What is Conflict Theory?
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What is Conflict Theory?

Conflict theory deduces civilization as a fight for authority linking groups that are struggling for limited means. Karl Marx is the originator of conflict theory. Marx believed there existed two categories of people: capitalist and working class.

The elite or capitalist class includes the power of wealth that has access to the resources to manufacture or produce products. The working class on the other hand is individuals that have no power and their hard work is sold to capitalist class to produce these products. The elite have an advantage over the working class in that they keep this class enslaved, so that they have to rely on the elite for income and they can maintain this power position of wealth. SparkNotes.com (2008)

How does Conflict Theory relate to crime?

The conflict theorist belief is that the capitalist and the working class categories of people are imbalanced. They cite criminal statistics to verify their accusations. The laws are passed with the help of the capitalist class judges that are designed to benefit their well being. The capitalist class and the working class both carry out works of anomaly but the elite have enough money to afford the expensive lawyer that create these laws in the first place. SparkNotes.com (2008)


White Collar Criminals

White collar criminal commit more of the non-violent crime: fraud, bribery, inside trading, forgery and embezzlement.  The working class on the other hand commits crimes such as robbery, murder, and assault. Conflict Theorists the two classes commit crimes of different degrees of violence which is the case but there are always exceptions to the rule with either the elite or the working class. SparkNotes.com (2008)



Max Weber

Max Weber (1864-1920) is considered to be leading expert on modern sociology. Max’s most famous book was called “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905). Max belief was that Catholicism cared about earthly material gains and lavish expenditures. Catholicism favored capitalism and forgiveness of sins. Protestant favored a humbler existence on ordinary everyday jobs and did not have a hierarchical church structure that did not involve upward mobility, avarice and expenditure. But the protestant work and save ethic lead to the rise to capitalism. Being dedicated and having pride in a one’s work was considered economic productivity. This was elevated in Protestant communities. On the other hand with the Catholic hierarchical church structure of the Catholics people had jobs where they were able to achieve upward mobility. Catholics did not do menial jobs that were beneath their dignity. This meant that Catholics could do jobs with minimum attention to the job. This resulted is less productivity.

Cepa.Newschool.Edu (2008)

The Differences between Protestants and Catholics

The Protestants had a higher productivity rate than Catholics, but did not believe in the concept of forgiving sins. They were able to collect a lavish exhibit of earthly possessions but were considered the sins of expenditures. The Catholics on the other hand believed in forgiving the sins of expenditures. So the bottom line is that Catholics produced less but spent more money than Protestants. The Protestants were more productive and earned more money. This allowed the Protestants to save more or accumulate more earthly possessions.

Cepa.Newschool.Edu (2008)

Capitalist Accumulation

Capitalist accumulation was derived from the Protestant ethics. The Protestants did not believe in capitalist doctrines of greed but rather believed in dedication to productivity and thrifty consumption of goods. This leads the Catholics to distort the statement “greed is good” a fact. Weber did not state the fact that the capitalist ethic of greed created the capitalist society, but disagreed with that fact instead.


Weber’s 1905 thesis was disputed by opponents and has been discredited as a absolute conjecture in the increase in capitalism. This has led to much debate about this subject.

Cepa.Newschool.Edu (2008)

The theory of Verstehen

Weber’s theory of Verstehen, otherwise known as “Interpretative Sociology” has led to the understanding of economic or social phenomena. Weber believed that one must understand the

actions of the participants involved. To classify the behavior of one’s self this has to belong to an “Ideal Type”. The four categories of the Ideal Type of behavior are: zweckrational (rational means to rational ends), wertrational (rational means to irrational ends), affektual (guided by emotion) and traditional (guided by custom or habit). So Weber believed in understanding any economy or social phenomena the researcher must know how human behavior in interpreted by ideal types. Cepa.Newschool.Edu (2008)


In conclusion, after reading this essay, hopefully you feel more enlightened that understanding human behavior on how people make economic decisions depends if you are rational, irrational or whether it is a custom or habit can make a difference. Also do you believe that Catholics believed that greed is good or not? What is your opinion?

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Comments (14)

My friend's father was Catholic. He used his son to build an actual log cabin near the family home. We always said the father had the Protestant work ethic as kind of a joke.

Ranked #1 in History

Great work.

carosel alinas

thank you very much..?


Well Your Welcome!!!


Well Your Welcome!!!

Impressive article and is worth reading it.


Thanks for all the comments.....

Ranked #65 in History

I usually find holes in the theories--people are more unpredictable than the theorists. But we keep on reading it and trying to apply it. That probably is something someone should investigate.

Very interesting and well done. Voted and appreciated.


@ Gayle Haynes:

In my opinion,

The theories we create, and define, serve as instruments in our constant quest to rationalize, or explain, the randomness of humanity in a way that could be grasped and understood more concretely, as opposed to statements like 'all is water' or 'its a bunch of random events that humans have no control over.' or 'we act the way we want be cause we want to/ or we act the way we act because of fate, etc;' . If we designed a theory that perfectly described the world, and the many different elements that it encompasses, then the progress of humans would end, would it not? We'd have reached the end of the road in our quest for understanding... Alternatively, if such a thing, such a perfect theory, existed, then would that not be suggesting truth in the theory of 'absolutism', or the concept of absolute truth? In today's society, where relativism is a highly popular conviction, to suggest that such a theory exists seems strange. Moving on, when attempting to apply such a theory, of course there would be holes! To define the human race, or any human action, in one or two sentences is almost impossible, since humans are still fighting over the questions raised in epistemology, and because of the sheer volume and number of experiences and factors and information that are in need of definition. Theorists, like mathematicians, attempt to find a common pattern in society and derive a 'formula', or particular theory, that can be successfully applied to all aspects of society. In that respect, to find such a theory would take years and years of trial and error, and so the theories that have been proven flawed, or false could be considered as just a part of a means to an end, in a sense that, we now know that those theories are wrong, or not completely correct. The question of what would be correct, in itself, raises one-hundred-and-one, open-ended questions. Instead of criticizing the fundamental instability of many theories and theorists, you should, instead, learn from their mistakes, or their ideas, and build on their theories in an attempt to truly define humanity and all that it encompasses, ne?

- Niki

nice article

Agape Evans

This site is pretty good BUT, it didn't give the clear definition of CONFLICT

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