Conflict in Society: Definition, Causes and Types!
Definition of Conflict:
Conflict is an ever present process in human relations. It has been defined by A. W. Green “as the deliberate attempt to oppose, resist or coerce the will of another or others. According to Gillin and Gillin, “Conflict is the social process in which individuals or groups seek their ends by directly challenging the antagonist by violence or threat of violence.”
As a process, it is the anti-thesis of cooperation. Almost any human action is likely to toward the hopes or interferes with the plans of someone else. Such action becomes conflict, however, only if the deliberate attempt is lo oppose. When a candidate secures a job, it implies that the job is denied lo others.
But in the action of the successful candidate there is no deliberate intent to oppose, resist or coerce and it cannot, therefore, be called a conflict situation. Conflict is, in other words, a competition in its more occasional, personal and hostile forms. It is a process of seeking to obtain rewards by eliminating or weakening the competitors.
Through it, one party attempts to destroy or annihilate or at least reduce to a subordinate position the other party. Further, though normally violence is associated with conflict, it can occur without it. Civil disobedience and nonviolent satyagraha with which Gandhiji fought the British Imperialism are the best illustrations on the point.
According to Mazumdar, Conflict is opposition or struggle involving (a) an emotional altitude of hostility as well as (b) violent interference with one’s autonomous choice.
Briefly, the following characteristics of conflict may be noted:
(i) Conflict is a conscious action. It is a deliberate intent to oppose.
(ii) Conflict is a personal activity.
(iii) Conflict lacks continuity.
(iv) Conflict is universal.
Causes of Conflict:
Conflict is universal. It occurs in all Limes and places. There has never been a Lime or a society in which some individuals or groups did not come into conflict. According to Malthus, reduced supply of the means of subsistence is the cause of conflict. According to Darwin, the principles of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest are the main causes of conflict.
According to Freud and some other psychologists the innate instinct for aggression in man is the main cause of conflicts. Thus various causes have been mentioned leading to conflicts. It arises primarily from a clash of interests within groups and societies and between groups and societies. Conflicts also ensue as a result of the difference between the rate of change in the moral norms of a society and men’s desire, hopes, dissatisfactions and demands.
The moral norms that children should obey their parents have persisted in our country since times immemorial but now the younger generation wants to go its own way. In consequence, there is more parent—youth conflict than even before. Sometimes the moral norms are so broad in scope that conflicting parties can often claim similar norms to justify their separate demands.
For instance, the employees would justify their strike on the plea of deserving high wages in this age of inflating prices whereas the management would justify its stand of reducing them by advancing the excuse of its deficits in this age of competition.
Briefly stated the causes of conflict are:
(i) Individual Differences:
No two men are alike in their nature, attitudes, ideals and interests. On account of these differences they fail to accommodate themselves which may lead to conflict among them.
(ii) Cultural Differences:
Culture is the way of life of a group. The culture of a group differs from the culture of the other group. The cultural differences among the groups sometimes cause tension and lead to conflict. The religious differences have occasionally led to wars and persecution in history. India was partitioned in the name of religious differences.
(iii) Clash of Interests:
The interests of different people or groups occasionally clash. Thus he interests of the workers clash with those of the employers which leads to conflict among them.
(iv) Social Change:
Social change becomes a cause of conflict when a part of society does net change along with changes in the other parts. Social change causes cultural lag which leads to conflict. The parent-youth conflict is the result of social change. In short, conflict is an expression of social disequilibrium.
Types of Conflict:
Simmel distinguished four types of conflict:
(ii) feud or fictional strife
(iv) conflict of impersonal ideals.
War is the kind of group conflict we are most familiar with. Prior to the development of inter-territorial trade, war provided the only means of contact between alien groups. In this case, war although dissociative in character, has a definitely associative effect.
Simmel attributed war to a deep seated antagonistic impulse in man. But to bring this antagonistic impulse to action some definite objective is needed which may be the desire to gain material interest. It may be said that antagonistic impulse provides a foundation for conflict.
Feud is an intra-group form of war which may arise because of injustice alleged to have been done by one group to the other.
Litigation is a judicial form of conflict when someone, individual or group, asserts its claims to certain rights on the basis of objective factors, subjective factors being excluded.
Conflict of impersonal ideals is a conflict carried on by the individuals not for themselves but for an ideal. In such a conflict each party attempts to justify truthfulness of its own ideals, for example, the conflict carried on by the communists and capitalists to prove that their own system can bring in a better world order.
Gillin and Gillin has mentioned five types of conflict:
(i) Personal conflict
(ii) Racial conflict
(iii) Class conflict
(iv) Political conflict
(v) International conflict.
