A social conflict theory puts change in perspective. Social conflict is the “heat” generated from the friction between contending parties in the processes of social change. All substantial social change involves social conflict. A realistic social conflict theory is an understanding of the positive role of social conflict in serving the common good.
Social conflict theory plays a positive role, when properly understood, in promoting groups to find common ground, form alliances, define core values, identify differences in viewpoint, set group boundaries, and inform strategies for achieving desired change. Understanding these functions of social conflict in the context of a social conflict theory is an essential processes in positive social change.
To understand social conflict theory, it must be known that in a democratic society no one group should dominate all other groups. The power of all groups, and especially of large institutions, is limited by force of law and by social compact, social tradition, and custom. Within that frame of reference, various interest groups and institutions compete, negotiate, compromise, and work out changes in socioeconomic arrangements, generating social conflict in the process.
The book Journeys into Justice describes in ten case histories the ways in which collaborative organizations use social conflict theory to handle the dynamics of social conflict in their successful efforts to achieve greater social justice for groups of marginalized people. The case histories explore highly controversial social issues including immigration, union organizing, the juvenile justice system, affordable rental housing, family empowerment, legislative advocacy, turning the minimum wage into a living wage, and environmental responsibility. A sound social conflict theory is essential when trying to act on these issues.
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