What Is Conflict Theory in Social Work?

Social work is a profession that aims to improve the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. It is based on the principles of social justice and human rights.

Social workers are trained to understand and address the challenges faced by vulnerable populations such as the poor, elderly, and those with disabilities. One of the key theories used in social work practice is conflict theory.

Understanding Conflict Theory

Conflict theory is a framework used in sociology and related fields to understand how power dynamics shape society. The theory assumes that there are inherent conflicts between different groups in society over resources, status, and opportunities. These conflicts arise due to differences in social class, race, gender, or other factors that create inequalities.

The conflict theory posits that these inequalities lead to conflicts between various groups in society. Those with more power will try to maintain their position while those with less power will try to gain more control over resources. This leads to social change as oppressed groups seek greater equality.

The Role of Social Workers

Social workers use conflict theory as a lens through which they view their clients’ situations. They analyze the power dynamics at play in their clients’ lives and identify ways to help them gain greater control over their situations.

For example, a social worker working with a client who is experiencing domestic violence would look at the power dynamics between the victim and the abuser. The social worker would help the victim gain more power and control over their situation to prevent further abuse.

Social workers also use conflict theory to identify systemic issues that affect their clients’ lives. They work to change policies and practices that perpetuate inequalities and oppress marginalized groups. For example, a social worker may advocate for policy changes that provide greater access to affordable housing for low-income families.


Conflict theory is a useful tool for social workers in understanding the power dynamics at play in their clients’ lives. By identifying these dynamics, social workers can work to help their clients gain greater control over their situations and advocate for systemic change to address broader issues of inequality and oppression.