Academic; Sociology- Structural Conflict Theories


This theory has two main sub-orientations. The first is the radical structural theory represented by the Marxist dialectical school with exponents like Marx and Engels, V. I. Lenin, etc. The second is the liberal structuralism represented by Ross (1993), Scarborugh 1998) and the famous work of Johan Gahung (1990) on structural violence. It also shares similarity with transformative theory which studies the reactions of individuals, groups, cultures, institutions and societies to change. It further sees unrelated interest based on competition for resources, which often are assumed to be scarce, as being reason for social conflicts (Collier, 2000:2).

Theories like Marxism, in its thesis on ‘historical materialism’ shows conflicts as mostly tied to economic structures and social institutions.

The main contention of the structural conflict is crafted into the particular ways societies are structured and organized. The theory sees social problems like political and economic exclusion, injustice, poverty, disease, exploitation, inequity etc., as sources of conflict. Structuralists believe that conflicts occur as a result of the exploitative and unjust nature of human societies, domination of one class by another, etc.

 Realist Theories

Realist theory or realism highlight inherency and traces the root of conflict to a flaw in human nature which is seen to be selfish and engaging in the pursuit of personalized self-interest defined as power.  The theory originates from classical political theory, and shares both theological and biological doctrines about an apparent weakness and individualism inherent in human nature. Thus, the starting point from the explanation of conflict is the individual level.

Realism believe that “competitive processes”  between actors, primarily defined as states, is the natural expression of conflict by parties engaged in the pursuit of scarce and competitive interests (Morton Deutsch, 1973). This theory has three component parts:  Descriptive Realism which sees the world as an arena of conflict; Explanatory Realism which seeks to show that there are genetic defects which push humankind into behaving negatively (Koestler, 1967)  and that wars become inevitable because there is no mechanism to stop them from occurring   (Walt, 1959:232), and Prescriptive Realism  which  builds on the arguments of Descriptive and Explanatory realisms to say that decision makers (individuals, groups or nations) have a moral justification to defend their basic interest and ensure self-preservation using any means  necessary.

 Biological Theories: The view that humankind is evil by nature has a long tradition. The thinking is that since our ancestor were instinctively violent beings, and since we evolved from them, we too must bear destructive impulses in our genetic makeup. In their assessment of human nature, classical theorists like Thomas Hobbes, St Augustine, Malthus, and Freud expressed the belief that human beings are driven by a natural instinct to self-preservation. Because of this tendency, Hobbes described life in the ‘state of nature’ as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. In the same way, Saint Augustine (1948) and Neibuhr (1953), and some theologians referred to the linkage between violent behaviour and original sin in humanity. To Neibuhr, humans  are driven by a natural quest “will-to-live”/”will-to-power” to seek power, personal security and survival at the expense  of other around them.

The biological theories have given rise to what may be referred to as the innate theory of conflict which contends that conflict is innate in all social interactions, and among all animals, including human beings. The theory is broad in coverage, incorporating scholars with biological   backgrounds, such as human physiology, ethology, socio-biology (the use of biological theory to explain social and human behaviour) psychology (frustration –aggression theory by Dollard et al.)etc. It argues that humans are animals, albeit higher species of animals, and would fight naturally over things they cherish.

The Frustration-Aggression Theory: Which John Dollar and his research associates initially developed in 1939 and has been expand and modified by scholars like Leonard Berkowtiz (1962) and Aubrey Yates (1962) appears to be the most common explanation for violent behaviour stemming from inability to fulfill needs. Theorists who rely on this explanation use the psychological theories of motivation and behaviour, as well as frustration and aggression (Anifowose, 1982:6). In an attempt to explain aggression, scholars point to the difference between what people feel they want  or deserve to what they actually get- the “want-get-ratio” (Feierabend, 1969:256-7) and difference between “expected need satisfaction” and “actual need satisfaction” (Davies, 1962:6). Where expectation does into meet attainment, the tendency is for people to confront those they hold responsible for frustrating their ambitions. This is the central argument that Ted Robert Gurr’s relative deprivation thesis addressed in saying that “the greater the discrepancy, however marginal between what is sought and what seem attainable, the greater will be the chances that anger and violence will result” (1970:24).

