Sociological Theory (SOCI 2040) ALL UNIT LECTURE AND TEXTBOOK NOTES
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Unit One & Two - Conflict Theory – Roots – Lecture
•The principle players of conflict theory are Hegel and Marx (primary theorist in conflict theory).
•Theory, counter theory - A lot of what goes on in social theory is theory countering theory. One theory
goes down and another comes up to conflict it. Conflict theory and Consensus (functional) theory are very
•Theory has very much expanded in the last 40 years to encompass abstractions, politics, and theory itself.
Theory is an ongoing, daily activity.
In conflict theory, we find ideas about the following question, “Why are we paid to kill and have to pay to
•In the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen an increase in the value of the military & its actions. Especially the US.
•In Marx, we find some clues as to what is rewarded and punished economically. In many areas of the
world, women are penalized for child-bearing. A woman working for Chatelaine magazine was fired for
getting pregnant, forced to do the work, and not paid for it. Major gender-based discrepancies.
•“You were bred for humanity and sold to society.” – Jethro Tull – this is the key to understanding Marx’s
theory. Human beings are intrinsically good and will do good given the opportunity. However, they end up
doing nasty stuff to survive. Marx looks at what is going on and how can that change.
•At the times he was writing in Victorian England, it was times of child labour, extreme sexual repression
(women’s legs could not be shown), debtors prison, high accidents, high levels of orphans, etc. Marx’s 3
children died during this time, possibly due to neglecting them.
•Conflict theory is the idea that society is based on conflict. A conflict between those who have and those
who have not. There are few at the top of the structure who control the people at the bottom. The wealth
and labor goes to the top. The working class is exploited by the owning class. This system is based on the
suppression of the many for the benefit of the few.
•By alternative, consensus/functional theory holds that the social structure has arisen naturally to what is
going on in society. Marx’s theory is very much about how this imposition strips human beings of their
human beings and forces them to do things that they don’t even understand why they’re doing it.
Comparison Points – Assumptions
•Human benevolence – humans have goodness in them and will be good if they are given the opportunity.
To be generous, loving, and act without expectation of any financial return.
•The human ability to be destructive and cruel abounds holocaust, Rwanda, etc. Marx would say that’s how
it goes in a capitalist system. If things were more humane, that benevolence would come out. “Humans are
naturally moral and intrinsically humane.” Marx points out the wrong conditions and the right conditions
(socialism and communism).
•Marx says communism is the ideal. Consensus theory critics ask: If everybody got the same no matter
what they do, how would you encourage people to do the extra work? The conflict theory counter answer
from a conflict perspective would be: If the system were working well, people would want to utilize their
abilities to become doctors, for example. There are plenty of doctors who act benevolently and contribute
their talents on a volunteer basis – doctors without borders. No right or wrong.
•Economic determinism is key to Marx’s theory. Relationships to means of production determine social
relationships and how things go in society. The message in Marxism: If you want to understand how things
are happening, follow the money. Look at where the benefit is. Who is benefitting? Who has the power and
control? There is a very marked pattern set up by our economic relationships. People living nearby would
have similar economic conditions to you.
•If you want to change social relations, change economic relations.
Comparison Points – Nature of Society
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•Dialectic - In Marx, the keystone is dialectic – dialectic in itself is an opposition by definition (parent vs
child, prosecutor vs defense attorney, etc). A dialectic is a way of reasoning and coming up with scientific
principles that have been widely influential. It’s something you see in adversarial legal principles. The idea
is that justice will be served by having 2 opposing sides argue for their client. The prosecutor is prosecuting
the crime, while the defense attorney is trying to defend the client. Truth or justice is going to be found in it
•In Marx’s terms, he looked at the way the bourgeoisie (owners/upper class) and the proletariat (workers)
conflict. The bourgeosie are few and benefitting, and the proletariat are many and selling their labour. The
conflict theory argument would be that laws arise to benefit the rich more than the poor. Intervention means
changing the laws so that there are some benefit to the proletarians. As a result, you see labour movements
for better treatment. 1000 workers at a plant, 1 owner. If 1000 workers rise up for better pay and threaten to
strike, they can convince that owner to give them more. This is a way of equalizing some of that power,
giving proletariats better treatment. As a result of things like this, there is the opportunity to invest in the
company. People will speak more highly of the company and be more committed to it, having some
ownership in the company. Money goes up the hill, problems go down the hill (Sopranos). This means
that money goes up to the owners/bourgeoisie, while problems are that of the workers/proletariat.
•The relationship to the means of production is not just local. The industrial sector has moved on mass to
countries where there are less labour rights ~ increase in sweatshops. Massive amounts of pollution into the
environment and exploitation and neglect of workers goes on.
•There are people who work but their work is so marginalized that they are living below the poverty line.
Some companies identify full-time as part-time in order to avoid paying benefits or seniority pay. The
rights of labour are getting fewer and fewer.