Personal conflict is conflict between two persons within the same group. A conflict between two students is a personal conflict. Racial conflict between the Whites and Negroes in the U. S. A is an example of racial conflict. The class conflict is conflict between two classes.
According to Karl Marx, society has always been divided between two economic classes—the exploiters and the exploited, which have always been al conflict with each other. The political conflict is conflict between parties for political power.
Thus the conflict between the Congress Party and Opposition Parties is political conflict. International conflict is conflict between two nations. The conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir issue is international conflict.
Conflict can also be of the following types:
(i) Latent and overt conflict:
Conflict is usually described as latent or overt. In most cases, long before conflict erupts in hostile action; it has existed in latent form in social tension and dissatisfaction. Latent conflict becomes overt conflict when an issue is declared and when hostile action is taken.
The overt conflict occurs when one side or the other feels strong and wishes to take advantage of this fact. Sometimes actual conflict may exist in latent form for years before there is a formulation of issue or a crisis. The latent conflict between China and India may become overt in the form of outbreak of war over the boundary issue.
(ii) Corporate and personal conflict:
Conflicts are also classified as corporate and personal. Corporate conflict occurs among the groups within a’ society or between two societies. Race riots, communal upheavals, religious persecution, labour- management conflict and war between nations are the examples of corporate conflict.
Personal conflict, on the other hand, occurs within the group. Though it is more severely condemned than corporate Conflict, yet it is likewise universal. The group as a whole has little to gain from Internal conflict or quarrels among its members. Personal conflicts arise on account of various motives, envy, hostility, betrayal of trust being the most predominant.
Role of Conflict:
As said above conflict is a fundamental human and societal trait. Some sociologists like Ratzenhofer and Gumplowicz regard it as underlying social evolution and progress. According to Gumplowicz, human societies are characterized by ‘syngenism’, a primordial feeling of the members that they belong together. Their development was marked by a ceaseless struggle.
According to Ratzenhofer, the struggle for life takes the form of conflict in interests. Simmel maintained that a conflict free harmonious group is practically an impossibility. There is no denying the fact that society requires for its formation and growth both harmony and disharmony, association and disassociation. Conflict serves constructive and positive end. Mack and Young write, “At its most rudimentary level, conflicts results in the elimination or annihilation of the opponent. In human society, however, most conflicts end in some sort of agreement or accommodation or in the fusion of the two opposing elements.”
In corporate conflicts, that is, in conflict between groups and societies, solidarity and fellow feelings are increased. It is aptly remarked that in corporate conflicts each nation gains cohesion and strength through emphasising its own destiny as against that of other nations. Internal harmony and external conflict are, therefore, opposite sides of the same shield.
That is why war is held to be inevitable in a world of sovereign nations. But conflict which causes war or takes hostile form may destroy lives and property of the people, and what is more, may cause great psychological and moral damage.
The results of personal conflict i.e. intra- group conflict are largely negative in that such a struggle lowers the morale and weakens the solidarity of the group. Personal conflict of course has its positive side also.
The opposition of the individual by the other is the only way in which the continued relationship can be made personally tolerable. Vicious gossip aimed at an unpopular officer at times permits subordinates to funnel off their aggression without quitting the job or attacking him physically. Similarly, the verbal conflicts of friends, lovers and married couples often clear the air and permit once again the acceptance of the relationship.
H. T. Majumdar has mentioned the following positive functions of conflict:
(i) Conflict ‘tends to stiffen the morale and promote the solidarity of the in-group.
(ii) Conflict, concluded with victory, leads to the enlargement of the victor group.
(iii) Conflict leads to redefinition of value systems.
(iv) Conflict may lead to the working out of non-violent techniques for resolving crises.
(v) Conflict may lead to change in the relative status of the conflicting parties.
(vi) Conflict may lead to a new consensus.
Horton and Hunt have classified the effects of conflict as follows:
Leads to resolution of issues
Increases group cohesion
Leads to Alliances with other groups
Keeps groups alert to members’ interests
Leads to destruction and bloodshed
Leads to intergroup tension
Disrupts normal channels of co-operation
Diverts member’s attention from group objectives.
Conflict has always captured the attention of the people and the society. It is the stuff that drama feeds on. Conflict assumes that between two parties there is no common ground, no end higher than the interests who divide them, and that the only solution is to eliminate the one or the other.
Society makes efforts to control conflict, but the irony is that, it itself has created conflict situations and perhaps cannot avoid doing so. By allowing different status to different occupations, it has laid the basis for envy and resentment.
By giving authority to one person over the other it lays open the door for the abuse of authority and consequently retaliation. By creating ends that are competitive, it makes it possible for competition to take the form of conflict.
