This article explains what is conflict in sociology, its characteristics, types of conflict, the role of conflict, and the distinction between Co-operation and Conflicts.

What is Conflict in Sociology?

Conflict is a struggle in which the competing parties strive to overcome or eliminate an opponent in the attainment of goals that appears to be available only to the victor.

Victory is attained at the expense of the other party, with the logical results of eliminating the rival’s claim.

Conflict serves to establish a group identity to disassociate the social process. So as a result of war, for example, national boundaries are very often redrawn. Conflict also provides a way of releasing hostility. At one time, the duel was considered an approved way of setting conflict with an opponent.

In modern times, war has been one way of setting conflicts with outsiders. Furthermore, conflicts lead to internal cohesion. Politicians have been repeatedly suspected of engaging in conflict with outsiders in order to unite their nationals on the domestic front.

Conflict is one of the disassociative or disintegration social processes. It is a universal and fundamentals social process in human relations. Conflict arises only when the attention of the competitors is diverted from the object of competition to themselves.

As a process, conflict is the anti-thesis of co-operation. It is a process of seeking to obtain rewards by eliminating or weakening competitors. It is a deliberate attempt to oppose, resist, or coerce their will or others. Conflict is a competition in its occasional cum personal and hostile.

Characteristics of Conflict in Sociology

A conflict is an important form of social process. It is a part of human society. The main characteristics of conflict are as follow”:

It is a universal process

Conflict is an everpresent process. It exists in all places and all times. It has been in existence since time immemorial. The cause of the universality of conflict is the increase of man’s selfishness and his materialist tendency. Karl Marx has rightly mentioned that violence is the midwife of history.

The social process has been there since the society came into existence. It is to be found in almost all societies in various forms. In the scientifically and technologically developed society, the conflict has become more common and more rampant.

It is a personal activity

Conflict is personal and its aim is to eliminate the opposite party. The defeat of the opponent is the main objective of conflict. When competition is personalized it becomes a conflict. The parties locked in conflict, lose sight of their definite goal or objective, and try to defeat one another. Here, the adversaries try to harm one another personally. They are not guided by anything impersonal such as the aim or object. As such, conflict is based to defeat the antagonist and not to achieve any particular goal.

Conflict is a conscious activity

Conflict is a deliberate attempt to oppose or resist the will of another. It aims at causing loss or injury to persons or groups. The attention of every party is fixed on the rival rather than on the reward or goals they seek for. So consciously knowing or deliberately the party makes struggle with each other in conflict. It evolves the deepest emotions and strongest passions and results in a great concentration of attention and conflict.

Conflict is an intermittent process

Competition is a continuous process but conflict is not. It grows all of a sudden and vanishes after sometimes. It does not go on continuing. it is mostly based on emotion. There is no continuity in conflict. It is occasional, it may look continuity, it may take place all of a sudden and come to an end after some time. If the conflict becomes continuous, no society can sustain itself. So it is an intermittent process.

Conflict is an emotional process

This process is based on emotions. In this process, men’s actions are guided by instincts and not by logic reasoning. Therefore, in this process, a man tries to use the fair as well as unfair means.

Types of Conflict in sociology

Simmel (1955) has distinguished four types of conflict. They are:

  1. War: Simmel attributed war to a deep-seated antagonistic impulse in man. For him, antagonist impulse is a function of all conflict.
  2. Feud: A feud is an intragroup form of war that may arise because of injustice alleged to have been done by one group to the other.
  3. Litigation: Litigation is a judicial form of conflict when an individual or group asserts its claims to certain rights on the basis of objective factors.
  4. Conflict of Impersonal Ideals: This kind of conflict is carried on by the individuals, and not for themselves but for an ideal. In such kind of a conflict, each party attempts to justify the truthfulness of its own ideals.

Forms of Conflict in Sociology

There are different forms of conflict. Each and every form of conflicts are below:

Direct Conflict

In this form of conflict, people clash with one another and they try to harm one another in a direct manner. For example, war, communal riot, class struggle, group conflict., etc.

Indirect Conflict

In this form, there is no direct confrontation and the conflict parties do not try to harm one another. Hence, they try to harm their adversaries in an indirect manner.

Generally, conflicting parties or individuals create such a situation that their adversaries are not able to achieve their objectives. In this type of conflict, people do not hesitate in using the fair as well as unfair means.

Personal Conflict

This type of conflict cannot be found at the level of groups. They are limited to individuals only. When two individuals come into conflict, it is known as an individual or personal conflict.

Racial Conflict

This is mainly based on opposition to races. Racial differenced occur only on the basis of physical features and cultural characteristics. Certain races consider themselves to be superior and do not tolerate the other. This type of conflict is to be seen in America and several European countries where black and white come into conflict and clash with one another.

Class Conflict

This is based on economic interest. In modern society, particularly the capitalist, members are divided into various classes on the basis of their economic interests. In fact, the means of production determine these classes since the beginning of society. There have been different classes and these classes clash with one another because of their conflicting economic interest.

In the industrial society or capitalist era, there are workers and the mill owners, and there is a conflict between them on the basis of their economic interest.

