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History: Context: Conflict theory emphasizes the role of coercion and power in producing social order. This perspective is derived from the works of Karl Marx, who saw society as fragmented into groups that compete for social and economic resources. Social order is maintained by domination, with power in the hands of those with the greatest political, economic, and social resources. When consensus exists, it is attributable to people being united around common interests, often in opposition to other groups. Marx theorized that the work of producing consensus was done in the "superstructure" of society--which is composed of social institutions, political structures, and culture--and what it produced consensus for was the "base," the economic relations of production (Read more about Marx's theory of base and superstructure here). Following on the heels of Marx, Italian scholar and activist Antonio Gramsci argued that consensus to rule is achieved in large part through cultural hegemony, which refers to the dominant group's ability to attain consent to their rule through ideas, norms, values, and beliefs. According to conflict theory, inequality exists because those in control of a disproportionate share of society’s resources actively defend their advantages. The masses are not bound to society by their shared values, but by coercion at the hands of those in power. This perspective emphasizes social control , not consensus and conformity. Groups and individuals advance their own interests, struggling over control of societal resources.
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