The truth is that there are elements of conflict in all situations. It is a part of human society. Individuals are separate organisms. They can co-operate for certain ends but not for all. They have ends that are mutually exclusive. For the attainment of these ends they come into conflict with others who are also after seeking these very ends.
Since human groups are loose units as compared to the body or even the insect colony the miracle is not how much conflict there is, but how little. Efforts, no doubt, are made to smooth over conflict through certain social mechanisms but these are not universally successful.
Distinction between Conflict and Competition:
From what we have so far read about conflict and competition, it will be clear that they are not identical terms. They should not, therefore, be confused. Conflict differs from competition in so many ways. For example, conflict involves contact; it takes place on a conscious level, it is personal, it involves violence or at least the threat of violence.
Conflict always includes awareness of an adversary and overt conflict always includes doing something to an adversary.
Much competition, however, occurs without actual knowledge of the other’s existence as in taking a civil service examination or applying for a job. In competition, two or more parties want something all cannot share, but they do not strive for the purpose of denying or opposing others—else the action would become overt.
Again, competition is always governed by moral norms while much of conflict is not, as is proved by the maxim “everything is fair in war.” The line dividing competition from conflict is admittedly thin. The desire to gain one’s ends for one’s self or for one’s group is often so strong that competition crosses over into conflict.
Lastly, whereas competition is a continuous process, conflict is intermittent. Conflict has the tendency of occurring again as the differences are seldom resolved permanently. It is this starts and stops character of conflict which helps to distinguish it from competition.
To clarify the distinction between conflict and competition the following points may be noted:
(i) Conflict involves contact, competition does not.
(ii) Conflict takes place on a conscious level, competition is unconscious.
(iii) Conflict is an intermittent process, competition is a continuous process.
(iv) Competition is non-violent, conflict may involve violence.
(v) Conflict disregards social norms; competition does care for these norms.
(vi) Competition is impersonal, conflict becomes personalised.
Co-operation and Conflict go together:
Co-operation and conflict are universal elements in social life. They occur among animals as well as among human beings and they often come together. As in the physical world where there are forces of attraction and repulsion simultaneously operative and determinant of the position of bodies in space, so in social world there is a combination of co-operation and conflict revealed in the operations of men and of groups.
They resemble in this respect the equivalent of linked emotions of love and hate. The psychologists have shown how these two emotions may exist in the same individual. A child may love his mother for the satisfaction and pleasures she provides; yet dislike her too because of the discipline she imposes. In the same way co- operation and conflict often go together.
According to Cooley, conflict and co-operation are not separable things but phases of one process which always involves something of both. Even in the friendliest relations and in the most intimate associations there is some point where interests diverge or where attitudes are not in accord.
They cannot, therefore, co-operate beyond that point and conflict is inevitable. The closest co-operation, for instance, within the family does not prevent the occurrence of quarrels. Cooley writes, “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. The forms of opposition change, but the amount of it, if not constant, are at any rate subject to no general law of diminution.”
“Conflict of some sort is the life of society, and progress emerges from a struggle in which each individual, class or institution seeks to realize its own ideals of good. The intensity of this struggle varies with the vigour of the people, and its cessation, if conceivable, would be death.”
Co-operation is a condition of conflict. Internal harmony and external conflicts are the opposite sides of the same shield. It is difficult to eliminate conflict altogether from-society. As regards intra-group conflict the world is not as yet organized as one social entity and for this reason alone intra-group conflict cannot be eliminated.
As for inter-group conflict every group tries to eliminate it as far as possible. Conflict threatens group solidarity, but despite it all conflict cannot be eliminated. Though there are common ends for which the individuals unite into group, yet there are also ends which relate to the person himself.
For realization of social standing, the individual comes into conflict with the members of his own group. Even if open conflict can somehow be eliminated, conflict in its partial form continues. It is an inescapable part of social life. Indeed there is no form of social conflict that does not involve co-operative activity.
For instance, inter-group conflict is a patent source of intra-group co-operation. Sometimes, to unify a society, conflicts are created with outsiders who are made to appear as enemies. It is difficult to exaggerate the part that external struggle plays in consolidating a group internally.
If it does not eliminate intra-group conflict, it at least subdues it. In other words, it is difficult to exaggerate the part that struggle plays in consolidating a group internally. It suffers least from internal conflict when it is engaged in external conflict with an enemy. Nothing has done more in recent years to strengthen the unity of Jews than the revival of onslaughts against them everywhere.
Conversely there are no examples of co-operative enterprises in society within which conflict in some form is not present. MacIver rightly states that co-operation crossed by conflict marks society wherever it is revealed—in the Co-operative culture” of the Zuni Indians of South-West America, in the collectivized economy of Soviet Russia or the competitive economies of other nations, in the formal debating club and so on.