It was Karl Marx who gave the ideology first to society. He divided the society into two classes, the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. These two classes came into conflict because of this opposing interest.

Group Conflict

Every society is divided into various groups and each group has its own interest. Because of opposing interests, these groups come into conflict. This type of conflict generally may be any of the two forms. In the first case, one group of society clashes with another group of the same society. and in the second case, a group of society may clash with another group of another society.

Economic Conflict

When individuals of different economic interests come in conflict with one another, it is known as economic conflict. But when groups with different economic interests came into conflict with one another, it is known as an economic group of conflict. The basis of this conflict is economic interest.

Political conflict

This form of conflict may assume any form. Two groups or individuals with different political views may enter into conflict. This would be known as individual or political conflict. A nation with a particular political system or ideology may come into conflict with another nation or country with the same or different political ideology. It shall be known as a national political conflict.

On the other hand, in the international fields, also certain countries may try to acquire supremacy, and in this process, they try to defeat other countries. For example, the conflict between the socialist and capitalist countries is a political conflict of international nature where different political parties try to acquire political power by coming into conflict with other political parties, it is known as internal political conflict.

Religious Conflict

When people having different faith come into conflict it is known as a religious conflict. This type of conflict may be individual as well as group conflict. This was common in those days of Medieval Europe. In fact, conflict is a universal process that goes on in almost all societies and in all ages. Various factors are responsible for this conflict. It is not at all helpful for social development. Generally, it creates more difficulties and problems.

Role of Conflict in Sociology

At the outset, it may be said that conflict causes disorder, chaos, and confusion. It may disrupt social unity but conflict performs some positive function as well. The role of conflict is both harmful as well as useful for society.

The Positive Functions of Conflict in Sociology

The positive functions of conflict are as follows:

It promotes solidarity and fellow feeling

The conflict which promotes solidarity and the fellow feeling within the group and societies is known as co-operating. This conflict tends to increase morale and promote the solidarity of the in-group threatened by the out-group. For example, in wartime co-operation and patriotism among the citizens of a nation are more perfect than in peacetime

It enlarges the victories groups

The victory won through the process of conflict enlarges the victorious group. The victorious group either increases its power or incorporate new territory and population. In this way, conflicts make possible the emergence of a larger group.

It leads to a redefinition of the value system

Conflict may lead to a redefinition of the situation by the contesting parties. Generally, the parties which are in conflict with each other give up the old value system and accept new ones when the conflict is over. In this way, conflict may give rise to a new type of co-operation and accommodation.

It acts as a cementing factor in the establishment of intimate relations

Conflict in certain cases acts as a cementing factor in the establishment of intimate and friendly relations among people or parties that were involved in it until a short time ago. For example, the end of the verbal conflict between lovers, friends, and married couples leads to the establishment of relations that are now more intimate than before.

It changes the relative states of the conflicting parties

Conflict changes the relative states of the contestant and of the non-contestant as well. For example, both Germany and Japan lost their status as great powers after World War 2. China has become today a leading Asian power, the United States of America has emerged as a superpower.

Negative Functions of Conflict in Sociology

The Negative functions of conflict in Sociology are:

It causes social disorder and confusion

War, a type of conflict may destroy the life and property of which are involved in it. It may bring incalculable damage and immeasurable suffering to a number of people. The parties generally incur great losses. They gain nothing in comparison with the loss incurred. The modern model of warfare which can destroy millions of people and a vast amount of properties within a few minutes has brought new fears and anxieties for mankind.

It disrupts social unity and cohesion

Conflict is the anti-thesis of co-operation. It disrupts normal channels of co-operation. It is a costly way of settling disputes. The results of intergroup conflict are largely negative. Conflict weakens the solidarity of the group by diverting member’s attention from a group of objectives. It violates national integration in a greater way which may lead to the disorganization of the society.

It causes a lot of psychological and moral damage

The morale of individuals towards a new law in conflict on a personal level. It makes people psychologically weak. It spoils the mental peace of man. Also, it may even make people become inhuman. In case conflict does not come to a quick end, it makes the conflicting individuals very weak and apprehensive about losing something. Therefore, it is quite likely that it may lead to their deterioration.

Distinction Between Co-operation and Conflicts.

To clarify the distinction between co-operation and conflict, the following points may be noted:

  1. Co-operation refers to a joined activity in pursuit of common goals or shared common objectives. Whereas, conflict is a process of seeking to monopolies by weakening or destroying the other competitors.
  2. Co-operation may be conscious or unconscious, it may not be a deliberate act always. On the other hand, conflict is mostly conscious in nature. It is mostly a deliberate act.
  3. Co-operation requires sympathy and identifications, kindness and consideration for others, but conflict is always associated with the deepest emotions and the strongest sentiments. In it, there is no regard for others.
  4. Co-operation is universal and continuous in nature. Whereas conflict is no doubt universal but it is not continuous, it is intermittent.
  5. Co-operation brings mostly positive results, it builds, conserves, and leads to progress. On the other hand, conflict brings mostly negative results. It harms, destroys, and retards progress.
  6. Co-operation is basic to group life. There can be no society without co-operation. However, conflict is not fundamental to the group life of man, society can persist without it.

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