Conflict Theory

Definition: According to Phillips and Pittman (2009) “Conflict theory suggests that conflict is an integral part of social life. There are conflicts between economic classes, ethnic groups, young and old, male and female, or among races”. It is argued that conflicts between these people result because power, wealth, and prestige are not available to everyone. Therefore one party has power over the other and it is assumed that whoever holds this power will protect their own interests at the expense of others causing conflict.

Apply: Community organizers can use conflict theory in different ways. According to Phillips and Pittman (2009) it helps them to gain insight into why specific differences and competition have developed among groups and organizations in the community. Community organizers can use it to understand the distribution of power in a community and upon doing so can upset the status quo. Community organizers can determine if the amount of power in a community is to one sided and use different methods such as protests or boycotts to shift the power to be more equal.

Adapt: Conflict can happen in a multitude of different arenas such as businesses, schools or even families. Conflict theory can be used to help people resolve their differences. Once the competing interests of groups are identified the said groups can come up with ways to solve their issues. If a business seems to be making decisions only benefiting certain people the other’s can identify the problems and bring it up to everyone so the problems are resolved and everyone can benefit from them.


  1. Conflict is closely tied to hegemony. It is almost impossible to talk about conflict without talking of winners and losers, and about the power that certain groups can muster in order to push their agendas. However, at the same time conflict is what eats at the root of hegemony, for as long as there is conflict one can hope for compromise and a redistribution of power.
    Conflict in the form of culture wars is an important concept for urban studies and cultural geography. That is because conflict is what creates and defines city areas. Development in the form of suburbs that spring like mushrooms have no history of conflict and therefore more often than not have little character. Urban areas on the other hand are full of spaces that have resulted from conflict (monuments commemorating struggles, murals, street art, small markets the survive despite being pushed aside by new redevelopments, dense residential neighborhoods surrounded by new commercial development). Don Mitchell, a cultural geographers, argues that behind every human landscape there is conflict whether seen or unseen. This is why large urban renewal projects are so controversial. It is hard to push out history.

  2. Apply: Conflict Theory is essentially the basis or foundation for the social work practice, particularly for macro work with communities. Leaders, organizers, and planners recognize that there is a need to organize because their interests may be overlooked because they do not align with dominant thinking. Moreover, communities may also organize to protect their interest, even if they do represent a dominant portion of society. This can be attributed to the fact that conflict is prevalent in our society and community, and conflict will occur because people are seeking to protect their varying interests that may place another social group at a disadvantage. Thus, as community organizers, it may be fundamental to bridge the division found within communities due to the occurrence of conflict among citizens. Nevertheless, this may not always be possible or feasible because social groups may not be willing to communicate or interact due to their differences.

    Adapt: I agree with Jeremy, conflict theory can be found within every aspect of society. In the medical field, there is a conflict concerning the implications of universal medical care, which illustrates the power struggle between those who have power (or insurance) and those who do not have power (or insurance). In the educational setting, conflict can be found between privileged counties and districts and those that who lack adequate resources for their educational institutions. In almost every field and discipline there will be a conflict because individuals appear to be naturally driven to protect their own interests, while overlooking the impact that it may have on the opposing group or party.

  3. thanks a lot for having you here on the web,am from Ethiopia and studying social work especially social and community development concentration.your blog is helping me a lot and go on it appears to be a great asset for students who are living in the third world like me. my other comment is that, if u able to add(upload) some important books form your personal belongings that we could use them as reference and reading materials it would be nice.
    thank you again and again

    1. This information was really useful,thanks to those who uploaded it.

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  6. i need to understand the contribution of theories of social change towards development, I am Joe from northern Tanzania
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