Differences Between Consensus and Conflict Theories
Two theories attempt to explain human behavior- conflict and consensus theories. Consensus theory asserts that the social order can be attained through having shared norms, beliefs, and values, whereas conflict theory argues that inequalities produce class conflicts. The world is then perceived through opposing viewpoints which affect how these theories aim to achieve their end goals. Consensus and conflict models are different in multiple ways including assumptions regarding their views on society as well as their values, ultimate goals, and means.
Consensus and conflict theories diverge on how they see society itself. For consensus theory, social order exists or can exist through producing and maintaining shared values and beliefs. It assumes that people want to preserve the status quo and those who want to change it are deviants. Consensus theory additionally thinks that society wants to maintain itself through teaching collective values and belief to the next generations. On the contrary, conflict theory sees conflict or division, not consensus, in society. Conflict theory comes from Karl Marx who states that the dominant group or the rich controls the society and marginalizes those who lack power. The powerful rejects consensus that can topple it though it does promote conformity through shared norms that ensure its maintenance. In other words, consensus theory sees the world in balance or harmony while conflict theory views it its chaotic and problematic state.
Besides social views, consensus and conflict theories are different in their values due to oppositions in ideologies. Consensus theory values harmony above all. Whether there is social inequality or not, consensus theory promotes normalizing collective norms and beliefs. On the opposite, conflict theory detests social differences that produce inequality, especially oppression of the minority. Conflict theory values equality indeed like the consensus model but only after achieving real equality among social classes. While consensus theory may be blind to social injustice, conflict theory begs to differ as it intends to fight for social justice in accordance to communist or socialist views.
Consequently, consensus and conflict theories differ in their main goals and means. Consensus theorists seek for the integration of norms and values. Social change may or may not occur in the process but it is not always a specific goal. Also, the process may be peaceful or could include violence. It is possible for a despot to achieve fake consensus through threats of violence or violence per se. Consensus theories then have challenges regarding the ethical nature of the means towards achieving and maintaining harmony. On the contrary, conflict theory desires social changes including ending the unfair ruling of the rich over the poor. Conflict theorists want to dismantle different kinds of inequality including economic, social, and political inequalities. They are aware of the struggle across social classes and will fight for equality even through revolutionary or violent means. Conflict theory does not desire consensus too if it leads to social differences in the end. Even if there is no consensus on ending the reign of the elite, conflict theory will insist on what it thinks is right- the end of hegemony and the rise of equality.
Consensus and conflict theories are dissimilar in their views of society, values, means, and goals. Consensus theory sees the world as a society of shared norms and beliefs while conflict theory views social division through inequalities. As a result, they have different priority values and goals. Consensus theory simply wants harmony whereas conflict theory desires social changes by ending inequality. Violent means may transpire in both conflict and consensus theories as well which is why they can produce wars too. Even in the pursuit of consensus, violence may be inevitable which is why aggression is prevalent even in modern societies. Thus, conflict and consensus theories show how differences in worldviews impact the idea of a good society and the road towards attaining it.
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