What Is Social Conflict Theory in Sociology?


Jane Flores

Social conflict theory is a fundamental concept in sociology that explains how society operates and how power dynamics play a critical role in shaping various social institutions. The theory states that the society is not homogeneous, but rather divided into different groups that compete for resources and power.

What is Social Conflict Theory?

According to social conflict theory, conflicts arise between different groups based on their conflicting interests and values. These conflicts are not only limited to the economic sphere but also extend to other areas such as politics, culture, and religion.

The theory suggests that these conflicts are inevitable in any society due to the inherent differences in people’s interests, values, and beliefs. Furthermore, these conflicts can either be resolved through negotiation or by force.

Key Concepts of Social Conflict Theory

There are several key concepts associated with social conflict theory that help us understand the dynamics of society:

1. Power

Power refers to the ability of an individual or group to control resources such as wealth, land, and political influence. In a capitalist society, power is concentrated among wealthy individuals who control most of the resources.

2. Class

Class refers to the socioeconomic status of an individual or group. In a capitalist society, class is determined by one’s ownership or lack of ownership of capital.

3. Exploitation

Exploitation refers to the unequal distribution of wealth and resources among different classes in society. The ruling class exploits the working class by paying them lower wages than their labor is worth.

4. Hegemony

Hegemony refers to the dominance of one group over others through cultural means such as media propaganda and education systems.

Examples of Social Conflict Theory in Action

One example of social conflict theory in action is labor disputes between workers and employers. Workers often demand higher wages and better working conditions, while employers seek to maximize profits by keeping labor costs low. These conflicting interests can lead to strikes and other forms of labor unrest.

Another example is the fight for civil rights in the United States. African Americans and other minorities were oppressed for decades by laws and social customs that favored whites. The civil rights movement was a response to this oppression and sought to create a more just society by challenging the power structures that supported segregation and discrimination.


In conclusion, social conflict theory is an essential concept in sociology that helps us understand how power dynamics shape society. By examining the conflicts between different groups, we can gain insight into how institutions such as the economy, government, and culture function. By acknowledging these conflicts, we can work towards creating a more equitable society that benefits everyone.