What Is Conflict Perspective?
According to the conflict perspective of social theory, one must seek to understand society through the lens of group conflict. This conflict is predicated on the pursuit, attainment and maintenance of power.
Essentially, the conflict perspective sees the nature of groups as selfish and power hungry. Instead of focusing on how individuals seek to manipulate and control others for their personal gain, the conflict perspective theorist focuses on how particular groups (defined by sex, race, class and religion) subjugate and exploit other groups.
Interest of the Powerful
In order to understand the relationship of power and conflict between groups, one must look at what interests each group has, and by what means the members of that group are able to maintain their privileged perspective. These means might include access to resources, wealth, privilege, institutional authority and even violent force.
While understanding the role of the dominating group is important, so is understanding the exploited group, looking specifically at how it is able to resist and what goals, values and identity it has in relation to the other group.
The Influence of Marx
Much of the conflict perspective comes from the work of Karl Marx and his theory of class conflict. Instead of focusing exclusively on class, though, conflict perspective theorists have included a range of broader groups within society.
Arguments against conflict perspective cite its reliance on apparently discredited Marxist theory and its zero-sum approach to social reality. Another argument is that people often belong to several different groups at once, something that contradicts the idea of group loyalty. For example, a wealthy Baptist black woman might have allegiances to several different groups.