Social work practice aims to address inequalities and promote social justice for individuals, families, and communities. The theory in social work practice is derived from various disciplines such as sociology, psychology, economics, and political science. Conflict theory is one such theoretical framework that helps social workers understand the role of power and inequality in society.

What is Conflict Theory?

Conflict theory was first introduced by Karl Marx in the mid-19th century. According to Marx, society is divided into two classes – the ruling class (bourgeoisie) who owns the means of production and the working class (proletariat) who sells their labor to survive. Marx believed that conflict between these two classes was inevitable due to the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class.

Key Concepts of Conflict Theory

The Role of Conflict Theory in Social Work Practice

Social workers use conflict theory as a lens through which they can better understand social problems and their underlying causes. By understanding power dynamics and inequalities in society, social workers can identify ways to challenge oppressive systems and promote social justice.

For example, a social worker working with a low-income family might use conflict theory to understand how economic inequality affects their access to resources such as affordable housing or healthcare. By advocating for policies that address economic inequality, such as increasing the minimum wage or providing universal healthcare coverage, social workers can help reduce disparities and improve the lives of their clients.

Critiques of Conflict Theory

While conflict theory has been useful in understanding power and inequality in society, it has also faced criticism. Some critiques argue that conflict theory oversimplifies complex social issues and fails to account for other factors such as culture, identity, and individual agency.


Conflict theory provides social workers with a valuable framework for understanding power dynamics and inequalities in society. By using this lens, social workers can identify ways to challenge oppressive systems and promote social justice for their clients. However, it is important to recognize the limitations of conflict theory and consider other factors that may contribute to social problems.