10 julio, 2024

Social conflict: characteristics, causes, types and examples

What is a social conflict?

Social conflict is a confrontation between two or more groups in the same society. Let us remember that society is the habitat of the human, where all the manifestations of humanity take place.

A social conflict occurs when a relevant group in society fights to win or impose its values, wants to gain status, power and resources, and can affect the structure or functioning of society.

We have examples of social conflict in, for example, the struggles of the suffragettes to achieve the right to vote for women, or the serious confrontations within American society in the 1960s as a result of the struggles of African-Americans for approval. of your civil rights.

Characteristics of social conflict

A social conflict may have the following characteristics:

disagreements in interests

Social conflicts are caused by divergent interests, wielded by the state and by different groups in society.

against the authorities

In general, the claims are addressed to the State or to the competent authorities (labor ministries, health ministries, education ministries, etc.).


A social conflict manifests itself in large demonstrations, in massive concentrations of people. Marches, protests and demonstrations are the visible face of discontent.

starting point for violence

When a social conflict breaks out, there can be looting, illegal street blockades and violence against people.

Difficult control by the government

When violence breaks out, it is difficult for a government to control it. For this reason, it is common for special urban police teams to be used, such as riot police, to contain it. Many times, governments even resort to their armies.

Causes of social conflict

The theories of social conflict try to explain the changes produced in societies, and consider that for a society to advance it needs laws and stability on the one hand and disagreements on the other, in order to achieve social integration.

Social integration is achieved by consensus or by coercion. If it is by consensus, obviously there is no social conflict, and disagreements are resolved peacefully. If it is by coercion, the disagreement can become a social conflict, since force is used to impose itself.

It should be noted that for these theories, conflict is a factor of progress, because changes within societies occur thanks to it. That does not mean that it is a smooth process.

Disagreement and frustration is the basis of all conflict. When talking about social conflict, it is necessary to understand that it will depend on the circumstances of each region or country, but certain common factors that constitute the main causes of social conflicts can be highlighted.


When one part of a society has privileges, to the detriment of another that does not enjoy the same rights, that is when inequality occurs. There is inequality between men and women, between adherents of different religions, between races and between social strata.

Absence of the State

When in a country the State focuses on certain regions and neglects others, especially health and education factors, it can generate discontent in the population that, if not resolved, can lead to serious social conflicts.


When the corruption of a political system begins to affect daily life, it is often a source of discomfort that eventually turns into social conflict. If the country is prosperous, different segments of society tend to turn a blind eye to corruption.

However, when there is an economic crisis, corruption becomes a factor of great importance.

hunger and poverty

Poverty and hunger are perhaps the factors that most mobilize people. The lack of basic food can promote real uprisings, as has happened repeatedly in Africa.

When the wealth of a country is in very few hands and the bulk of the population does not have access to the minimum necessary to survive, if there is no employment, health services or aid of any kind (or this aid is not enough), they certainly prepare the basis for social conflict.

Economic crisis

Economic crises often highlight already latent problems. An economic crisis can generate high levels of unemployment, growth of precarious jobs and loss of people’s purchasing power, which can lead to poverty and hunger.

Types of social conflict

Various types of social conflict are distinguished: functional, dysfunctional, real, unreal or invented.

It should be noted that, although some theories of social conflict see it as an engine for change, it is not always so, and on many occasions, when they are not resolved in time, they can mean a notable setback in the affected societies (such as Syria or Venezuela).


In a functional social conflict the outcome of the confrontation is positive. It is when two social segments agree on the objectives but not on the means to achieve them. The social conflict is solved because a consensus is reached between the groups.


Dysfunctional social conflicts harm society as a whole. They occur when a consensus is not reached in disagreements.


Social conflict starts from a real problem –such as inequality, wars, racial discrimination or religious problems–. Reaching a favorable result for everyone can be complicated because generally the social groups involved defend their positions.


This type of conflict is caused when the situation is misinterpreted, and is resolved when the explanations are satisfactory. For example, when it is shown with irrefutable evidence that there was or was not fraud in important elections in a country.


They occur when a social group maliciously “invents” a problem with the aim of mobilizing people and generating a social conflict.

Examples of Social Conflict

Throughout the last two centuries, social conflicts have manifested themselves in numerous countries and different regions of the world, we will explain a few.

the suffragettes

The suffrage movement (the right to vote for women), although it was born in the 19th century, it was in the 20th century when it had its greatest impact.

It was an important social conflict that meant a change of vision: women went from being a second-class citizen, without a voice or vote, to having the right to run for political office and vote. It was the starting point in the struggle to achieve full rights in various constitutions and countries.

union fights

The trade union movements of the late 19th century occurred within the framework of the confrontation between industry owners and their workers. They fought to achieve better working conditions, reduced hours, adequate spaces, among others.

Although it was a bloody struggle, with strikes and murders, the union struggles laid the foundation for workers’ rights.

Civil wars

Wars are perhaps the most graphic example of an unresolved social conflict, especially when we talk about civil wars.

For example, the Civil War in the United States between 1861 and 1865, between the north and the south of the country, where some defended the union of the states in a federation and others the expansion of slavery and the separation of the United States.

Or the Spanish Civil War, from 1936 to 1939, which meant a confrontation of society in multiple facets: between social classes, between democracy and authoritarianism, between the republic and military dictatorship, between different nationalisms and between different ideologies and religion.

Other civil wars, always terrible, can be mentioned, such as the end of Apartheid in South Africa (1992), in China with the Maoist revolution (1949), or in Russia with the Bolshevik revolution (1917).

African American Civil Rights

In the United States, the struggle of African-Americans has been long and continuous, but it dates back to between 1955 and 1969, when their civil rights were approved, ending racial segregation in the southern United States.

Despite achieving approval, there are still states in the United States where there is covert racial segregation, and from there the movement called «Black Lives Matter» has emerged, to point out the behavior of some institutions towards African-Americans.


Sew, LA (1957). Social Conflict and the Theory of Social Change. The British Journal of Sociology. Taken from jstor.org.
Oberschall, A. (1973). Social Conflict and Social Movements. Taken from pdfs.semanticscholar.org.
Lorenzo Cadarso, PL (2001). Main theories on social conflict. Taken from unirioja.es.
UNHCR, Spanish Committee (2018). What is a social conflict and what effects it can have. Taken from eacnur.org.
What is a social conflict? (2020). Taken from defensoria.gob.pe.
Conflict (2020). Taken from concept.of.

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