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Course: MCAT > Unit 4

Lesson 1: Foundations of behavior passages

Social conflict theory in an historical context


In early 1215, embittered English noblemen rebelled against King John. Though successful, they realized they had no acceptable replacement for the king. Instead, they forced the monarch to sign the Magna Carta; this document limited the power of the monarchy and protected the rights of the freemen. This was one of the first times citizens were able to check the monarchy’s power.
In 1920 Calcutta, Mohandas Gandhi called for the public to rise up against British rule in a non-cooperation movement that swept the country. Indian factories closed, people shunned institutions sponsored by the Raj system, English-manufactured goods were boycotted. Though independence didn’t come to India for decades, this movement marked a turning point in the opposition to British rule – the first time it was a movement of the masses.
Almost fifty years later, in Greenwich, NYC a series of violent riots erupted as the gay community retaliated against a police raid. At the time, being homosexual in America was a dangerous prospect, both legally and socially. Police would often raid establishments trying to ferret out any sign of homosexuality. In 1969, the fear and tension came to a head in an outburst that rocked the nation. The Stonewall Riots changed the way the US saw homosexuality, inspiring the creation of major gay rights groups, as well as a national dialogue.
At the turn of the century, researchers examined the link between social context and drug use in the US. Conflict theory maintains that more chronic drug users are found in circumstances of lower social capital, e.g., lower social classes and disorganized neighborhoods. To test this assumption, the scientists looked at urinalysis results of arrestees and compared opiate and cocaine use to structural-disadvantage factors and social-control factors (factors that deter social deviance).
Table 1 outlines the correlation between social context and positive drug test in arrestees. The odds ratio describes how much more likely a positive cocaine/opiate urinalysis becomes when the social control factor is increased.
Table 1
Social control factor or structural disadvantageOdds Ratio
Full-time employment0.5939
High school graduate / GED1.0850
Though these events are separated by time, space, and circumstance, they share a common theme. Each time, a society’s status quo couldn’t hold, and led to a conflict, which then forced a change. Sociologists can look at such events through the lens of conflict theory, an approach which tries to understand how society deals with conflicting viewpoints.
Data adapted from:
Lo, Celia C. (2003). An application of social conflict theory to arrestees' use of cocaine and opiates. Journal of Drug Issues, 237-266
Which of the following statements about conflict is true?
Choose 1 answer: