Conflict theory has three assumptions and they are as follows:
- between individual or group, conflict emerges from having opposing interests or competing for limited resources;
- struggle and conflict typically lead to some groups and individuals controlling and dominating others, and that patterns of subordination and domination are self-perpetuating;
- dominant groups disproportionately influence resource allocation and societal structure.
Conflict theorists view social stratification to be based on conflict among classes and blocked opportunity. Stratification is a scheme which underpins of dominance and subordination where the elites are the ruling classes while the others get exploited and controlled. Eitzen and Baca-Zinn (qtd. in Andersen and Taylor 14) emphasized that because of the fact that rewards are unequally distributed, the interests of the wealthy and the social elite are reflected and not the needs of the entire society to survive. Using the point of view in the conflict theory, this inequality enables the powerful elite to distribute the resources, legislate and enforce laws, and control the society’s values. The elite utilize these powers in such a way that it reproduces inequality. Those below the social class comprised of the working class and poor experience what is termed blocked mobility. Likewise, when the society is divided into strata, the society would less likely benefit from all the talents of the citizenry. The inequality sets the limit on the life chances of those occupying the bottom of the class structure, preventing their talents to be discovered and utilized, thereby wasting their creativity and productivity.
In a society, there are sub-groups and in each of these groups, members have different sets of beliefs, values, and norms. Theorists argued that inter-group conflicts arise and inevitable. etc.). Groups are defined as having at least two individuals sharing the feeling of oneness and are bound by stable social interactions which are themselves the result or product of social definitions which are ideas shared by the group. Because of this, they constitute what is referred to as constructed realities. There is conflict between two groups having different opinions on a specific issue or competing for resources. An example of this is the Mormon-Indian conflict in Utah. The Great Basin tribes, mostly Shoshone, were greatly impacted by the California and Oregon Trails and emigration of Mormons to Utah. Starting with the tribes’ encounter with Lewis and Clark, Shoshone tribespeople were friendly towards British and American trappers and fur traders. From the beginning, friendly relationships were forged between the Shoshone and the travellers in the trails but as time went by, increasing emigration had a severe impact with the natural resources in areas traversed by these trails. Often the travellers maltreated the Indians they encounter and the Indians steal horses and other goods from these travelers. In the state of Utah, the growing Mormon settlement displaced the natives from their well-watered and fertile valleys where they used to live and the cattle tended by the Mormon settlers ate grasses and other plants found in the diet of traditional Shoshone. Despite the fact the Mormons were not willing to compensate for the Shoshone or Ute, for the natives’ lands, the Mormons offered food to the native Indians. However the Mormon-Indian relations were not smooth with the demanding and aggressive Indians while the Mormon emigrants finding the burden imposed by their Church leaders to be onerous. Because of the very little presence of the federal government, little efforts were made in ameliorating the situation. As a consequence, the traditional Indian way of life was disrupted and in retribution for these outrages in the hands of the Mormons, the native Indians raided the travelers traversing the Great Basin and became aggressive towards the Mormons. During the Civil War, efforts by the California militia stationed in the state of Utah in response to the complaints resulted to the massacre known as the Bear River massacre (Madsen 43).
Conflict theorists view the poor to be under attack by the society in a system of inequality in which they are highly vulnerable. Though poverty is of no fault of theirs, the poor sectors of society are still being blamed for being poor because of the beliefs being propagated by those in the middle class and the elites. Whether one is using a perspective of class which is laddered or from the perspective of class conflict, it can be seen that social classes in the US is hierarchical. Position of individuals in society means that access in getting jobs and obtaining status, power, educational opportunities, and better income vary. Some individuals are bestowed of these opportunities while most will be deprived (Andersen and Taylor 30).
One thing is certain in American society- it is the massive and growing class inequality. The elite control a huge share of the wealth and they are the ones exercising control over others. The rich-poor disparity has widened tremendously while most of the middle class find that their class is slipping. The top fifth of the US population receives the larger portion of the income as opposed to those at the bottom fifth. The high salaries of CEOs of major corporations and companies appeared to have a contributory role to this gap. For instance, a typical blue-collar worker makes 1/475 the income of the typical CEO. Since the year 1980, the salary of an employee has increased by 74 percent on the average while for the CEO, 1884 percent (Andersen and Taylor 32). Race also contributes significantly to the distribution of wealth in the US. For every dollar in an average White American, the average Black American only has 26 cents (Andersen and Taylor 33). Across all levels in educational attainment, occupational type, or income, the Black American households have lower wealth compared to similarly situated White American households.
The capitalist or the elite class are wealthy and because of that comes their higher access in the manufacturing and production of goods. On the other hand, the working class is composed of individuals that possess no power and they are sources of labor for the capitalists in the production of their goods. The capitalists are at an advantage over the working class because the former enslave the latter and therefore the latter depend on the former for their income. The former at the same time maintain their position in society based on their wealth and power.
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It is the belief of the conflict theorists that there is an imbalance in categorizing the capitalists and the working classes. The capitalists cite criminal statistics in order to corroborate the accusations hurled against the working class. The passing of laws is aided by judges belonging to the capitalist class and these legislations protect their well-being and wealth. Both capitalist and working classes are involved in criminal acts but because capitalists have the financial capability to the most expensive legal counsel who created the laws.
The “power elite” termed by C. Wright Mills is a group comprising roughly 1% of the entire population of the US is the one that controls 40% of all US assets at least. If families in the US are considered, 68% of wealth USA is being controlled by only 10% of the families across the US. These families are leaders in the military, political, and corporate spheres of American society. This leaves the remaining 90% to struggle in order to obtaining the 32% of wealth that is left (Henslin 170). James Henslin presented this representation illustrating the observation above: “If a 1½-inch child’s block equals $500 of income, the average American is only 8 feet off the ground, the average family just 13 feet, while the income of some families propels them past the top of Mount Everest” (Henslin 187).
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