October 03, 2007


Caption: This man is enacting an unrealistic conflict on an inoffensive monkey.

Aside from comments and links about current events, the theme of this week's Goat Rope is the sociology of conflict. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

You have probably noticed that sometimes people want to fight about specific issues and sometimes they just wanna fight.

Sociologist Lewis Coser in his little classic The Functions of Social Conflict referred to those two very different situations as realistic and unrealistic conflict, which is a pretty useful distinction.

Realistic conflicts engaged in because of clashing interests

contain an element of limitation insofar as the struggle is only a means to an end; if the desired result can be attained as well or better by other means, such other means may be employed. In such instances, conflict is only one of several functional alternatives.

Unrealistic conflicts are quite different:

There are cases, however, where the conflict arises exclusively from aggressive impulses which seek expression no matter what the object, where in the conflict the choice of object is purely accidental. In such cases, no such limitations exist, since it is not the attainment of a result, but rather the acting out of aggressive energies which occasions the outbreak.

While realistic conflict will cease when resolved or when a better way is found to deal with the problem, unrealistic conflict is less stable:

The underlying aggressiveness can more easily be led into other channels, precisely because it is not directly bound to the object which has become a target by "situational accident." It is likely to manifest itself in different ways if the particular object is no longer available.

Obviously, these are models or ideal types. In the real world, some unrealistic elements can enter into a realistic conflict. And sometimes the frustrations caused by real grievances are displaced onto convenient targets in an unrealistic conflict. For example, blame for the real economic grievances of German workers was displaced onto Jews and other convenient targets in the Nazi era.

One way of distinguishing between the two is whether conflict is engaged in as a means to an end or whether it is an end in itself. The former kind is more likely to be resolvable by rational means.

LOGAN COUNTY VIGIL. Less than a mile from the place where police say Megan Williams was held captive, tortured, and sexually abused, around 40 people gathered for a vigil calling for justice and unity. The event was organized by the American Friends Service Committee and the Logan County Improvement League. This was the lead story on local television. Here's coverage from the Charleston Gazette, State Journal, AP, and Metro News. I think the best coverage was produced by Scott Finn at WV Public Radio, but it's not available online yet.

THE WHEELS OF COMMERCE. Speaking of unleashing capitalism, which we weren't, according to the NY Times,

The United States maintained its role as the leading supplier of weapons to the developing world in 2006, followed by Russia and Britain, according to a Congressional study to be released Monday. Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia were the top buyers.

The global arms market is highly competitive, with manufacturing nations seeking both to increase profits and to expand political influence through weapons sales to developing nations, which reached nearly $28.8 billion in 2006.

No doubt all these arms will find good homes among people of good will...

POLL SHOWS BUSH OUT OF TOUCH...AGAIN. A new poll shows that 72 percent of Americans support expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program, which Bush as threatened to veto.

ON THE SAME NOTE, here's Dean Baker on Bush's latest Social Security scare tactics.



Jspiker said...

Have you noticed since everyone has a camcorder these days no
one talks about seeing UFOs like they used to?

In the 60's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the
world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.

Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, 'I think I'll
squeeze these dangly things here and drink whatever comes out?'

Cuz in OH said...

Oh boy, at the Legion Post my hubby belongs to you can really see "aggressive impulses which seek expression no matter what the object." Just sit at the bar for an hour. I've never seen anything like it, and even tho' what you were touching on isn't really comparable, just reading that quote above validated my feelings about what those guys sit around doing all night.
(This is probably the worst couple of sentences I've ever written - totally mangled - gut I liked your subject matter today)

me again said...

whoops - "but", not "gut"

El Cabrero said...

JSpiker--I had not noticed that. Good point about Prozac nation too!

Cuz--Thanks! I think the distinction between realistic and unrealistic conflicts is a really practical idea (especially in bars).

Anonymous said...


very funny!!! i too like the prozac comment and cows...that could be expanded to a variety of common practice things we do....i really wonder sometimes who the first person to do these things was and if they were looked at as crazy or cool--

Jspiker said...

On a dark night in Nam, from the bridge of a Destroyer, I once challenged an unidentified ship to "Halt...Identify Yourself or be Fired Upon"

I essence, I told them I would "Blow them out of the Water" unless they sent back the proper code word.

The response was.... "This is the USS New Jersey...Fire at Will".

Now THAT's an unrealistic conflict!

It's amazing what a few beers can do sometimes....

ps...it's good to be back. I really enjoy the blog and as always, you do a great job with the subject matter.