How to Understand Conflict Theory

Written by sebastian malysa
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How to Understand Conflict Theory
Conflict has been a part of human civilisation since the beginning. Understanding it is an ongoing struggle. (conflict image by Dmitri MIkitenko from

Conflict theory is based on the argument that every individual in a society, organisation in a society or entire societies will strive to maximise their benefits, which ultimately leads to social change. Understanding conflict theory is challenging, since the entirety of human civilisation has roots in conflict. To understand conflict theory thoroughly requires an understanding of conflict theory origins, conflict theory models and a variety of theoretical approaches to conflict theory, such as game theory. The best way to familiarise yourself with these elements of conflict theory is to read about them.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Develop a deeper understanding of conflict theory by reading about its origins and father, Karl Marx. Marx (1818 - 1883) was a German theorist who wrote about, and extensively criticised, modern materialistic society during the Industrial Revolution. He argued there are always two groups in any given society constantly conflicting with one another, the working class and the ruling class. The ruling class struggles to exploit or manipulate the working class to function and behave in their favour, while the working class struggles to maximise their own personal benefit by seeking emancipation from the ruling class. Societies have changed greatly since Marx's time, especially with the rise of the middle class. However, each class continues to struggle for more benefits and comfort. Reading about Marx and his theories on society will give you a better sense of conflict theory, its origins and how things have changed in light of today's world.

  2. 2

    Learn more about conflict theory by understanding the various models of conflict theory. Conflict theory models attempt to understand specific conflicting interests, such as military conflict models, feminist conflict models and social conflict theory, to name a few. By reading about specific conflicting interests, like that of women vs. men, will help you gain a better understanding of why people, organisations and societies engage in conflict. History offers us a great example of entire sequences of conflicts from their origins to their conclusions. Reading about and understanding military conflicts throughout history will develop a better understanding of why and how conflict occurs.

  3. 3

    Read about models that have been developed which illuminate various aspects of conflict theory, especially game theory. Game theory is an excellent window into conflict theory because it helps us understand strategic interactions between individuals or "economic agents" in pursuit of particular preferences. Additionally, game theory helps illuminate real-life scenarios, like a competitive situation between two conflicting interests. Game theory can be extremely complex depending on the competition in question. However, understanding strategies for how to pursue and achieve a preferred outcome will help develop an integral understanding of conflict theory.

Tips and warnings

  • Some key figures in conflict theory include Karl Marx, Max Weber and C. Wright.
  • Visit your local library and ask your local librarian about books on conflict theory to help you form an understanding of it.

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