Social conflict theory is a sociological perspective that emphasizes the role of power and coercion in social relations. The theory posits that society is composed of groups with competing interests, and that conflicts between these groups are the basis for social change.

Origins of Social Conflict Theory

Social conflict theory emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a response to the prevailing view of society as a harmonious whole. Early proponents of the theory, such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, argued that society was characterized by class conflict between capitalists and workers.

Marx’s Theory of Class Conflict

Marx believed that capitalism was inherently exploitative, and that the owners of capital (the bourgeoisie) maintained their power by oppressing the working class (the proletariat). According to Marx, this conflict would eventually lead to a proletarian revolution in which the workers would overthrow their oppressors and establish a socialist society.

The Role of Power

Social conflict theory emphasizes the role of power in shaping social relations. Those who control resources such as wealth, education, or political influence have an advantage over those who do not. This advantage allows them to maintain their position at the top of society while keeping others at a disadvantage.

The Importance of Coercion

Coercion is also an important aspect of social conflict theory. Those with power can use coercion to maintain their position at the top of society or to suppress dissent from those who are disadvantaged. This can take many forms, including violence, threats, or legal sanctions.

The Role of Ideology

Ideology also plays an important role in social conflict theory. Those with power often use ideology to justify their position and maintain control over others. For example, capitalists may justify their wealth by claiming that it is a result of hard work and talent rather than exploitation.

Social Change Through Conflict

Social conflict theory holds that social change is driven by conflicts between groups with differing interests. These conflicts can be resolved through negotiation or compromise, but they can also lead to revolutionary change if the disadvantaged group is unable to achieve their goals through peaceful means.


In conclusion, social conflict theory emphasizes the role of power and coercion in shaping social relations. Those with power maintain their position by oppressing those who are disadvantaged, and ideology is often used to justify this oppression. Social change can be achieved through negotiation or conflict, depending on the balance of power between groups.