Family Functions: Social-Conflict Analysis Research Paper Starter

Family Functions: Social-Conflict Analysis

(Research Starters)

This article focuses on social-conflict analysis of family functions. The article explores the sociology of family functions in four parts: an overview of social-conflict analysis; a description of the history of social-conflict studies; a discussion of family sociology; and an exploration of the ways in which social-conflict analysis is applied to understand family conflicts and dynamics. Understanding how social-conflict analysis is used to understand family behaviors is vital for all those interested in the sociology of family and relationships.

Keywords Dyad; Family Functions; Family Studies; Marx, Karl; Roles; Social Conflict; Social-Conflict Analysis; Social-Conflict Theory; Socialization; Society

Family Functions: Social-Conflict Analysis


Sociologists study the functions that family behaviors, such as conflict, socialization, nurturance, care-giving, feeding, protection, emotional support, resource sharing, and violence, serve for individuals and society as a whole. Sociologists, and social scientists in general, analyze family behaviors with and through different theoretical lenses or perspectives. For instance, sociologists use the theory of social-conflict analysis to understand how conflict within families influences individuals and society. Social conflict refers to situations in which two or more individuals oppose the actions or beliefs of one another.

Social conflict, with a multitude of manifestations, functions, and outcomes, is not always associated with anger or negative outcomes. For instance, sociologists have found that sibling conflict strengthens adolescent identity building process (Raffaellie, 1992); consumer or purchasing conflict within families provides families with opportunities to practice conflict resolution strategies and family decision-making (Lee & Collins, 2000); and interpersonal family conflict can function as a forum for social rule-making (Piotrowski, 1997).

Understanding how social-conflict analysis is used to examine and understand family behaviors is vital for all those interested in the sociology of family and relationships. This article explores the sociology of family conflict in four parts:

• An overview of social-conflict analysis;

• A description of the history of social conflict studies;

• A discussion of family sociology, and;

• An exploration of the ways in which social-conflict analysis is applied to understand family conflicts.

Social-Conflict Analysis

Sociologists study conflict as a means of understanding interpersonal relations and social change. Social-conflict analysis refers to the analytical perspective used to understand the role and function of social conflict and resolution. There are many different types of conflict and resolution techniques. Conflict occurs at the interpersonal, intergroup, communal, and international levels. There are numerous theories explaining the origins and purpose of conflict. Social-conflict theory, the theory upon which social-conflict analysis is based, argues that social systems operate to support the interests of the most powerful. According to social-conflict theory:

• Conflict is natural and important.

• Conflict is considered to be an inherent part of human behavior and social systems.

• Conflict is a fundamental impetus for personal, interpersonal, and social change.

When sociologists study conflict, they examine the onset, process, and aftermath of the conflict.

• Onset refers to the precipitating issue and the social context in which conflict occurs.

• Process refers to the level of involvement, emotional reactions, negotiation strategies, and resolution techniques.

• Aftermath refers to the relationship repair and emotional reactions of those involved (Raffaellie, 1992).

Levels of Conflict

Conflict occurs at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.

• Conflict at the micro level happens within interpersonal relationships such as families. Diverse fields, including sociology, psychology, anthropology, and conflict resolution, study micro level conflict. Social-conflict analysts examine family characteristics and structural variables, such as sibling birth-order, family violence, size, education, and income, to assess sources of conflict, functions, and possible outcomes or resolutions.

• Conflict at the mezzo level occurs within communities, groups, and organizations. Diverse fields, including sociology, social psychology, community psychology, organizational psychology, administration of justice, philosophy, and conflict resolution, study mezzo level conflict.

• Conflict at the macro level occurs within international settings. Examples of macro level conflict include global violence and world war. Diverse fields, including international relations, political science, and intercultural communication, study macro level conflict.

Social-conflict analysis studies how exchanges, of resources and power, are managed and mediated in relationships. It asserts that conflict is a natural, inevitable outcome of all human interactions and is considered an important part of all interactions including marriages and parent-child relationships. Once recognized and managed, conflict can strengthen social relationships. Family, like all social institutions, has inherent conflict within its organization, boundaries, and roles. In families, unequal relationships may exist between parents and children or older and younger siblings which may breed conflict or resentments. Individuals and groups use conflict resolution strategies to resolve social conflict. Conflict resolution requires three main components: Communication, assessment of type and degree of conflict, and genuine efforts at resolution. Conflict often leads to the reorganization of social exchange relationships.

Traditionally, sociologists have studied conflict on a large scale. For instance, social movements theorists study the ways in which social movements engage in social conflict as a means of achieving social change (Lentin, 1999). Large scale or small, conflict analysis, assessment, and resolution require specialized training in facilitation skills, improving communication, and skill building. Conflict analysis and resolution techniques and strategies aim to improve the social relations between individuals, groups, organizations and nations.


Social-conflict theory, developed by Karl Marx (1818–1883), W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963), and C. Wright Mills (1916–1962), developed in response to social inequalities, such as racial and gender inequality. Conflict theory is strongly related to applied sociology and social justice. Conflict theory asserts that social institutions reinforce social inequalities caused by social stratifications of race, class, gender, and education. Conflict theorists seek to understand the root cause of the conflict and often work to eradicate the conflict and its social effects.

Karl Marx

Sociology's concern for conflict theory began with Marx's study of class conflict. Marx, a German philosopher and economist, was one of the first scholars to identify society as a system of social relationships. Marx studied processes of worker alienation and objectification. His theory of worker alienation argued that workers experience a lack of control and self-realization in the labor process. Marx believed economics, capitalism, and production were the major forces of society. He argued that the system of capitalism that emerged in the industrial era created societies in which the increasing value of the material world devalues people and society. Marx believed the history of human society was primarily shaped by economic conflict between owners and laborers. Marx worked to find how the disenfranchised could create social change to improve their social and financial situations. Social change, according to Marx, could only occur through challenges to the power of the dominant classes (Yuill, 2005).

Marx's theories of social conflict were influenced by social revolutions, challenges to the established social order initiated from lower classes. Marx's analysis of specific political events and rebellions in France illustrates the way in which 19th century sociology developed in response to the events and happenings of the day. For example, Marx analyzed the class dimensions of the revolution of February 1848, the coup of 1851, and the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871. Based on Marx's analysis of these events, his social class theory developed in two particular ways:

• First, Marx analyzed the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry;

• Second, Marx developed his idea of degenerate and unproductive classes (Hayes, 1993).

C. Wright Mills was responsible for bringing Marx's conflict theory into contemporary sociological thought.

Lewis Coser

Contemporary sociologists concerned with conflict theory and analysis include Lewis Coser (1913–2003) and Ralf Dahrendorf (1929–2009). Coser and Dahrendorf worked to combine conflict theory and...

(The entire section is 4068 words.)