your choice of After reviewing chapter 1 on critical and conflict theories, utilize these theoretical ideas to explain a current global issue related to the food,
fuel, or water crisis. How does the theory help explain the situation?
Serving primarily as a foundation for the research essay, the synthesis essay requires students to explore their topic of interest through reading several selections
in their Dialogue reader. After summarizing specific arguments on their topic, and analyzing the claims of these authors, students are asked to reflect on key ideas
and demonstrate their critical thinking skills through the formulation of a working thesis related to their topic. Recommended length: 4-5 pages. MLA Format. Times New
Roman, 12pt Font. At least 3 academic sources needed.
Purpose: To summarize the claims of various authors on a specific topic and develop a clear thesis in relation to your topic.
Audience: An academic audience that includes the authors of the readings and other interested in the issue upon which you are focusing.
Questions for Consideration and Topic Exploration: After reviewing chapter 1 on critical and conflict theories, utilize these theoretical ideas to explain a current
global issue related to the food, fuel, or water crisis. How does the theory help explain the situation? What would Marx and Engels, Ehrenreich, or Weber (choose at
least one of the theorists) say about this current situation?
One of the most significant theorists in the history of sociology, Karl Marx (1818-1883) originated the conflict or critical approach (McClelland). His best-known
work, The Communist Manifesto, written with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) in 1848, explains that society is broken into a ruling class and a working class, and
inequality results from the ruler’s capitalist exploitation. Here, owners of the means of production exploit workers. Marx divided society into people who control the
means of production, and people who sell their labor to them.
By thus dividing society into two groups – bourgeoisie (boor-zwah-zee) and proletariat, or owners and workers – Marx and Marxist sociologists were able to explain many
social phenomena by pointing out the economic circumstances of society and of groups within society. The bourgeoisie’s aim is to maintain and increase control over the
means of production by amassing more and more capital. The proletariat, in the meantime, tries to find ways to sell its labor to the bourgeoisie.
[The proletariat is] a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These laborers, who
must sell themselves[…]”
“ Both classes also try to outsmart each other, by manipulating the law, committing crimes, and using loopholes. However, in Marxist theory, the bourgeoisie has the
upper hand because it controls money and the means of production.
A fundamental question to ask in any conflict theoretical matter is: who benefits? Who benefits from imprisoning thousands of Americans for non-violent, drug-related
crimes? Who benefits from giving mortgages to people who don’t have a steady source of income? Who benefits from athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs? The
answers to these questions show that there is a constant tug-of-war between those who control the means of production, and those who depend on them.
A founder of sociology, Max Weber (1864-1920) expanded the study of the causes and effects of capitalism. He added social status as a major force shaping society, with
a wider variety of groups and inter-group conflicts. Weber introduced social stratification ideas, based on status and political power. His studies found that there
are more ways to gain an advantage over others: people can try to control the economic means of production, or they can attempt to increase their social status by, for
example, becoming a local politician.
Weber also expressed disenchantment with capitalism. He described the characteristics of bureaucracies as organizations dividing jobs into specific functions arranged
in a strict hierarchy. Although bureaucracies create efficiency, Weber notes that such structures can be used to maintain power and domination over others. He referred
to this as “domination through knowledge” (Kim). He argued that the state monopolizes the use of force and uses political leadership to sustain itself.
A great example of a current conflict theoretical project is Barbara Ehrenreich’s attempt to live on minimum wage. A journalist, Ehrenreich (1941) left her job to work
low-wage jobs and explore conflict theories. She was a waitress, hotel maid, cleaning woman, nursing home aide and Wal-Mart sales clerk. Her book Nickel and Dimed
exposes the working poor’s difficulties surviving in an economy that scorns poor people. She shows the negative effects on individuals from the economic rules
established by the powerful, and she shows how being part of the working poor impacts one’s concept of self.
Ehrenreich answers the important question in conflict theory of who benefits: it’s us! Every time we buy a cheap burger, we take advantage of the underpaid fast food
worker. Every time a medical aide helps us, we enrich ourselves at his expense.
The video below is an excerpt from The American Ruling Class, a “dramatic-documentary-musical” featuring Barbara Ehrenreich and Harper’s Magazine editor emeritus Lewis
“Other Types of Conflict
Marx’s ideas have been expanded to include many types of conflict including race, gender, sexual orientation and political power. So instead of seeing a perpetual
conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat, theorists see a variety of conflicts between whites and non-whites, between men and women, between straight people and
gay people, between those that have access to political power and those that don’t. The dominant group tries to maintain and enhance the power it already has, while
the dominated group attempts to chip away at that power to get its own needs met.
Critical or conflict theories state that conflict and inequality are a normal part of society and that many of people’s actions attempt to gain influence over other
groups. We are all part of competing groups, through gender, religion, ethnicity, age, and many other factors, and groups compete for limited resources. Therefore,
conflict influences all social relationships. Some groups benefit from society’s rules, while other groups fall victim. According to these theories, conflict between
various groups is a major force that shapes society and leads to social change.
Many of the distinctions we make between groups of people, and on which we base[…]”
Feminist theory, an offshoot of critical theory, explains societal life in terms of women’s experiences, with the assumption that women are oppressed through a system
of patriarchy. In patriarchy, men control women’s lives. Feminists initiated many social changes through conflict—an early example is the suffrage movement when women
demanded the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) compared the imbalance of power between men, who were allowed to vote, and women, who were not, to the
imbalance of power between other groups: ?
Feminists continue to struggle against unfair treatment in society, and address issues such as equal pay for equal work, barriers to career advancement, sexual
harassment, rape, violence against women, and the feminization of poverty (Thio).
The link below is fascinating talk by Zainab Salib, founder of Women for Women International, about women’s role in war and how they can contribute in peace
Critical or conflict theory applies to individual, organizational and global conflict. The original theorists focused on differences in economic power. Karl Marx
divided society up into two groups: those who own the means of production, and those who need to sell their labor to make a living. Max Weber[…]”
“ Later writers expanded the ideas to other types of conflict. Barbara Ehrenreich’s study showed that it’s not just the bourgeoisie takes advantage of the workers. In
fact, we all take advantage of those who labor for wages that don’t cover living expenses, by expecting our food to be cheap and our living quarters to be spotless,
without breaking the bank. Often without knowing it, we are all part of groups that either work to expand their dominance over others, or are chipping away at the
domination under which they suffer.
On the positive side, examples in this chapter show that conflict is often the vehicle for social change. Women have expanded their power by gaining the right to vote
and by playing a more active part in society and gays have conquered the right to marry in a number of countries and states. Without awareness of the ongoing conflict,
these changes would not have been realized.
Excerpt From: Unger, Sanne. “Self & Society 200.” v1.0. iBooks.
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