In this presentation we’re going to explore the conflict theory as a way of understanding community. In the social sciences, conflict theory discussions usually start by examining the work of Karl Marx and his colleague Friedrich Engels. The two were critical of social changes that derived from capitalism, where they saw an unequal system of a wealthy few, benefiting from the suffering of the poor masses, who are being exploited. They saw this happening primarily at a national level, and didn’t usually hone in too closely at local levels. Engels shared Marx’s concern about capitalism and to a greater degree tried to document what it was like living in a city under under this capitalist system. Both Marx and Engels saw the solution to the problems of community life and of national life to be the abolition of private property. Marxian theory is based on a dialectical model of social change, not a linear model. Under a dialectic you’ve got a conflict between a thesis and antithesis that results in some kind of synthesis. The thesis and the antithesis are typically under Marxian theory, two different social classes. For instance, in order for capitalism to come about, the bourgeois was in conflict with the ruling royalty, the royal family. Out of that came capitalism. What they expected was the working class would become the new thesis in conflict with the bourgeoisie, which is the antithesis, and the synthesis of their conflict would be socialism. Marx had a view of social change that saw urbanization as one of the inevitable outcomes of capitalism. While he also referred to the idiocy of rural life, mainly in consideration of how hard life was and how little return there was in that type of life. He saw machines capable of doing much the work that people were doing. He also noted a lot of problems with cities and urban life and, as pointed out by John Bellamy Foster, in his 1999 article on Marx and the metabolic rift. Essentially, the argument there, is that urbanization drives a wedge between people and natural cycles, and in doing so, disrupts both nature and and the human experience. So, while Marx and Engels were not themselves directly concerned with the community as the unit of analysis, they’re looking much broader and bigger than that, there have been several scholars subsequently who are influenced by Marxian thinking who did study more of a local level. Among those are Castells, who wrote a, essay on the urban question where he discusses conflict between the producing class, the local producers who make profits from the working class, and local consumers who struggle to survive in the context of diminishing wages, particularly in this era that we now refer to as post Fordist. Remember, Henry Ford tried to pay the workers enough money to buy the cars, but we’re now past that. Castells viewed the state as the glue holding the system together essentially staving off the conflict from boiling over between the workers and the producers, but also notes that workers needs are not met they will start a social movement. That requires an organizational framework. During the time of this writing there were a number of sort of riots and urban conflicts were taking place that were quite chaotic. What he argued was, what was missing under these conditions, was an organizational framework. You had the anger of a working-class class within a capitalist system but you did not have a way for them to channel that anger. David Harvey was a geographer influenced by a Marxian thought, and he was, like the human ecologists, interested in the spatial patterns of cities. Instead of viewing those patterns as resulting from some kind of natural process, like the human ecologists, instead he saw the spatial distribution of cities to be an outward expression of the capitalist system, and particularly showing the exploitation of workers. Even the human ecologists pointed to some of the zones being separate and occupied by the working class, so this suggested urban development showed the contradictions of capitalism. In other words, it sows the seeds of its own destruction and those are Marxian ideas, that the weight of capitalism would collapse under itself. Of all the community scholars influenced by the Marxian perspectives, perhaps the most enduring perspective is the growth machine perspective, offered by Logan and Molotch. The idea of the city as a growth machine is based on the idea of elite groups trying to generate what’s called a growth consensus in a community– the idea that growth is always good and desirable. By growth here we’re talking about economic growth and this assumes that economic development is going to be synonymous with overall community development. As we’ll see later that’s not necessarily the case. The backbone of the growth machine is a growth coalition which involves local leaders, local business owners, renters, and local newspapers, and together these different groups work together to push the gross consensus. Each plays a different part: politicians because of their need for campaign funds rely heavily on donations from businesses so if the businesses are are growing then so are the campaign funds. Similarly the local media needs readership and customers to buy their news products and so, once again, economic growth translates into benefit for local media. And, of course, business leaders for the reasons of building profit want to have a friendly business climate and so the more donations they make to politicians, the more politicians respond by creating that desired climate. The only ones who aren’t really benefiting from all this are the individual workers and consumers people– who live in the community who may not actually benefit from any of the economic growth. Ultimately, under a growth machine scenario, you have a competition of two types of values. On the one hand are the exchange values which has to do with decisions that revolve around increasing economic profits. Every community has to make those decisions: how do we build out an economy to support the people who live here and provide for the resources they need. On the other hand, are the use values which have to do with quality of life things like environmental protection, having lots of recreational opportunities, the Arts, and so on. These things may not necessarily be profitable but they make life and communities a lot nicer. Therefore if exchange values are always trumping use values, we might be seeing economic growth at a cost to the quality of life. That’s not desirable, and many times as communities grow economically, they require a lot of infrastructural upgrades and that can create fiscal stress: more roads, more electrical grid, more water and sewage lines–all that costs money, and if there’s no taxes to pay for it then that’s going to be shouldered by the local residents. Finally, employment– growth economically does not necessarily lead to job creation, it leads to a redistribution of jobs. That means perhaps other places losing those jobs if it’s going up somewhere else. There’s a great deal of disruption that can happen if there’s an uptick in jobs, many of which may not even be occupied by local people as we saw with the fracking boom, a lot of times. In Pennsylvania, for instance, workers were coming from Louisiana and North Dakota so all the promises for new jobs may not have been a lie, but none of the jobs really went to any of the local people. So, then you have to question, why was that a benefit. As we’ve seen, most of the conflict perspectives has been informed with a Marxian viewpoint, which largely looks at social class relationships and the conflict between social classes resulting in different types of outcomes. Community scholars who use that perspective have tried to apply the Marxian perspectives to local settings. There are a couple exceptions, there are some conflict theories that are non Marxist and here we’re looking at William Gamson, who wrote about rancorous conflicts, and using primarily a functionalist perspective which was also systems based but essentially looked at levels of political stability and the ability to become integrated into the community. This was drawing heavily on a Parsonian view, which as we noted before, puts it closer to the ecological evolutionary perspective . The second non Marxist conflict theory we can note, is James Coleman’s model. As we see here he takes in to consideration not only the economics, but also the political and the cultural value conflicts. He has a whole system worked out where he says the initial issue that leads to a disruption of equilibrium starts the entire process. Following that, previously suppressed issues rise to the surface, so it’s kind of like you brush things under the rug until the top blows off and everything is there, and that’s when things become conflictual. Disagreement leads to each side portraying the other as bad, so a little bit of in-group /out-group dynamic. That results in such things as personal attacks and in the end the dispute becomes independent of the initial issue who actually started the conflict. Overall when you look at the conflict perspective you can note a couple patterns: one is that there’s a large focus on social injustice and inequality, and particularly if it’s influenced by the Marxian perspective. Conflict is viewed typically as a result of something in the system itself so it’s not like the interactionist perspective which is more about the individual and social interaction. In that respect it’s more similar to the ecological evolutionary perspective, or more broadly, the functionalist perspective. So, yes it was primarily Marxist in orientation, but there’s a couple of exceptions we noted at the end. The systemic focus iis similar to ecological evolutionary theory, but the difference is there’s more emphasis here on human agency. So in other words, these social systems didn’t just create themselves, they were the result of decisions made by people, and typically very powerful people who designed those systems for their own benefit.