Power in Society – Marx Conflict Perspective & Elite Theory Social Analysis
Karyn Krawford 08/09
Power is present in each individual and in every relationship. It is defined as the ability of a group to get another group to take some form of desired action, usually by consensual power and sometimes by force (Holmes, Hughes & Julian, 2007).
In society governments, organisations and an elite class of people make decisions that affect the lives of a large mass of other people. A significant amount of research shows these decisions are often made to serve their own economic interests and values of which includes the means of production and property ownership (Holmes et al, 2007; Walters & Crook, 1995; Haralambos & Holborn, 1990; McGregor, 2000).
These decisions cause inequality in society and resentment from people who are excluded from the decision making process. The unequalness of this decision-making and power allocation enables the fortunate to enforce their will on the less fortunate (Graetz, 2001, Walters & Crook, 1995).
This essay discusses power from two sociological views; the Conflict perspective, predominately from Karl Marx and the Elite theory perspective. These theories show that power is distributed unequally in society where governments, a ruling class, media and business elites hold the majority of power over others.
Carl Marx, an 18th century sociologist, was one of the original theorists to develop a conflict perspective on how society functions. Following Marx was Ralph Dahrendorf, 19th century, post beginning of capitalism, who developed the theory further (Holmes et al, 2007). This perspective is mostly concerned with Marx’s deep structures of unseen power within the capitalist system (Walters & Crook, 1995).
The central areas of focus from this perspective are; (1) the classes that exist in society, (2) inequalities of society and (3) how society functions to serve the powerful class and disadvantage the others, thereby causing conflict (Holmes et al, 2007; Haralambos & Holborn 1991). Examples of these conflicts include wars, revolutions, strikes and communism (McGregor, 2000).
These classes that are in conflict are broadly broken into a ruling capitalist class and working class of which aim to further their interests at the expense of the other group (Walters & Crook, 1995). The working class who only have their labour power to sell are at the disposal of employers in situations where no unions exist and need to avoid unemployment (Holmes et al, 2007).
Bordering these two class concepts are small businesses, which Marx referred to as ‘petty bourgeoisie’. This group are subject to ether joining the working class or becoming part of the capitalist class if sufficient surplus is accumulated. Social surplus contributes to conflict in societies where class exists and is a struggle for control over profit. Thus one appropriates it and the other produces it (Holmes et al, 2007, Walters & Crook, 1995).
Thus, Marx looked at how the working class is disadvantaged by becoming attached to the external world of commodities and alienating themselves from their inner world also known as externalisation, the materialistic world of consumerism. This process advances the interests of capitalists who thereby hold a strong interest, with help from the media, in ensuring the working class are kept busy working by consuming the products of their labour (Holmes et al, 2007, Hurst, 2000).
Classes cause inequality in society and Marx believed individuals hold their own personal power, which is in harmony with each other and nature (Holmes et al, 2007), rather than wrestling with it (Hurst, 2000). Hurst (2000) elaborated further by stating that people become enslaved when their actions are controlled by something outside themselves to benefit the capitalist system that is controlling...
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