theory. For example, the pluralist conflict perspective assumes struggles based on various groups by numerous reasons including economic and social status (Williams & McShane, 2014). Many problems may occur within one section of groups within a functioning society that may collide with other groups, like budget expenses and manpower for war. These problems emerge at any point through everyday life, and can be deterred. However, it is society that dictates the change to take one course of action or another. As a result, the impeding action from one person can influence another, but also hinder an individual to act against the judgment of one for the benefit of resources or availability of needs and services. Because power is synonymous with resources, the social class structures implies, with conflict, that those who can obtain certain luxuries within the social hierarchy can benefit better than others in a plethora of ways. As a result, competition occurs and conflict resumes through domination and control over the others.

What Are We Studying?

The interdisciplinary natures of this theory involve the affluent members of society controls the resources in society and uses the law as the way for control. For pluralist conflict perspectives, as stated earlier, those who could obtain the resources over others would thrive better than others. However, research towards criminal justice assumes that “power groups determined to use criminal law to advance their own special interested or to impose their moral preferences on others” (Williams & McShane, 2014). In layman’s terms, there will be powers within reason to control others based on employment, economic status, social status and other factors that will impede on others. Therefore, competition will always be present within society, and conflict will always occur. However, society dictates that without competition and conflict, then structures of society, including government, would be flawed, and crimes would not be as a individually punishable as it is today. According to Marxist criminology (cited by Williams & McShane, 2014), conflict due to limitation of resources and scarcity in distribution of said resources like power can create conflict with those do have power and those who do not. This imbalance stems towards dominance and control and, as a result, dwindles down the middle zone of social hierarchy.

Theorists of Conflict Theory

Though there are several theorists that benefited from the development of conflict theories, one notable for the most profound change in the theory was Richard Quinney in the 1960s and 1970s. Using his dual degree in social and psychology from Carroll College, his later works in education gathered the “Lone Ranger” mentality of American values towards his perspective of time (Williams & McShane, 2014). His most influential production within the conflict theory is the six propositions of the social reality of crime, where conflict was the product of reaction. Since certain classes react to specific behaviors like criminal behavior, they associate those behaviors to be defined as criminal and subject those behaviors as such for power and gain at a societal level, whether through dominance in numbers of in favor of public appeal. As a result, the divide between the upper and lower classes is strained where the lower classes emulates those around them deviating from the norm and subjecting to criminal behavior.

Variables of Conflict Theory

In the basis of the conflict theory, the variables are more strained towards the individual, but the differences in experimentation differ on a monumental scale. While the dependent variable is the sole individual, the independent variable is redefined to the basis of social status, including finances, employment, and other methods of competition within society. These independent variables also include competition in education, economic status, mental and physical health, and living status (house versus apartment). Because of these implications on the individual and their impacts towards his or her life in society, their life places them in a specific class to where they will be conflicting with others due to how they live their life. Whether they engage in criminal acts as a result is entirely subjective and speculative at best, but any of those factors can assume that criminal behavior can occur.

Qualitative Versus Quantitative

Based on the information provided by other theorists, the studies involving conflict theory are assumed to be qualitative. For example, under the justifications of conflict theory made by Quinney and Steven Spitzer during the 1970s, Spitzer developed five types of “problems populations,” where conflicts would most likely occur in society, and the observations he recorded between two different areas of social status presume that no need for control will exist if one group does not impose a threat on the other (Williams & McShane, 2014). These observations, including those recorded by Karl Marx over the industrial class, subject nothing to statistical data to support their findings, and the observations by the sole individual create more reliable data to make their findings more conclusive.

