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Theories are invented to explain problems.

biological and social…

Social Theories
…applied to current
problems in
the social world.
Some general concepts and
terminology for social theories:
• Agency - power to make change: e.g, “she felt she had no agency until
she spoke up in the union meeting for the first time.”
• Collaboration - working together e.g class collaboration - leaders of the
working and ruling classes compromising to find a solution.
• Representation - who is speaking on behalf of society. E.g., often a
demand for rights groups is for “representation” meaning in parliament/ he
institutions of power.
• Access - e.g being able to access instruments of power - political party
leadership, high positions in the work place, getting your story told in the
• Individual struggle - extraordinary individuals making a stand (e.g the
early Martin Luther King.
• Collective struggle - uniting with others to fight for a common goal. (E.g.
Martin Luther King began to call on Black people to unite on ethnic and
class lines to fight against the white ruling class of America. He was then
Conflict theory
• The belief that social inequality leads to
conflict. Oppressed people will stand up
to oppressors to force change.
• Change includes
• -reforms (slow and gradual)
• -more radical types (instant and en
masse) eg REVOLUTION.
Applying conflict theory
• Change doesn’t happen because of
CONFLICT THEORY. Change happens
explains the conflict and puts in in a
historical context.
• Theory helps us understand past
present and future societal behaviour.
Examples of application:
• Gender inequality: women organise for their rights. Elite
women protested in the 1800s for the vote. working class and coloured
women protested in the 60s for abortion, divorce and workers rights.

• Racial Inequality: Slave revolts. 1950s- civil rights in

America, anti-apartheid in South Africa…

• Sexual Inequality: gay Rights movement in 1960s.

Stonewall Riots. Sydney’s first Gay Mardi gras. Today’s protests for

• Colonialism: indigenous struggles for land rights: Aborigines,

Native Americans, Palestinians and many more
• Gender inequality: Feminism; Simone de Beauvoir
• Racial Inequality: Black Power, Marxism; Malcolm X
• Sexual Inequality: Queer Theory; Judith Butler
• Colonialism: Post-colonial studies: Franz Fanon, Edward
Conflict Theory and War
• Marxists and other proponents of conflict theory argue that war happens
because the ruling class plunder one another’s pools of wealth. (Imperialism.)

• Marx wrote that the ruling class are a “Band of warring brothers” meaning they
work together to exploit workers over all over the world but they go to war with
each other because competition for wealth-accumulation is central to the way
capitalism works.

• Marxists (eg socialists/communists) argue that war only benefits the rulers
(bourgeoisie) and never the workers (proletariat) who have to fight and be

The Russian Marxists, the Bolsheviks, called on Russians to boycott the war
and “turn the imperialist war into a class war.” In other words, reject
Nationalism and see the bosses as the enemies rather than see their fellow
proletarians (workers) in Germany as the enemy.
Cartoon of

Would the
picture be
different today?
• What are the
inequalities faced by
women? How have
these changed or
continued over time?
• Time, gender, structural inequality,
patriarchy, socio-economic
bourgeois, proletarian,
solidarity, subordination
Conflict Theory (Marxism)
and women
• Marxists see women’s subordination as necessary for the functioning of
capitalism. Women are reduced to baby-makers and domestic servants to serve
the interests of the bourgeoisie. (the rich) the state doesn’t need to pay anyone
to house, clothe, bathe and feed the working class coz women do it for free! Coz
they’re so “lovely”!

• Society is divided along lines of class. Male and female workers must unite
against the exploitation of the ruling class (the bosses.) Marxists (conflict
theorists) believe that men do not necessarily benefit from women's
subordination. The system oppresses both sexes. Bourgeois women benefit
from sexism because rich women can exploit poor women.

• The struggle is about class.

• Conflict theorists argue that class conflict is the essential drive to all social
change. The working class or those without economic superiority would have to
push against the capitalist ways and revolt to cause change.

Important text: Marx and Engel's The Family, Private Property and the State
• Feminists see inequality as the result of the
patriarchy – innate dominance in men.

• feminism is a social theory for the battle for equality in

political, economical and social rights for woman.

• Feminism is an outcry against sexual inequality and

oppression and exploitation in a male-ruling society.
Over time this movement has branched off into more
specific feminist and political perspectives.

• The struggle is about gender. The “sisterhood” etc.

“Though she was a tiger
lady, our hero didn’t have
to fire a shot to floor her.
After one look at his “Mr..
Leggs slacks”, she was
ready to have him walk all
over her. That noble
styling sure soothes the
savage beast….”

Marxism links all

oppressions -racism,
sexism etc as pillars
of class society
There are some “Marxist feminists” Who put gender first but see
the link with class oppression.

There are also anti-Marxist feminists who think all women should
stand together no matter what class they belong to.

What do you think?


What about race?


On class and gender…

Can a billionaire woman who makes her fortune in diamond mining in

Sierra Leone really say she’s fighting for all women? What about the
women victims of blood-diamond wars? Or who have to work for
rubbish wages in the mine?

