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Conflict theories are perspectives in political philosophy and sociology which argue that individuals and groups (social classes) within society interact on the basis of conflict rather than agreement, while also emphasizing social psychology, historical materialism, power dynamics, and their roles in creating power structures, social movements, and social arrangements within a society. Conflict theories often draw attention to power differentials, such as class conflict, or a conflict continuum. Power generally contrasts historically dominant ideologies, economies, currencies or technologies. Accordingly, conflict theories represent attempts at the macro-level analysis of society.
Many political philosophers and sociologists have been framed as having conflict theories, dating back as far as Plato's idea of the tripartite soul of The Republic, to Hobbes' ideas in The Leviathan. Other historical political philosophers associated with having "conflict theories" include Jean Bodin, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mills, Thomas Robert Malthus, Karl Marx, and Georg Simmel. Georg Simmel was one of the earliest sociologists to formally use "conflict" as a framework to understand social change, writing about the topic in his 1908 book, "Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations".
While many conflict theories set out to highlight the ideological aspects inherent in traditional thought, conflict theory does not refer to a unified school of thought, and should not be confused with, for instance, social conflict theory, or any other specific theory related to social conflict.
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