A theory propounded by Karl Marx that claims society is in a state of perpetual conflict due to competition for limited resources. Conflict theory holds that social order is maintained by domination and power, rather than consensus and conformity. According to conflict theory, those with wealth and power try to hold on to it by any means possible, chiefly by suppressing the poor and powerless. Conflict theory also ascribes most of the fundamental developments in human history, such as democracy and civil rights, to capitalistic attempts to control the masses rather than to a desire for social order.
Conflict theory has been used to explain a wide range of social phenomena, including wars and revolutions, wealth and poverty, discrimination and domestic violence.
The financial crisis of 2008-09 and the subsequent bank bailouts are good examples of real-life conflict theory, according to authors Alan Sears and James Cairns in their book “A Good Book, in Theory”. Conflict theory proponents view the financial crisis as the inevitable outcome of the inequalities and instabilities that plague Western societies, since the present structure of the global economic system enables the largest banks and institutions to avoid government oversight and take huge risks that only reward a select few. Sears and Cairns note that large banks and big business subsequently received bailout from the same governments that claim to have insufficient funds for large-scale social programs such as universal healthcare. This dichotomy supports a fundamental assumption of conflict theory, which is that mainstream political institutions and cultural practices favor dominant groups and individuals.