According to the Marxists, the rich woman’s class position demands

that she continue her support of exploitation - whether the victims are
male or female.

Baiada workers vs CEOs


Marxist feminists urge women

to have solidarity with workers and
the poor.

Bourgeoisie feminists/anti-Marxist
Feminists believe the West can
end women's oppression through
force and occupation. So they
tend to support the “war on terror”
and the banning of the burqa
(as in France.)
Evolutionary Theories
Concepts / terminology
- survival of the fittest
• Natural selection
• Adaptation
• Evolution
• Westernisation
• Eurocentic….. Ethnocentric
• Biological determinism
Evolutionary Theory +
• According to Evolutionary theory,
more civilized and developed
societies have more order and
therefore should experience lower
rates of crime. Compared to
societies that aren’t as developed
they actually have higher rates of
crime and incidence.

• The contradiction is that studies of

societies show much lower
likelihoods of crime compared with
modern, Western civilizations.
Evolutionary Theory +
workplace safety
According to evolutionary theorists, industrialism gave rise to the
welfare state and bosses that would ensure the survival of their workers
- for developments sake if not humanity’s!

And yet today, work place accidents cause more deaths in Australia
than car accidents. So its more dangerous to go to work that drive a

Shouldn’t the natural order of things have ironed that out by now????
Where to now for this society is we are traveling on a “unilinear” path of
civilization and improvement?

(Thanks Rachel!)
“A Darwinian Theory of Beauty”
• Charles Darwin’s biological theory of
evolution (organisms changing in order
to adapt to environmental needs) can
be related to Beauty. Traditional and
mainstream notions of beauty are
Discuss plastic surgery…
• The article discusses the idea of how beauty in art, music or beautiful things are
not just simply ‘in the eye of the beholder’ but rather within our human nature
with ‘deep evolutionary origins’. The affect of cultural conditioning can be seen
as the reassurance of our perception/value of beauty in connections to our
human nature. It is also recognized that the wealthier culture are usually more
desirable in perception

Poverty (Thanks Cassie and others!)
Evolutionary theory suggests the
poor remain in poverty because of
their adaptations to the burdens of
poverty. Poverty, it would seem, is a
natural feature of civilization.
Concepts / terminology
• Ecology
• Sustainability
• Population target
• Surplus
• Food production
• Inequality
• Capitalism
Thomas Malthus, who wrote his essay on “The Principle of Population” in 1798,
thought the world was getting overpopulated then, when world population was
less than 1 billion people. Malthus argued that it is “a law of nature that
population growth is faster than growth in food production”. Therefore any
increase in the living standards of the poor would lead to them having more
children, causing an imbalance between food production and population which
would lead to famine and disease, thus removing these surplus mouths and
restoring equilibrium.He argued that inequality was natural and good (along
with smallpox and slavery) while speaking out against soup kitchens and early

Heard any echoes of Malthus today?

Dick Smith’s population Puzzle anyone?
Echoes of Malthus in the
“ **** off we’re full” …scourge.
(Sorry I don’t know what else
to call it!)
Malthusian theory today…
Blaming poor non-whites

• “In light of the possible destruction of the planet, there is a noxious

argument that puts the blame for climate change not on the US, or
Britain, or on big polluters like Shell or BHP Billiton, but on
overpopulation. Not the overpopulation of just anyone, but of poor non-
whites - particularly from Africa, India, and China. Figures such as Sir
David Attenborough, Sir Bill Gates and other rich white men are some of
the major proponents arguing for and funding programs to limit
population growth in the third world to solve climate change.

Lovelock and Attenborough in particular are key members of the British

based Optimum Population Trust which argues that carbon emissions in
the West can be offset by sending condoms to Africa.The well-respected
National Geographic magazine, in its Collectors Edition: State of the
Earth 2010, opens with an A3 photo of Asian faces with the headline,
“Crowding our Planet”. This is followed on the next page by a photo of a
boat carrying “undocumented African immigrants…

Socialist Alternative magazine, Michael Kandelaars 05 Feb 2010”

• Excuse me for letting my slides get a bit
• Review:
1. What was Malthus’s argument in
• 2. Why was he against soup kitchens?
• 3. How do these ideas relate to
Darwin’s theory of evolution ?
• 4. In what context is Malthusianism
arising t
Should there be a group that has close to nothing, a
group that is less superior to us? Will poverty
naturally disappear as our societies further evolve?
The horror of world poverty…
About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related
causes, the problem is that hungry people are trapped in severe
poverty. They lack the money to buy enough food to nourish them.
Being constantly malnourished, they become weaker and often sick.
This makes them increasingly less able to work, which then makes
them even poorer and hungrier. This downward spiral often continues
until death for them and their families. It is particularly shocking as
there is actually enough food produced in the world for every person
to be obese!

