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Conflict theory is the struggle for dominance and power among different social groups.
From the perspective of a conflict theorist, there is a social dominance of subordinate classes through the authority and oppression of dominant groups. According to the conflict perception, the powerful individuals of the dominant groups are responsible for the creation of opportunity and success in the society, frequently denying lower groups such opportunities and success. By this, they ensure that the dominating group continues to dominate and monopolize power, authority, and various social privileges. However, it should be noted that most supporters of this theory strongly oppose this coercion while preferring social equality. There are those conflict theorists who prefer a complete socioeconomic insurrection to socialism, while there are others who do not associate all inequalities in the society with the capitalist system (reformist). According to the latter group, there is a way for the society to solve gender, racial, and social classes-related inequalities without embracing a complete socialism. This perspective is held by few, while majority conflict theorists hold capitalism responsible for social inequalities.
According to the conflict theorist, the primary source of social crisis is the exploitation and coercion of subordinate classes by the superior groups. Generally, advocates for conflict theory believe that inequalities and oppression are wrong. Contrary to their view, structural-functionalists view oppressions and inequalities as necessities for the proper functioning of society and its integration. Therefore, conflict theory and structural functionalism take differing orientations, though they both oppose inequalities. Both of them view the discrimination and stereotypes as the means of benefiting dominant groups. The only differing point in their views is; whereas conflict theorists advocate for the termination of social inequalities, structural functionalists view it sensible that lower social classes should be discriminated to attain positive social ends. According to the conflict theory, societal changes are continuous, rapid, and unavoidable as competing social groups seek to dominate over the other in the social hierarchy (Jones, 2011).
Marx viewed capitalism as a source of social inequalities, though unavoidable stage in social progression to the attainment of equality through socialism. Capitalism results in two groups in a given society: a group of Bourgeoisie and a group of proletariat. The first group is made up of those individuals in the society who own and control the means of production, while the latter group comprises the members of the society who do not own the means of production but they have to trade their skills for wages. To accumulate capital, the dominating group (bourgeoisie) strives to remain in control of the means of production by exploiting the proletariat and extracting surplus value from them. When the working classes are exploited, they become disconnected with the social benefits and even from the humanity. However, the emergence of industrialization has eventually created awareness among the working class. Upon maturation of this awareness, proletariat will defeat the bourgeoisie, the process that will usher in equality, where the means of production will be owned and controlled communally (Knafla, 1996).
Contrary to structural functionalists’ argument that the talented members of the society hold the highest positions in the society, conflict theory maintains that the dominant group monopolizes power keeping the working classes out. Again, contrary to structural functionalists, the conflict theorist maintains that ruling class have inordinate power to determine which position is socially rewarded.
According to functionalists, social inequality is viewed as a situation where different members of a society own different amounts of wealth, power, or privileges. They claim that inequality and social grouping are functional for the society as a source of order. For Moore and Davis, social grouping is necessary, because the society is stratified implying that it is a functional necessity. They believed that society needed to allocate difficult and important jobs to the best talented individuals in the society. The argument was supported by claims that if all members of the society were paid equally, without regard to their work, they would be reluctant to take difficult jobs and they would not take initiatives to learn advanced skills. This theory emphasizes the perspective that the best positions in the society are reserved for the talented. The theory has been preferred among those with positions of power and controlling the means of production. The bottom line of this theory is that the powerless and poor lack talent, effort, and determination (Walker, 1998).
In America the period from 1865 to 1890, biological determination as a way of administering justice was in effect. During this era, many criminal justice activities were going on. The federal government was becoming effective. The law enforcers were performing poorly and corruption had established its roots among the police forces. Disorderliness and moral decadency was the order of the day, given that the members of the society who were responsible for keeping it on check had neglected their duties and indulged in alcoholism, drugs, and other forms of corruption (Hostettler, 2009).
The penitentiary, which had been implemented as a means of eradicating crime, was a total failure. It is because of this that reformatory was introduced in the system of social justice. Juveniles were fraught with young educated women who were feared that they would use their influence on the society to stir up the revolution of child protection. The effects of Charles Darwin’s theory on the origin of the species had destabilized the prevailing religious. This formed a base for those who were controlling the means of production to introduce biology and heredity as the cause of criminal activities. The advocates of biological determination used the newly designed tools of social justice to express their anti-immigrant sentiment and racial hatred. The blacks were the target of the Jim Crow law and Black code that were introduced to recreate social condition of slaves and restoration of the failing economy (Finkelman, 2009).
The result of biological determination was the situation where US was operating under multiple arms of criminal justice system with law and punishment being used for ideological purpose for a country that was still seeking its identity.
In 1919, the Boston police force went on a strike against the dissatisfying salaries; this was after their attempt to join America Federation of Labor had been opposed by the government. The situation was taken care of by the state military, and later the police resumed their duties. Their protest was not addressed in full until later in 1928, when a reform was suggested by Orlando Wilson. The reform saw the police force being equipped with patrol vehicles and communication gadgets. Though equipped, police showed laxity in performing their duties. The introduction of the technology in law enforcement created a distance between the public and the police. The problem was not addressed, resulting in further criminal activities. The capitalists’ government that was in place found it expensive to address the salary issue of police (Christenson, 1930).
During this era, there was a cold war in America, the federal justice structure was crumbling and the political bases of the nation were shaken. These series of crisis resulted in the exposure of the wealthy, white-collared public servants. It is at this time that sociology became firmly anchored in the society, and psychological means were applied in attempt to control criminal activities, making the process more humane by scraping off the corporal punishment. This was officially abolished in 1952. After the Big House, correctional institutions took over where the programs specifically designed for inmates were introduced and myriad specialists were recruited to run those programs. Thereafter, the Board of Education under Brown V. suggested a major change in Jim Crow’s law. This was just the beginning of the changes that would later be instituted by the Warren Court. The highlight of this era of socialism was the rise of Civil Right Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Clemens Bartollas, 1997).
During this era, Reagan advocated for the patriotism, traditionalism, and family values. This created a righteous climate in the society. Social safety and morals were not given attention, opening door to the AIDS epidemic. The ends that were left loose in the name of patriotism and traditionalism awaked the vanishing crime. As a result, the capital punishment that had been abolished was reintroduced. There were devastating criminal activities calling for an expansion of the criminal justice structure. This era saw the greatest support of the death penalty as a permissible punishment (Larry K. Gaines, 2001).
With the threatening criminal activities from terrorism, the future criminal justice in America may not be getting more lenient any time soon. There is a rise in cases of drug trafficking and organized gangs that are getting tough in their illegal drugs trade. Though this may be a result of loose ends in the criminal justice system that was in operation previously, there has been negligence from the political end as well. The administration of Bill Clinton was lenient in terrorism; this gave the anti-American forces time to reorganize, culminating into the terror acts of the 9/11. The Bush regime saw US gaining more enemies than friends. With such a background, it would be suicidal to make the social justice system any looser. To the contrary, we should be improving on the tough punishments.