Conflict theory – What it is, definition and concept

The conflict theory is one that studies the circumstance in which a group or a certain person carries out a series of actions to achieve their maximum benefit. It is then that social change and even revolutions take place, as power is likely to be unevenly distributed.

That is, the conflict theory manifests itself when a certain group performs a series of actions aimed at achieving its own benefits. This has the consequence that other people or social groups are harmed by said actions that will generate controversy and inequality.

When talking about the theory of conflict, what is intended to show is that money, power or status are not distributed equally among all classes, something that can generate a revolution that entails a change in the social paradigm.

This theory is based on the fact that there is a classic social organization in which the most powerful are usually those who dictate the rules and distribute wealth as they please, thus generating a conflict between the social classes that are below them.

The conflict theory according to Karl Marx

Karl Marx carried out an important research work that originated the conflict theory.

In this sense, Marx revealed the causes and consequences that, according to him, arose based on the relations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat during the rise of capitalism in Europe. This system generated a great conflict, since the most powerful class sought its benefits, while oppressing the rest. All this, it is worth clarifying, according to the ideas of Marx.

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Marx mentioned that, whenever these bases of inequality arose, a conflict would appear. He pointed to socialism as a new system capable of generating a greater balance to promote equality between the different classes.

What are the main features of conflict theory?

These are the salient features of this theory:

  • The conflict theory pretends to be an explanation to the conflicts that arise, not only between classes, but also of another nature. Knowing the reasons and the motivation why conflicts arise is of great help in trying to alleviate them.
  • Conflicts usually arise when there is a conflict between individuals, classes or social groups. Normally, one of these is responsible for achieving the maximum possible benefits to the detriment of the rest. For this reason, by suffering from this imbalance, the rest of the groups can rebel and thus generate a revolution with the aim of producing social change.
  • The relations of power and domination that exist in society often generate conflicts.
  • The conflict theory promulgates that, despite the existence of this difference of opinion and consensus, it is possible to generate a change to promote new social structures that promote good integration by all.


This theory can explain historical events of great social importance. For example, the French Revolution.

However, in addition to these large-scale historical facts, this theory also serves to explain other more common ones that can arise between groups of people or even between co-workers in a company. For example, within a company different opinions can arise that generate conflict based on opposing interests. One group may be interested in improving billing and another in enhancing customer service. This clash of interests can lead to a conflict.

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