Poverty is a feature of all modern

societies and cultures. Evolutionary
theory suggests that the poor remain in
poverty because of their adaptations to
the burdens of poverty…
Evolutionary theory and
So Evolutionary theory basically says
societies move from simple (crap) societies to
complex ( superior – e.g. Western/ civilized
developed) societies. So shouldn’t
Western/modern societies like that here in
Australia have stopped the incidence of
poverty? Or do we apply Malthus’s theory
and say that starvation, man-made and
natural disasters are just nature’s way of
keeping the population size low?
Q. How would evolutionary theory apply
to gender inequality? The persecution of
gay people? The Aids epidemic in
Africa? The suffering of the third world
which is predominantly brown-skinned?
“Fear of a Brown Planet” Ameer Rahman
Darwin didn’t mean for his biological theory
to be applied to human societies. Infact he
was against slavery when most intellectuals
were for it.
Darwin ’s theory was used by Nazi’s during
WWII to support and justify Eugenics and the
study and classification of races into a
hierarchical order due to supposed
“So what did the
Evolutionist say to the

Marxists talk about the “common sense” view of society which is in fact merely
an acceptance of capitalist values. One example is the common acceptance that
we live in a “meritocracy”

• How does the notion of a meritocracy relate to the evolutionary view?

• Critics of Marxism say that today there is more social mobility. Public
education aims to allow equal access to all children to become successful. We
are all “equal before the law”… etc. So is there no longer a need for “conflict”
or radical change?

• Critics also say that class is too different today than it was in Marx’s day
(industrial rev) Society has “evolved.” so the theory is no longer relevant.
• Today the privileged use evolutionary theory as a
justification of class inequality. They call the
modern class system (Capitalism) a “meritocracy” -
meaning those that get ahead do so because
they’ve earned it. An echo of “survival of the fittest.”

• Perhaps today class structure is less rigid than

several hundred years ago. There is more social
mobility. Public education aims to allow equal
access to all children to become successful. We
are all “equal before the law”… etc.

• We are taught that privileged people can become

underprivileged through bad decisions (e.g. sub
prime mortgage crisis) and vice versa (the classic
poor migrant moves to the Big Apple, works hard
and strikes it rich…heard that one before!!!!)

It is however the case that the majority of people

do not break from the class they were born into
(e.g., working class or ruling class.) Statistics show
a widening gap between rich and poor in OECD
countries over the last 30 years.
• 1. What are “eugenics”
• 2. How did Darwin’s theory get applied
to slavery? And how was it used by
• 3. Why do (socially literate) people now
talk about “ethnicity” rather than “race”?
• Functionalism: a model for society.
• Functionalist theory: theory used to
analyse functionalist society.

• (Marxists call our society “capitalist” and want

to change it to be more “socialist.” Feminists
call our society “patriarchal” and also want it
to be changed. Functionalists do not see the
need for radical or dramatic change. As in the
evolutionist view, Society will take care of
Functionalist Theory
Gradual/incremental change
Differentiation/ specialization
Functionalist Theory
• Like evolutionary theory, society changes
according to need. But change is based on
equilibrium. When there are two opposing
forces, the middle ground will win and gentle
change will take place.
• This equilibrium is facilitated through institutions
of society - the courts, the parliament, trade
union negotiation and academia.
• Little acknowledgment of collective struggle or
the reasons behind change (e.g. structural
Now some examples….
What would Conflict Theorists
say about “equilibrium”?
• Feminist response to sexual harassment in
the workplace?
• Post-colonialist response to Israeli settlement
expansion into the West Bank?
• Queer Theorist’s response to homophobic
• Marxist response to police breaking a picket?
Ghetto-isation of poor
· Ghetto - areas of society where the majority of the under class live.
· poor facilities, no access to health services, poor sanitation, low supplies
of vital resources
· high crime rates
· cyclical. Inter-generational poverty.
· Hurricane Katrina – poorfamilies forced to “loot” and “steal” to survive.

Criminalization of poverty - heavy-handling of crimes only

the poor would bother committing.

How does our “common sense” functionalist

society deal with poverty and crime?
“checks and balances” - nothing can go wrong because there are
checks in place…
Functionalist theorists
argue society will offer new
means of coping with disaster:
• Welfare, soup kitchens, women’s refuges, docs, extra
police, extra security, special reporters to look into
the problem, human rights lawyers, the high court…
public education campaigns… scholarships for a few
poor kids… sponsor a starving child organizations…
“next year’s election”… perhaps a “Wikileak” when a
nasty truth has been buried just a little bit too long…
Functionalism Failed New Orleans!
So if there is a problem in society, there will always be at
least one part of society (institution or group) that will act
on the problem and maintain balance.
In response to the disaster, the national army corps came
to aid the relief. Their efforts however were not enough
for the reconstruction and many people in New Orleans
still live on ramshackle accommodation.
There was a levy system put into place to ensure the safety
of the city in New Orleans . But President Bush at the
time, refused to fund it properly, and instead poured
money into the war in Iraq . So although there are
“checks and balances” built into the system sometimes
they are not sufficient.
• 1. What “functions” should have saved/rehabilitated New
• 2. Consider public education. Account for your own experience
of public education. Explore the reasons behind changes and
continuity in this experience, using each of the three theories.
• 3. Choose any issue/problem in the world today and make an
argument for the superiority of one of the theories. (The one you
think is best!)