What Does Social Conflict Theory Focus?


Diego Sanchez

Social Conflict Theory is an approach to understanding society that focuses on the inequalities and power imbalances that exist in social structures. The theory suggests that these inequalities create conflict between different groups in society, such as those based on class, race, gender, and other factors.

Key Concepts of Social Conflict Theory

There are a number of key concepts associated with social conflict theory. These include:

  • Power: The idea that some individuals or groups in society have more power than others.
  • Inequality: The unequal distribution of resources, opportunities, and rewards within society.
  • Exploitation: The use of power by some individuals or groups to take advantage of others.
  • Class struggle: The idea that conflict between different classes is a fundamental aspect of societal development.
  • Dominant ideology: The beliefs and values held by those in power which serve to maintain their position and justify their actions.

The Origins of Social Conflict Theory

Social conflict theory has its roots in Marxism, which sought to understand the ways in which capitalism creates inequality and exploitation. However, the theory has since been expanded beyond economic factors to include other forms of inequality related to race, gender, sexuality, and more.

Applications of Social Conflict Theory

Social conflict theory has been used to analyze a wide range of societal issues. Some examples include:

  • The relationship between capitalism and poverty.
  • The role of race and racism in shaping social structures.
  • The impact of gender roles on work and family life.
  • The ways in which dominant ideologies are used to maintain power.
  • The effects of globalization on workers and communities.

Criticisms of Social Conflict Theory

Like any theory, social conflict theory has its critics. Some argue that it overemphasizes the role of conflict and ignores the ways in which cooperation and consensus also shape social structures. Others suggest that the theory is too deterministic, assuming that inequality and conflict are inevitable features of human society.


Social conflict theory offers a powerful lens through which to understand societal issues related to inequality and power imbalances. While it is not without its criticisms, the theory provides a valuable perspective for those seeking to understand the complexities of modern society.