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Social Conflict

  The concept of social conflict, in anthropology, covers various aspects of social disintegration involving individuals, groups or social classes. It is a general feature of human relationships and exists when two sides wish to carry out acts which are mutually inconsistent. These may be of various forms personal violence, rebellions, industrial strikes, warfare and perhaps even sport (in which there is an institutionalized and constrained form of conflict). Measures to resolve issues of conflict may be termed conflict management and regulation, or rules of law.

Conflict theories in the social sciences emerged around the 1960s as a result of criticism of functionalist theories, which stressed the integration of societies. Conflicts when interpreted by the functionalists was represented as a structural part of societal integration, such that conflicts between groups related to each other by ancestry acted to confirm the social structures in society. Other functionalists interpreted incidents such as rebellions as discharging social tensions, which ultimately served to reintegrate the existing social order. Conflict theorists argued that functionalists played down the dynamic nature of internal conflicts, while those who worked in colonized areas, such as Africa and Asia, overlooked the tensions and conflicts between ruler and ruled. Instead, later theorists worked from the premise that conflicts of values and interests are inherent in all societies and sought to analyse their particular characteristics.

Two basic kinds of conflicts arise: inter-societal, referring to conflicts between societies as in warfare; and intrasocietal, locating conflicts within society such as ethnic rivalry or the Marxist notion of class struggle inherent in capitalist societies. Either types of conflicts may occur as a result of competing interest groups, or be stage-managed by the powers-that-be in order to promote their interests of cohesion on another level. For instance, warfare between communities may be initiated to relieve conflict within the communities, or, alternatively, a policy of ‘divide and rule’ as encouraged by colonial powers in order to separate those they ruled and to divert antagonism away from the rulers.

Some societies engage in armed aggression or warfare more often than others; while others manage conflicts in a nonaggressive way. Attempts have been made to link such observations to factors of overcrowding: conflict is a safety valve to discharge psychologically aggressive tendencies, a means to promote solidarity between groups, or even a result of calorie-intake availability (in which groups engage in conflicts when their ecological and energy needs are exceeded). However, symbolic, ideological and political dimensions of particular societies are far more significant in motivating people to engage in conflicts. Concepts of male bravado, religious values or patriotism are a few examples of how social forces, rather than psychological or environmental reasoning, compels one to engage in conflicts of various kinds. RK

See also ethnicity; Marxist anthropology; nationalism; political anthropology; power; transactionalism.Further reading Anthony Giddens and , David Held (eds.), Classes, Power and Conflict: Classical and Contemporary Debates; , Michael Nicholson, Conflict Analysis; , David Riches (ed.), The Anthropology of Violence.



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