Social Conflict: Meaning & Types

Each society, whether Indian, British, American, or Japanese, comprises various institutions and groupings of individuals. Each of the groups that make up society has its own particular identity. Furthermore, these organizations have their agendas to pursue. Furthermore, no nation or culture has the resources to address the needs of all groups while remaining in harmony. As a result, while pursuing their goals, various groups frequently find themselves at odds over how to exploit finite resources and maximize their profits or results.

As a result, a social scenario arises in which different groups oppose one another to advance their interests at the expense of others. Sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists refer to this social phenomenon as social conflict or group conflict. Social conflict arises when one social group compares its gains and believes other groups are marginalizing it or when it sees that it is being denied what other groups have.

What is Social Conflict?

When two or more actors oppose each other in social interaction, they reciprocally exert social power to achieve scarce or incompatible goals and prevent the opponent from achieving them. A social interaction in which the action is geared purposely towards carrying out the actor's own will against the resistance of other parties or parties is referred to as a group conflict or social conflict. The following conclusions can be reached from the preceding definitions: The source of social conflict is social power. The fight for power is essential to practically all types of social conflict. Access to or control of power ensures a group's success in achieving its aim. As a result, the more influential group wins while the weaker one loses the competition.

Social conflict entails incompatibility because some people can get what they desire while others cannot get what they want. As a result, their desire stays unsatisfied for some, and they continue to be dissatisfied. Once developed, this incompatibility becomes a vicious cycle that a solid social reform movement can only end. Most social contexts do not involve persons with similar or identical interests. Every person engaging in social interaction seeks to maximize his or her gain at the expense of the other person. This condition invariably results in a struggle to win and the exclusion of others from the goal. Nevertheless, it is impossible to discover a social event that can be defined as pure group conflict, such as a football battle between two rival teams. In most social conflict situations, cooperation and competition are linked.

Types of Social Conflict

A social dispute can take several shapes and present itself in various ways. Nonetheless, psychologists have distinguished three types of social conflict, which are as follows −

Overt Conflict

Social conflict is open and explicit in this form. Both parties' competition is solid and direct—negotiation between management representatives and a labor union, for example, or a war between two countries. A more straightforward example is an argument, in which one speaker emphasizes and explains his position while disputing the legitimacy of the opposing viewpoint. The overt goal is to defeat the opponent and ensure victory.

Objective Conflict

When one group attempts to acquire an edge over another group or group, objective conflict arises. By objective social conflict, we mean a social arrangement that benefits some while harming others. For example, when the government implements welfare measures, some people profit more than others, others receive less than projected benefits, and others are disadvantaged. This results in objective social conflict, a type of social conflict.

Subjective Conflict

Subjective conflict occurs when a person identifies or sees a situation involving struggle. Sometimes a person remains in a state of subjective conflict without expressing it.

Elements of Social Conflict

We may learn something about the critical aspects of social conflict from all of these stories of social conflict, which are listed below −

  • In social conflict, the emphasis is primarily on opposing two or more social categories. It could be a social group like a labor union, political party, professional organization, family, etc. It could also refer to a social class, such as the working class, the capitalist class, the lower class, the upper class, or the middle class. These instances imply a socially determined expectation of what that category should perform about another. For social conflict to arise, at least two social categories must be related and oppose one another.

  • Power is an element in all conflict situations. We cannot have a social conflict relationship in which no effort is made to impose one's will on the other. The distribution of power in a group is the foundation of a conflicted relationship. The imposition of will by one actor or group on another generates a situation in which the other actor or group rejects this claim.

  • Conflict can result in hostile feelings and attitudes.

  • It is critical to distinguish between objective and subjective conflict bases. As previously said, disputes can erupt over allocating scarce material and non-material resources like wealth, income, power, status, dominance over territory, and so on. Such conflict situations must be distinguished from subjective aspects such as hostile, aggressive attitudes, sentiments of resentment, animosity, and so on, which may also play a role in the conflicted relationship.

  • The interests we focus on in conflict can be of several types. They may be economic in nature, implying control over societal resources and rewards. They might be social, involving status, or political, concerning who will claim legal authority. They could be religious, so their understanding of the supra-empirical universe must be acknowledged as correct. Conflict arises when two or more parties have competing interests, regardless of the interest or interests at stake.

  • The conflicting relationship frequently involves two viewpoints for and against the powerful and the powerless; the exploiter and the exploited, the one with authority to govern and the one without. Of course, there may be multiple groups contending for power, and power does not have to be concentrated in the hands of a single social group.

  • Battles might be confined to small groups or can span the entire globe (as seen by the World Wars). Disputes can range in severity depending on the relevance of the subject at hand. The extent of the problems in a dispute can range from minor positional differences to dramatic societal revolutions.

  • Disputes can occur between societies (for example, battles between states) or within a community between groups. The factions may agree on one or more subjects, even within a group. For example, the Congress party may have differences in interests and beliefs.

  • The dispute interaction could take a variety of paths. It is possible that the influential group will nip it in the bud or that it could linger for a long time. It could include varied levels of violence. Force is frequently used in violent conflicts between groups.

Functions of Social Conflict

Conflict does not have to be viewed solely as a negative process resulting in disorder, and social order breakdown integrative nature of social disputes has been emphasized by theorists such as Dahrendorf and Coser.

Positive Consequences of Conflict

Coser demonstrated that conflict could have positive outcomes based on Simmel's pioneering and perceptive work. Secondly, by clashing with another group, a particular group's social solidarity is strengthened internally. Within the group, there is better coordination and structural arrangement. This circumstance is all too familiar to us. When our country has faced external aggression, the nation has stood united after removing all internal discord. Everyone is familiar with the example of conflict between India and Pakistan, which leads to internal cohesion inside the country. Wily politicians in control may create the spectre of external dangers on purpose to shift attention away from their internal difficulties. Second, conflict might bring two previously unconnected groups together in coalition, broadening the possibilities of cooperative contact. Finally, conflict may give rise to hitherto unexplored areas of cooperation between parties, such as the formation of the Red Cross during World War I. Fourth, conflict engagement may clarify previously obfuscated topics posting comprehension of the opponent and opening up new interaction paths.

Dysfunctions of Conflict

Of course, there are other dysfunctions of social conflicts, such as rising disparities in a group, which can result in the group breaking up in extreme circumstances. Civil war may result in one of the pieces becoming an independent state. Aside from that, the cost of conflict in human life and property loss is well documented. It is also possible that the competing factions will acquire deep-seated suspicions and animosities inside their respective groups, which may persist over time, resulting in the group becoming unstable. Only in severe circumstances of total annihilation of one group by the other can the seeds of war cease to develop.


Social conflict is solely a manifestation of social power. To comprehend social conflict, we must consider the level of social powers and the elements that influence them. When two or more people collide verbally or physically with each other, there is a conflict, and a social environment becomes a social conflict. Social conflict can only be understood by considering social power because most conflicts that arise in a social environment are related to the power one has. The power one can wield.

Updated on: 13-Mar-2023

3K+ Views

Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started