(From Randall Collins, Conflict Sociology. New York:Academic Press, 1974, pp.56-61.
The level of interpersonal interaction is all-inclusive; by thesame token, it is highly abstract. To reduce its myriad complexitiesto causal order requires theory on another level of analysis. Themost fruitful tradition of explanatory theory is the conflicttradition, running from Machiavelli and Hobbes to Marx and Weber. Ifwe abstract out its main causal propositions from extraneouspolitical and philosophical doctrines, it looks like the following.
Machiavelli and Hobbes initiated the basic stance of cynicalrealism about human society. Individuals' behavior is explained interms of their self-interests in a material world of threat andviolence. Social order is seen as being founded on organizedcoercion. There is an ideological realm of belief (religion, law),and an underlying world of struggles over power; ideas and morals arenot prior to interaction but are socially created, and serve theinterests of parties to the conflict.
Marx added more specific determinants of the lines of divisionamong conflicting interests, and indicated the material conditionsthat mobilize particular interests into action and that make itpossible for them to articulate their ideas. He also added a theoryof economic evolution which turns the wheels of this system toward adesired political outcome; but that is a part of Marx's work thatlies largely outside his contributions to conflict sociology, andhence will receive no attention here. Put schematically, Marx'ssociology states:
In all of these spheres, Marx was primarily interested in thedeterminants of political power, and only indirectly in what may becalled a "theory of stratification." The same principles imply,however:
These Marxian principles, with certain modifications, provide thebasis for a conflict theory of stratification. Weber may be seen asdeveloping this line of analysis: adding complexity to Marx's view ofconflict, showing that the conditions involved in mobilization and"mental production" are analytically distinct from property, revisingthe fundamentals of conflict, and adding another major set ofresources. Again making principles more explicit than they are in theoriginal presentation, we may summarize Weber as showing severaldifferent forms of property conflict coexisting in the same society,and hence, by implication, the existence of multiple class divisions;elaborating the principles of organizational intercommunication andcontrol in their own right, thereby adding a theory of organizationand yet another sphere of interest conflict, this timeintraorganizational factions; emphasizing that the violent coercionof the state analytically prior to the economy, and thus transferringthe center of attention to the control of the material means ofviolence.
Weber also opens up yet another area of resources in thesestruggles for control, what might be called the "means of emotionalproduction." It is these that underlie the power of religion and makeit an important ally of the state; that transform classes into statusgroups, and do the same to territorial communities under particularcircumstances (ethnicity); and that make "legitimacy" a crucial focusfor efforts at domination. Here, Weber comes to an insight parallelto those of Durkheim, Freud, and Nietzsche: not only that man is ananimal with strong emotional desires and susceptibilities, but thatparticular forms of social interaction designed to arouse emotionsoperate to create strongly held beliefs and a sense of solidaritywithin the community constituted by participation in these rituals. Ihave put this formulation in a much more Durkheimian fashion thanWeber himself, for Durkheim's analysis of rituals can be incorporatedat this point to show the mechanisms by which emotional bonds arecreated. There involves especially the emotional contagion thatresults from physical copresense, the focusing of attention on acommon object, and the coordination of common actions or gestures. Toinvoke Durkheim also enables me to bring in the work of Goffman(1956, 1967), which carries on his microlevel analysis of socialrituals, with an emphasis on the materials and techniques ofstage-setting that determine the effectiveness of appeals foremotional solidarity.
Durkheim and Goffman are to be seen as amplifying our knowledge ofthe mechanisms of emotional production, but within the framework ofWeber's conflict theory. For Weber retains a crucial emphasis: Thecreation of emotional solidarity does not supplant conflict, but isone of the main weapons used in conflict. Emotional rituals can beused for domination within a group or organization; they are avehicle by which alliances are formed in the struggle against othergroups; and they can be used to impose a hierarchy of status prestigein which some groups dominate others by providing an ideal to emulateunder inferior conditions. Weber's theory of religion incorporatesall of these aspects of domination through the manipulation ofemotional solidarity, and thereby provides an archetype for thevarious forms of community stratification. Caste, ethnic group,feudal Estate (Stand), educational-cultural group, or class"respectability" lines are all forms of stratified solidarities,depending on varying distributions of the resources for emotionalproduction. The basic dynamics are captured in the hierarchy implicitin any religion between ritual leaders, ritual followers, andnonmembers of the community.
From this analytical version of Weber, incorporating the relevantprinciples of Marx, Durkheim, and Goffman, we can move into anexplicit theory of stratification. It should be apparent that thereare innumerable possible types of stratified societies; our aim isnot to classify them, but to state the set of causal principles thatgo into various empirical combinations. Our emphasis is on thecutting tools of a theory, whatever the complexity of theirapplication in the historical world.
