Conflict theory originated with the work of Karl Marx in the mid-1800s. Marx understood human society in terms
of conflict between social classes, notably the conflict in capitalist societies between those who owned the means
of economic production (factory or farm owners, for example) and those who did not (the workers). Subsequent
thinkers have described different versions of conflict theory; a common theme is that different social groups have
unequal power, though all groups struggle for the same limited resources. Conflict theory has been used to explain
diverse human behaviour, such as educational practices that either sustain or challenge the status quo, cultural
customs regarding the elderly, and criminal behaviour.
Conflict theory has wide and varied roots that range from the individual intra-psychic approach of Freud to the
systemic societal approach of Karl Marx.
Became popular during the 1960’s when feminists and African Americans challenged the current family theories.
Conflict theory examines the ways in which groups of people disagree, struggle for power and compete for
resources (such as wealth and prestige).
First law: self-preservation and self-assertion Human beings think of themselves first and will assert themselves to
Second law: humans form a social contract giving up rights of self-interest to live in a stable and secure society of
We want to live in a stable world, so will give up certain rights and form arrangements with others to have that
stable world. Much of human interest is regulated and governed by laws, not negotiation Conflict Theory and
Conflict theory as applied to families challenges the myth that families are harmonious, and instead focuses on the
ability of the family to deal with differences, change, and conflict Conflict Theory begins by asserting that conflict
in families is the normal state of affairs and that family dynamics can be
understood by identifying the sources of conflict and the sources of power.
Solutions are a result of:
- Establishing better communication
- Developing empathy and understanding
- Being motivated to change