The conflict theory premises on the conflict over scarce resources as well as the
mechanisms that dominant groups utilize to create and protect social arrangements, which confer them an advantage over the subordinate groups in the society. The perspective underscores conflict as an expected reality of social life, besides, being the decisive agent for social change.
The social conflict theorists point out conflicts such as exploitation, physical confrontations,
tension, disagreements, direct competition and hospitality as agents for the social change. The theorists allege that in any society, the subordinate and dominant groups always compete for the valued resources, which are in the form of education, well-paying jobs, access to material wealth and healthcare. As a result, a faction that attains control of these scarce resources strives towards protecting its interests against the other’s competing interests.
The conflict perspective attempts to address the question of who benefits from this social
arrangement and at whose expense. In seeking to explain this issue, the perspective identifies the subordinate and dominant groups along with the strategies employed by dominant groups to protect and promote their interests either consciously or unconsciously. The perspective premises on three assumptions. The assumptions are the existence of conflicts attributed to limited valuable resources, the conflicts results in dominant and subordinate groups and the dominant group manipulates resource allocation and societal structure. These assumptions will be crucial in establishing the relationship between dominant and subordinate groups that occasion socioeconomic inequality and poverty.
In its attempt to explain the socioeconomic inequality and poverty, the conflict perspective assumes that the contemporary society has sufficient wealth to meet the fundamental needs of the people in the society. For this reason, the existence of socioeconomic inequality and poverty attributes to power structures established by dominant groups. The subordinate groups in the form of the working class are subject to exploitation by these power structures evident from the poverty-level wages so that the employers can realize abnormal profits. The theory also perceives the unemployed persons in the society as victims of these power structures.
To protect and promote their interests, the dominant groups or the wealthy employers
often oppose programs aimed at reducing unemployment, for instance, the job training, and
education programs because of their unwillingness to pay taxes to facilitate these programs.
Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman assert that to further the existence of socioeconomic inequality and poverty, the dominant groups always hold on the individualism ideology. This thinking perceives poverty and unemployment as an orchestration of lack of effort contrary to
social injustices or circumstances beyond the control and influence of these persons. Therefore, the dominant wealthy groups ignore the political and economic basis of socioeconomic inequality and poverty and instead become involved in charitable exercises for the poor, which leaves these dominant groups feeling that they have engaged in good and helpful deeds for the poor.
The conflict theorists underline government welfare programs as well as the charitable
efforts as furthering socioeconomic inequalities and poverty because of the capacity of these
programs to quell social unrest and political protests that may threaten the status quo. Moreover, the conflict theorists acknowledge that the resultant effect of this domination always leads to the disadvantaged groups to accept this reality passed by the upper echelon of the society hence adjusting their self-esteem and aspirations downwards.
According to Andersen and Taylor, the conflict perspective does not view socioeconomic inequality and poverty as either functional or essential but rather as a creation of groups that benefit from this inequality. The conflict theorists allege that socioeconomic inequality and poverty only becomes a problem when the subordinate groups perceive the present resource distribution as unfair hence the need to address it. The solution that the conflict theory offers to resolve this situation is for the subordinates becoming politically responsive to address this inequality and poverty through government actions. Therefore, the adjustment of the underprivileged in the society to poverty has to be broken.