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conflicta disagreement or divergence of interests which may result in one party taking action against another. Conflict can occur at the inter-personal, group or societal level and may involve collective or individual action. It may arise out of simple dislike of another person or out of opposed collective interests. Marxists argue that conflict is endemic to capitalist society. In their view capitalism has created two classes of people, the proletariat (i.e. paid employees) and the bourgeoisie (i.e. entrepreneurs and their supporters), whose interests are diametrically opposed. This opposition of interests in the employment sphere leads to various forms of conflict including sabotage and STRIKES. In Marx's view this conflict would lead to the overthrow of capitalism. That this has not happened in most advanced industrial societies has been attributed to various factors, including rising living standards and the institutionalization of conflict. This is the development of DISPUTES PROCEDURES and mechanisms for COLLECTIVE BARGAINING which have provided TRADE UNIONS and managers with the means to resolve many manifestations of conflict. Putting a grievance into procedure (i.e. passing it to a joint management-union committee for discussion and resolution) tends to take the heat out of an issue, thereby lowering overt conflict. Although industrial conflict has not led to revolution in countries such as the UK, radical observers argue that there is nevertheless still a fundamental conflict of interests at work and that this is manifested in less overt or more indirect forms of conflict, such as ABSENTEEISM and LABOUR TURNOVER, which do not necessarily appear to be explicitly directed against the other party.
As against the Marxist view of two diametrically opposed interests in society PLURALISM suggests that there is a plurality of interests, possibly organized in interest groups, in any society or organization. Although on occasions these interests may conflict, pluralists would dispute that such conflicts are an expression of a fundamental cleavage. Instead conflict tends to arise over specific distributional issues, such as the size of an annual pay increase, and the composition of interest groups varies according to the issue at stake. Indeed some pluralists would go further and assert that there is a basic identity of interests underneath these specific differences. Pluralists argue that conflict can be beneficial in so far as its expression (‘giving voice’) can both reduce the intensity of conflict and provide the impetus to design procedures for resolving differences.
Pluralism has been an influential approach in political science, in the study of INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS, and in ORGANIZATIONAL ANALYSIS. In industrial relations pluralists argue that TRADE UNIONS are the expression of distinct employee interests and that recognition of them by managers enables the creation of mechanisms for conflict resolution and hence for managers to regain or maintain control of work. Pluralism has been a less explicit approach in the study of organizations but has nevertheless informed much of the recent work in this area.
For instance, writers have showed that whilst all in the organization may subscribe to the organization's broad goals, various departments may acquire specific and divergent interests relating to their contribution to these goals. These interests are expressed in the decisionmaking process, making it as much a political as a rational or technical process. Although an influential approach, pluralism has been criticized for its assumption that the power of interest groups is more or less equal and that there are no fundamental structural bases to power differences in organizations and society. See INDUSTRIAL DISPUTE, INDUSTRIAL ACTION, MANAGEMENT STYLE.