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Consensus Conflict Perspectives In Social Theory

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Consensus Conflict Perspectives in Social Theory

In order for us to understand why sociological theories could be classified into 'consensus' and 'conflict' perspectives. Let us first look at the definitions of these two concepts of consensus and conflict. Consensus is a concept of society in which the absence of conflict is seen as the equilibrium state of society based on a general or widespread agreement among all members of a particular society. Conflict is a disagreement or clash between opposing ideas, principles, or people-this can be a covert or overt conflict.

Conflict theory, therefore, is a theory or collection of theories which places emphasis on conflict in human society [Jary & Jary, 2000:105]. The discourse of conflict theory or perspectives is on the emergence of conflict and what causes conflict within a particular human society. Or we can say that conflict theory deals with the incompatible aspects of human society. Conflict theory emerged out of the sociology of conflict, crisis and social change. Consensus theory, on the other hand, is a sociological perspective or collection of theories, in which social order and stability/social regulation forms the base of emphasis. In other words consensus theory is concerned with the maintenance or continuation of social order in society; in relation to accepted norms, values, rules and regulations as widely accepted or collectively by the society-or within a particular society- itself. It Emerged out of the sociology of social order and social stability/social regulation.

Put these into perspective the consensus and conflict sociological theories are reflected in the works of certain dominant social theorists. Dominant Classical social theorists such as Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. And other prominent social theorists such as Talcott Parsons & Robert Merton, Louis Althusser & Ralph Dahrendorf and Herbert Mead & Herbert Blumer. It is important to note that the conflict and consensus perspectives of sociological theories have been divided into four categories or four paradigms-frame of reference in which human beings see the world. These are Radical Humanism & Radical Structuralism which fitted under conflict theory, Interpretive Sociology & (Structural) Functionalism/Systems Analysis which are classified under the consensus perspective. Each of the classical and modern social theorists (and their theories) above are slotted into one of the four categories or paradigms.

Well, first let us look at Karl Marx and Conflict theory; there are two interpretations or paradigms of Marx's theory of conflict, Radical Humanism & Radical Structuralism.

The works of Marx in his early years was interpreted by some social theorists as emphasizing the role of human beings in social conflict. They explained change as emerging from the crisis between human beings and their society. They argued that Marx's theory was a theory characterised by class conflicts or the conflict between the bourgeoisie (rich, owners) and the proletariat (poor, workers). What these people or Radical Humanists are stressing is the human being's capacity to think and act against situations that are not satisfactory to their existence: political, economic or social situation unsatisfactory to them, therefore, they desire for a radical change-force and struggle against all human impediments-to take place.

According to this Marxist interpretation, change will only come about by means of conflict between two classes of people. This is in consequence of the suppression and domination by one dominant class of people over another weaker class, social conflict will emerge and change will take place. For instance, the change from simple/primitive to slavery to feudalist to capitalist and to socialist societies is characterized by conflict. For example, the French revolution, whereby the bourgeoisie overthrew the feudal system-which saw the ousting of the Monarchs-and gave rise to a capitalist French society. According to another group of social theorists pioneered by Louis Althusser argued that Karl Marx's theoretical exposition in his later years was stressing the role of social structures /institutions in conflict. Althusser proposed a structuralist reading of Marxism. For him, society consisted in a hierarchy of structures distinct from one another, each with its relative autonomy. In other words Althusser was offering an anti-humanist reading of Marx's work. Thus, according to the structuralists, conflict is naturally prevalent within social structures/institutions in society. With time social conflict will emerge. That is, conflict will emerge by itself because of the incompatible relationship between the rules and regulations of social structures/institutions. Therefore, change will come. According to Althusser, he rejected any idea of human involvement in instigating social conflict. But saw People as just products of these structural conflicts or the inherent internal differences contained within the social structures/institutions. Now let us take for example the recent socio-political turmoil (1998-2000) between the two ethnic groups, Guadalcanal and Malaita, in Solomon Islands from both the humanist & structuralist Marxist explanation. For the humanist Marxist-a possible explanation of the conflict-the conflict was a result of the Guadalcanal people's frustrations because of what they perceived as domination by Malaitans over them. That is in terms of land issues, land and resources acquisition, disrespect for the indigenous people, their land and their customs [Kabutaulaka, 14th April 2002:4-7].

Whereas, a simple structural Marxist explanation would argue that this socio-political conflict was determined by the existing structures/institutions of social and political nature. One potential illustration of structural Marxists would be branded on the relationship between the introduced Westminster style of ruling and the fragmented traditional forms of ruling as contrary to each other. Thus, resulted in the conflict of principles or values inherent within these two structures that overtime overt conflict emerged by itself. Now let us look at the conservative Consensus perspectives and the two paradigms or sociologies of social order & social regulation; interpretive sociology (symbolic interaction) and (Structural) Functionalism/Systems analysis. Firstly, let us reflect on interpretive sociology or symbolic interactionism. The foundation of this sociological explanation is rooted in the works of social theorists such as George Herbert Mead, Max Weber, Herbert Blumer and others. For Mead emphasized the natural emergence of the self and mind within the social order-within the social process

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