•Hegel’s contribution – dialectic/counterpoint –
•Class – divisions by economic worth and freedom to self regulate – people tend to fall into classes. Who
has, who can defines what people wear, marry, do, etc? Who has more freedom to depict that? Who actually
knows this is going on? You think you have freedom of choice. You are, in fact, being indoctrinated into
believing you have choice. Music you listen to on the radio, for example, is picked by marketing companies
to help sell their items. The color of clothing is forecasted a number of years in advance. You would replace
your wardrobe every single year, making the people selling clothes happier to sell you stuff.
•From Pyramid 1880s ----------------------------------------------------------- brandy decanter 2000s (see outline)
•The gap between the highest paid people and the lowest paid people in the world has grown dramatically.
Lowest paid =18k/year and CEO makes 1.8M, now 10M. The highest paid have experienced increases
while the lowest paid has remained. The richer are getting richer and fewer. The poor are getting numerous
•Social relations are defined on economic relations. Historically, women have done domestic labour. The
jobs they have tend to be devalued. Prior to 1800s, women were considered chattel. Chattel is legal term
that constitutes your possessions, including pets. Such a thing that they could be exposed of. It was only in
the 1900s that women came to be regarded as humans. Living Tree Principle.
•The grounds of discrimination expanded on living tree principle.
•Feminization of poverty – so much of poverty has to do with children (the majority below poverty line).
Single mothers and children occupy the poverty line.
•Maximize profit by getting the cheapest possible labour, using things like keeping people from getting job
security and benefits.
•Alienation – Because people are so alienated from what they are doing at work, they are producing profits
for the company without really knowing anything about the company. They are expected to do so much
while having little interest in the company.
•As you work and are connected economically, converting your wages into other people’s profit, you have
no part in the company.
•Capitalism is Growth Based – Capitalism is not about how much you have, but how much more you have
than last time. Recessions are defined as 3 quarters with no growth. Recession vs depression – recession is
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when your next door neighbour loses their job. Depression is when you lose your job. Capitalism is all
about growth and wanting more.
•Sustainability of Resources – they want to increase the hydro-electric generating capacity. Capitalism is
veracious. It just wants more. There is no happiness point. You’re only as good as your next move.
Comparison Points – Nature of Change
•Historical/Inevitable - Society is built on this dialectic between the few rich and the many poor. Marx
predicted that this is going to explode, which in fact it did – into the Russian Revolution. If you look at Dr.
Zhivago. This idea of owning property as sin and people owning things collectively.
•Property is key – “take land, add labour, get property”
•Socialism – From each according to his abilities. Socialism is the first stage and communism is the
second stage. One of the things is getting rid of the private property.
•Socialism – OHIP vs US healthcare – the US healthcare system is privately funded and people have to pay
for their healthcare through insurance. People by right in Ontario residence (for at least 90 days), have the
right to healthcare. All people share in the resources to the system.
•Communism – to each according to his needs. In capitalism, one person is entitled to a piece of land and
puts a fence around it instead of sharing it. The tradition of nomadic cultures – property in a capitalist
system is taken for granted. One person owns it whereas in indigenous cultures, people share it. In this view
– instead of taking all wealth away, it is redistributed equally.
•Marx predicted this revolution.
Comparison Points – Research
•Praxis – we want to hurry this process up. It’s going to be better for everyone when we break down
capitalism to bring forth socialism and communism.
•We try to use praxis to help people understand and put them in better conditions.
•Historical comparative – because of this idea of the haves and have-nots, there is a false consciousness
created whereby people believe they are being treated fairly when they are not. Someone is actually taking
advantage of their labour.
•Marx looked at the historical move from agrarian societies to industrial societies, with workers going from
being the means of production to working with the means of production.
Sociological Theory – Unit 2 – Conflict Theory – Modern – Lecture
•3 main players: Mills, Dahrendorf, Bourdieu
•Conflict theory has changed because the world has changed in a number of ways.
•Probability theory – all started with a monk named Gregor Mendel – calculates the probability of genetics.
•Theory of relativity – developed by Einstein
•Huge change in technology – example ink quill pens -> ball point pens – the players changed, but the game
is the same. There is a lot of debate about what technology is doing to your learning process. Some say we
are just being hand-fed the answers.
•With theory accelerating, there is a whole question of what we are doing as academics/social scientists.
Should we be scientists? Have the changes that have occurred going forward been a positive thing?
•Colonialism created racial identities for people around the world. There are problems dealing with the
destructions of cultures into what colonialism created. Colonialism’s racialization of its treatment of
racisms has come under criticism.
•With racialization, sexual orientation, and disabilities, comes new theories to explain lives.
•Religious forms have persisted in the practices of European and European-linked institutions via schools,
businesses, and universities. It attempts to form assimilations to European cultures.
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