Conflict Theory: The Good and the Bad

While the theory itself is proven to be beneficial to proving common behaviors within society and proving the behaviors associated with social status and social class, it can be commonly proven that the opportunities given to select individuals will lessen and heighten and chances of criminality. With conflict theory, competition and dominance will instill negative behaviors affluent to criminality, stemming criminal behavior and delinquency through any individual based on any factors of socioeconomic status. However, the theory assumes that all people within a specific class will compete and lead to criminal behavior. For example, the entirety of the lower class will dwell into crime because of the lack of resources the upper class have that the lower class need creates conflict between the two, proving Quinney’s proposal as earlier stated. Though this does prove criminal behavior within conflict, it does not substantiate and validate the findings of all forms of conflict. It only assumes conflict as a common predictor to all forms of crime rather than proving a certain variable can be the first step to all criminality. Instead, the form translates to the socioeconomic status as an overgeneralized example, therefore, causing reliability of all statistics to be flawed.

Macro-theory Versus Micro-theory

Based on the information provided earlier, this would be classified as a micro theory. The study of social struggles between the poor and the middle to upper class. The disparity in resources or social status causes the greatest conflicts. The laws are implemented to favor the rich, and leave the poor at a distinct disadvantage, forcing them to remain where they are without any distinct change in their standards of living.

Personal Reflection

I wholeheartedly agree with the main idea of this theory. Conflicts in society are inevitable. People, in general, have aspirations and ambitions, and when others with a different philosophy or mindset disagree, this causes friction or conflict. In some instances, a person’s ambition can spiral out of control, causing the ambition to take a desperate edge and become something negative everywhere the initial intentions are noble.

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Another point of this theory I agree with is the rich or affluent have the upper hand in society. They have the money, which translates into power, and results in them having a profound advantage over the poor. Money gets you notoriety, political power, and, at times, can buy them justice. Despite the influence of class with money, money does not guarantee class. It simply gives you better opportunities. There are just as many poor people with class, integrity and honesty as the privileged.

Policy Implications

Because many areas within society are crippled due to the introduction of conflict theory, there are various policy implications that can complement and prevent certain behaviors from occurring. As stated in earlier papers, one common solution to reducing crime and any form of recidivism is the factor of minimum wage. By increasing minimum wage state-wide, more jobs are created and higher opportunities of living are created for the lower and middle class. This would constitute a better standard of living pursuant of the American Dream, but there are issues. Since people are already assumed to be competitive, the works of specific individuals in certain classes, including the upper class, will still create conflict. For example, in the sake of unions, the beginning of unions was to give workers some rights and affordable wages to wear the workers could provide for their families and have sustainable living. Over time, the workers would want more and more until the owners would make costs to their own lives and the workers are no longer in control. The workers’ competitiveness and willpower to ask for more consistently causes instability between the working class (proletariat) and the owners (bourgeoisie).

There has been speculation to whether increasing wages would help, but inflation would result for standards of living because competition will exist through dominance and control. However, what if wages were made a set limit regardless of education or status, and set based on employment. One person is paid ten dollars an hour as a cashier for McDonalds while another person is paid 30 dollars an hour as a police officer to ensure the protection of the communities he is sworn to protect and serve. Competition with wages will still occur as well as conflict due to the bias of employment and stereotypical bias. Therefore, wages changing isn’t beneficial to society, but it assists those as a readily available solution to react quickly and only in the moment to assist.

At the same effect, another possible solution towards conflict theory in society is providing free education for all citizens, regardless of economic status. In Germany today, all colleges have been made free for tuition, which may lead most American citizens who have usable visas and are seeking further education to head overseas for an easily affordable education (Salles, 2014). Because of this drastic change in policy, the United States could implement this, but the system of government seems too controlling towards the middle and lower class to let anything happen to their puppets in the masquerade of life they ordain and manipulative for the upper class to gain. Since most students attending colleges in the United States are toppling with debt due to high tuition rates, it seems more reasonable for governments to be conflict with one another based on public policy, but the individuals are given better opportunities between the two as a means for a higher standard of living.


Salles, J.M. (2014). “This Country Just Abolished College Tuition Fees.” Thinkprogress.org.

Retrieved from http://thinkprogress.org/education/2014/10/01/3574551/germany-free-college-tuition/

Williams III, F.P. & McShane, M.D. (2014). Criminological Theory (6th Ed.).

Upper Saddle River: Pearson/Prentice Hall.


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