In this article we will discuss about co-operation and conflict in social life.
“Co-operation is a form of social interaction wherein two or more persons work together to gain a common end”. The need for co-operative effort in human life cannot be over-emphasized. It is both a psychological and social necessity.
Modes of co-operation in social life may be divided into two principal types:
(i) Direct co-operation and
(ii) Indirect co-operation.
Under direct co-operation may be included all those activities in which people do like things together.
The essential character of such activities is that people do in company the things which they cannot do separately or in isolation. When two or three people carry a load together which would be very irksome for one of them to carry alone, such co-operative activities may be characterised as direct co-operation.
Under indirect cooperation may be included all those activities in which people do unlike tasks towards a common end.
The principle of division of labour, which is imbedded in the nature of social life, exemplifies indirect co-operation. This mode of co-operation is revealed wherever people combine their differences for mutual satisfaction or for a common end’.
It is interesting to note that the process of transition from preindustrial to industrial society is marked by replacement of direct by indirect co-operation. This is because advanced technology demands specialisation of skills and functions. Some sociologists, however, express the view that in terms of human needs this development is not all gain.
Direct co-operation tends to bring people closer and in more intimate contact with one another. This is psychologically satisfying. In indirect co-operation, such intimacy and warmth of relationships are lacking. Bereft of the close ties of intimate community life, the people tend to develop highly individualized ‘neurotic’ characteristics.
Conflict is the antithesis of co-operation. When a competitive endeavor turns into a violent or a potentially violent strife among the concerned persons or groups to attain the same goal, the competitive situation gives way to a conflict situation.
“Conflict expresses itself in numerous ways and in various degrees and over every range of human conduct. Its modes are always changing with changing social and cultural conditions. Some types disappear and new types emerge”.
Maclver has distinguished between two types of conflict i direct and indirect conflict. “When individuals or groups thwart or impede or restrain or injure or destroy one another in the effort to attain some goal, direct conflict occurs”.
On the other hand, “when individuals or groups do not actually impede the efforts of one another but nevertheless seek to attain their ends in ways which obstruct the attainment of the same ends by others, indirect conflict occurs”.
According to Maclver, bargaining and competition in all their varieties come within this class. Competition, as such, does not directly interfere with the efforts of another to attain such goals, but only indirectly with the other person’s success.
It should, however, be noted that “not all struggle in which man is engaged is social conflict of either type. We are struggling to master difficulties, to overcome obstacles, to achieve ends in other ways than through conflict with our fellows. Man’s ‘battle’ with the physical environment is a case in point. Social conflict, man against man or group against group, reveals itself wherever there is society”.
Thus, conflict is an ever-present process in human relations. Kingsley Davis has explained the persistent nature of the process of conflict in human society thus: “Conflict is a part of human society because of the kind of thing human society is. There is no social mind, but only the minds of particular individuals; no social end, but only the ends of concrete persons. In so far as harmony is attained, it is through the agreement of individual minds, and this agreement thrives best when there is an external danger”.
Kingsley Davis observes further:
“As a matter of fact, society itself engenders conflict situations and cannot avoid doing so. By allotting different statuses to different people, it lays the basis for envy and resentment. By giving authority to one person over another, it sets the stage for the abuse of authority and for retaliation by force. By instilling ends that are- competitive, it makes it possible for competition to spill over into violence”.
The Combination of Co-Operation and Conflict in Social Life:
We have seen that co-operation and conflict are universal elements in human life. Over a vast range of activities they are present together. It is not conceivable in society that there is only co-operation and no trace of conflict or that there is only conflict and no trace of co-operation of so sort.
Even in the most friendly relations and in the most intimate associations, there is some point where interests diverge or where attitudes differ.
The persons concerned cannot, therefore, co-operate beyond that point and conflict becomes inevitable. Even the closest co-operation within the family does not prevent the occurrence of quarrels. In the physical world, there are forces of attraction and repulsion which operate simultaneously and determine the position of bodies in space.
Likewise, in the social world, there is a combination of co-operation and conflict which is revealed in the relations of men and of groups.
“The more one thinks of it, the more he will see that conflict and co-operation are not separable things, but phases of one process which always involves something of both”.
Cooley observes further:
“It seems that there must always be an element of conflict in our relations with others, as well as one of mutual aid; the whole plan of life calls for it; our very physiognomy reflects it, and love and strife sit side by side upon the brow of man”.
It should, however, be noted that when we speak of conflict, we have in mind that type of conflict which is limited in its scope and method by conditions which involve some sort of co-operation among the contending parties. We are here concerned with ‘social conflict’.
The qualifying adjective ‘social’ implies the assumption of social living which involves, in its turn, co-operative activity. We may think of one kind of conflict which does not involve any kind of co-operative activity.
On the contrary, it implies unmitigated violence which is not tempered or limited by any kind of social norms or values. Besides this solitary case, all types of social conflict are subject to social rules. According to Maclver, “Co-operation crossed by conflict marks society wherever it is revealed”, be it a tribal society or a highly developed industrial society.
Unless “Co-operation penetrated deeper than conflict, society could not endure”.
We have seen that co-operation, accommodation, assimilation, competition and conflict are the basic processes of social life, and we have also to recognise the dynamic quality inherent in these processes which are imbedded in social organisation.
It is, therefore, no wonder that society is always in a state of flux. Seen in this perspective, social process may be compared to a flow of river which is an ever-changing phenomenon.
Pointing to this aspect, Heraclitus said:
“It is impossible for a man to step into the same river twice. It is impossible for two reasons: the second time it is not the same river, and the second time it is not the same man. In the interval between the first and the second stepping, no matter how short, both the river and the man have changed”.
Contrasted with this is the statement of Parmenides:
“Change is an illusion, everything remains the same, and the only reality is being”. Permanence and change, being and booming —each of these has been emphasized by different philosophers as more important and more pervasive than the other. The task of sociology is not concluded when it exhibits the structure, the anatomy of society.
The order that is society is, after all, a changing order, a moving equilibrium. Ever since Comte, sociologists have encountered two large questions, the question of social statics and the question of social dynamics, what society is and how it changes.
While emphasizing the dynamic nature of social order, arising out of basic social processes, Maclver observes:
“Society exists only as a time-sequence. It is a becoming, not a being; a process, not a product. In other words, as soon as the process ceases, the product disappears….. If people no longer observe a custom, the custom no longer exists on the face of the earth. It has no body that remains after it dies. It exists only as a mode of activity, patterned in the minds of those who follow it……….. A social structure cannot be placed in a museum to save it from the ravages of time”.