The main explanation that the frustration-aggression theory provides is that aggression in not just undertaken as a natural reaction or instinct  as realists and biological theorists assume, but that it is the outcome of frustration and that  in a situation where the legitimate desires an individual is  denied either directly or by the indirect consequence of the way the society is structured, the feeling of disappointment may leads such a person to express his anger through violence that will be directed at those he holds responsible or people who are directly or indirectly related to them.

 Physiological Theories: Theorists of this school share the biological and hormonal origins of aggression and conflict in individuals with realists, theologians and other but add by providing the conditions under which this happen. It may thus, look tautological to include them as a separate category, except that we do it here for emphasis only.

According to them, even though human have the capability to be aggressive, this capability remains idle until stimulated by necessity or encouraged by success. (Scott 1958) noted that the expression of aggression has a lot to do with learning. In essence, the physiological sources of aggressive behaviour are a function of several factors including human nature and the environment. As he pointed out, “we must not forget that in any real situation, behaviour will be the result of factors from all levels”. (p.2)

 Economic Theories: There is a tendency among economist to provide an economic explanation for the existence and endurance of conflict.   This is largely because people in conflict are assumed to be fighting over, not about, something that is material. The question then becomes: is the conflict a result of greed (intention to ‘’corner’ something) or of grievance (anger arising over feelings of injustice).

 Psycho-Cultural Theory: This theory emphasis the role of culturally induced conflict; it shows how enemy images are created from deep-seated attitudes about human action that are learned from early stages of growth in the explanation of conflict (Ross, P. 18). It contends, therefore, that even though there are different forms of identities, the one that is based on people’s ethnic origin and the culture that is learned on the basis of the ethnic origin is one of the most important ways of explaining violent conflict.

 Human Needs Theory: The position of human need theory is similar to that of Frustration-Aggression and Relative Deprivation theory. Its main assumption is that all humans, have basic human need which they seek of fulfill, and that the denial and frustration of these needs by other groups or individuals could affect them immediately or late, thereby leading to conflict (Rosati et al., 1990). Basic human needs’ in this sense comprise physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. In essence, to provide access to one (e.g. food) and deny or hinder access to another (i.g freedom of worship) will amount to denial and could make people to resort to violence in an effort to protect these needs.

 Systemic Theories: Systemic theories provide a socio-structural explanation for the emergence of violent social conflicts. The position of this theory is that reasons(s) for any social conflict lie in the social contact within which it occurs. As Johnson (1966:12-13) noted in the case of political violence, “any analytical penetration of the behaviour characterized as ‘purposive political violence’ must utilize as its tools a conception of the social context in which it occurs”. This paradigm turns ours focus to social factors and the effects of large-scale (usually sudden) changes in social, political and economic processes that would usually guide against instability.

 Relational Theory: Relational theories attempt to provide explanations for violent conflicts between groups by exploring sociological, political, economic and historical relationship been such groups. Thus, the belief here is that cultural and value differences as well as group interests all influence relationships between individuals and groups in different ways. At the sociological level, differences between cultural values is a challenge to individual or group identify formation processes and create the tendency to see others as intruders who have to be prevented from encroaching upon established cultural boundaries..

Theories Best Suited For The Boko Haram Crises: is the relation theory. This is because the boko haram crises comprise sociological, political, economic, cultural and historical relationship. The fear of dominance play a vital role here, where there is a belief that the Christians are having a upper hand in the country and their religion is gradually fading away, the western education is taking most of their children away from their religion. They believe that they are supposed to lead the country and control the economy of the country but since it did not work out that way for the past few years they decided to put up problem in the country.

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