For conflict theory, the basic insight is that human beings aresociable but conflict-prone animals. Why is there conflict? Above allelse, there is conflict because violent coercion is always apotential resource, and it is zero-sum sort. This does not implyanything about the inherence of drives to dominate; what we do knowfirmly is that being coerced is an intrinsically unpleasantexperience, and hence that any use of coercion, even by a smallminority, calls forth conflict in the form of antagonism to beingdominated. Add to this the fact that coercive power, especially asrepresented in the state, can be used to bring one economic goods andemotional gratification and to deny them to others and we can seethat the availability of coercion as a resource ramifies conflictsthroughout the entire society. The simultaneous existence ofemotional bases for solidarity--which may well be the basis ofcooperation, as Durkheim emphasized--only adds group divisions andtactical resources to be used in these conflicts.
The same argument may be transposed into the realm of socialphenomenology. Every individual maximizes his subjective statusaccording to the resources available to him and to his rivals. Thisis a general principle that will make sense out of the variety ofevidence. By this I mean that one's subjective experience of realityis the nexus of social motivation; that everyone constructs his ownworld with himself in it; but this reality construction is doneprimarily by communication, real or imaginary, with other people; andhence people hold the keys to each other's identities. Thesepropositions will come as no surprise to readers of George HerbertMead or Erving Goffman. Add to this an emphasis from conflicttheories: that each individual is basically pursuing his owninterests and that there are many situations, notably ones wherepower is involved, in which those interests are inherentlyantagonistic. The basic argument, then, has three strands that menlive in self-constructed subjective worlds; that others pull many ofthe strings that control one's subjective experience; and that thereare frequent conflicts over control. Life is basically a struggle forstatus in which no one can afford to be oblivious to the power ofothers around him. If we assume that everyone uses what resources areavailable to have others aid him in putting on the best possible faceunder the circumstances, we have a guiding principle to make senseout of the myriad variations of stratification.*
The general principles of conflict analysis may be applied to anyempirical area. (1) Think through abstract formulations to a sampleof the typical real-life interactions involved. Think of people asanimals maneuvering for advantage, susceptible to emotional appeals,but steering a self-interested course toward satisfactions and awayfrom dissatisfactions. (2) Look for the material arrangements thataffect interaction: the physical places, the modes of communication,the supply of weapons, devices for staging one's public impression,tools, and goods. Assess the relative resources available to eachindividual: their potential for physical coercion, their access toother persons with whom to negotiate, their sexual attractiveness,their store of cultural devices for invoking emotional solidarity, aswell as the physical arrangements just mentioned. (3) Apply thegeneral hypothesis that inequalities in resources result in effortsby the dominant party to take advantage of the situation; this neednot involve conscious calculation but a basic propensity of feelingone's way toward the areas of greatest immediate reward, like flowersturning to the light. Social structures are to be explained in termsof the behavior following from various lineups of resources, socialchange from shifts in resources resulting from previous conflicts.(4) Ideals and beliefs likewise are to be explained in terms of theinterests which have the resources to make their viewpoint prevail.(5) Compare empirical cases; test hypotheses by looking for theconditions under which certain things occur versus the conditionsunder which other things occur. Think causally, look forgeneralizations. Be awake to multiple causes--the resources forconflict are complex.
Nowhere can these principles be better exemplified than on thematerials of stratification. Especially in modern societies, we mustseparate out multiple spheres of social interaction and multiplecauses in each one. These influences may be reduced to order throughthe principles of conflict theory. We can make a fair prediction ofwhat sort of status shell each individual constructs around himselfif we know how he deals with people in earning a living; how he getsalong in the household in which he lives; how he relates to thepopulation of the larger community, especially as determined by itspolitical structures; and the ways in which he associates withfriends and recreational companions. The conventional variables ofsurvey research are all reflected in this list: occupation, parentaloccupation, education, ethnicity, age, and sex are cryptic referencesto how one's associations are structured at work, in the household,and in community and recreational groups. In each sphere, we look forthe actual pattern of personal interaction, the resources availableto persons in different positions, and how these affect the line ofattack they take for furthering their personal status. The ideals andbeliefs of persons in different positions thus emerge as personalideologies, furthering their dominance or serving for theirpsychological protection.
I begin with occupational situations, as the most pervasivelyinfluential of all stratification variables. They are analyzed intoseveral causal dimensions, elaborating a modified version of Marx,Weber, and Durkheim. Other stratified milieux are treated in terms ofother resources for organizing social communities; here we findparallel applications of conflict principles as well as interactionwith the occupational realm. The sum of these stratified milieuxmakes up the concrete social position of any individual.
* The proposition that individuals maximize theirsubjective status appears to contradict March and Simon's (1958)organizational principle that men operate bysatisficing--setting minimal levels of payoff in each area ofconcern, and then troubleshooting where crises arise. Thecontradiction is only apparent. Satisficing refers to a strategy fordealing with the cognitive problem produced by inherent limits on thehuman capacity for processing information. The principle ofmaximizing subjective status is a motivational principle,telling us what are the goals of behavior. Any analysis of cognitivestrategies is incomplete without some motivational principle such asthe latter to tell us what are the purposes of action, and what areasof concern are most emphasized. In other words, it is one thing topredict what goals someone will pursue, another to predict whatstrategies he will use in pursuing them, given the inability to seevery far into the future or deal with very many things at once.
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