status and power all provide categories of scarce values that groups in society

Status and power all provide categories of scarce

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status, and power all provide categories of “scarce values” that groups in societystruggle to control or increase their share (Collins, 1975).Second, most contemporary conflict theories emphasize, more than classicalMarxism, that the symbolic realm of ideas, values, and ideologies are semiau-tonomous and not merelyderivative from their material base. Collins, for example,emphasizes the importance of cultural symbols and ritual in society as producingsocial unity, drawing more from Durkheim than Marx. Similarly, a group of scholarsknown as critical theoristshave invested great energy in analyzing culture andcultural ideologies in contemporary society, particularly as manifested in popularliterature and the mass media (Marcuse, 1964; Adorno, 1974). But there is a newtwist here in the analyses of culture by conflict theorists. Instead of having culturerepresent only a symbolic consensus that produces social solidarity, as functionalistthinkers would argue, critical theorists view culture as symbolic formations andideologies that become tools in social struggles between various groups and classes.Ideas and values produce not only solidarity and unity (as functionalists argue) butalso social controlrelated to the interests of particular groups as well. Culturalideologies are concocted and used not only by social and economic elites, but also byminority activists, feminists, gays, and pro-life advocates.As with Marx, contemporary conflict theorists assume that the dominantculture (ideas and values) are those consistent with the interests of the dominantgroups in society, if only because they have greater access to and control of theinstruments of the production and dissemination of culture (for example, educationand the mass media). Hence, critical theorists have argued that products of popularculture (such as popular music, TV soap operas, and astrology) operate as soporificsand symbolize human misery in ways that do not threaten established social arrange-ments. Conflict theory stresses the production of culture as one of the ways in whichan existing system reproduces itself, and that change-producing contradictionsbecome manifest as widespread disillusion with conventional cultural symbols.To some analysts, dissensus, disbelief, and cynicism about the dominant societyare signs of a legitimation crisis where large numbers of people no longer believe in thesystem (Habermas, 1973). To others, this initial belief was and is an illusory return tofunctionalist thinking. If societies of the past were not held together by the belief systemof the average person (according to these analysts) it is difficult to see how growing dis-belief in the present can be viewed as a problem (cf. Skocpol, 1994; Giddens, 1995).Even if significant dimensions of social life are not affected by economic inequality, thatdoesn’t make us all equal in determining how our social and cultural institutions work.A third difference between classical Marxism and contemporary conflicttheory is about the inevitability of revolutionary change (in the sense of a sudden,
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