Economic Theory Of Conflict Sociology Essay
Many theories of conflict exist in explaining the nature of conflict in society. The Economic Conflict theory, Human Needs Theory of conflict, Relative Deprivation theory, Protracted Social Conflict theory (PSC) and Psycho-cultural Conflict theory are the theoretical underpinnings of this study, since the Bawku conflict hinges on the issues that these theories deal with.
Economic theory of conflict
Economists, like all theorists, attempt to explain the occurrence of conflict in human society through economic explanations and basically see humans as rational beings who have the tendency to fight over things that are material (Faleti, 2006). This has led to the greed thesis and grievance thesis in attempting to explain conflicts in society. The greed thesis sees conflict in society as resulting from human greed and the desire of some people, called conflict entrepreneurs, to benefit from conflict that propels them to go to war (Collier, 2006). Collier gives the example of a rebel group in a country, which uses grievance as a bait to go to war in order to gain economic benefits.
The grievance thesis, however, believes that conflict in society is not just the result of greed, but a number of economic, social and historical factors (Collier, 2006). Collier (2006) observes that lack of economic opportunities such as employment, poverty, lack of educational opportunities and underdevelopment are factors that mainly cause conflict although the geography, history, ethnic and religious factors may also account for the existence of conflict in a society.
Also, Berdal & Malone (2000) opine that economic factors such as poverty, economic disparities and unemployment are the main factors that compel people to violence although a lot of other factors do exist. They believe that the contest for the control of economic assets, resources and systems are the basic causes of conflicts in human society.
Thus, economic theories attribute the existence of conflict in society to the contest for resources, unemployment, economic inequalities, poverty, human greed and underdevelopment. Some conflicts which arise from economic factors such as the fight over resources tend to affect development negatively because these conflicts become violent thereby leading to destruction of property and people livelihoods. As a weakness, the economic theory over-emphasizes economic factors as being the main reason for conflict in society. This is not so because a conflict could exist independent of economic factors unless we want to argue that man’s reason for conflict is mainly economic in nature. New conflicts arising within many countries arise from other factors such as identity, ethnicity and religion other than only economic factors.
Human needs theory of conflict
The human needs theory of conflict is akin to the relative deprivation and the frustration- aggression theories of conflict. However, the main underpinning of the human needs theory is that humans have a plethora of needs which they seek to fulfill and any hindrance to the fulfillment of these needs can lead to conflict. Abraham Maslow (1970) in his hierarchy of needs identifies physiological needs (security), love or belongingness, self-esteem and self actualization as important needs that all humans tend to seek. These needs have been further developed by Burton (1990), Azar (1991) and Max-Neef (1991). Burton (1990) identifies response, stimulation, security, recognition, distributive justice, rational needs and the need for a sense of control as needs that are fundamental to humans. Manfred Marx-Neff (1990) also puts human needs in a hierarchical order consisting of nine namely subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, privacy, creativity, identify and freedom. All these needs these scholars identify are universal needs of humans which they seek in order to fulfill and are integral part of human existence (Faleti, 2006).
Max-Neef (1991) and Burton (1991) agree that needs may be peculiar to individuals, cultures or groups and humans all have the same basic needs which they seek. Marx-Neef (1991) in particular posits that the inadequate satisfaction of the fundamental needs results into pathology and this pathology can be expressed economically through unemployment or poverty and politically through crime, violence, xenophobia and marginalization. Human needs, he contends, are met through satisfiers (those things that are denied). These satisfiers can be compromised but the needs themselves cannot. Needs are inherent and fundamental to human survival and development, and have to be met or else, it results into violence (Burton, 1990).
Thus, the human needs theory sees the source of conflict and violence as resulting from the inability to meet human fundamental needs. The UN DESA (2001) states that the suppression of needs for subsistence, security, identity, affection, freedom and participation are very relevant for explaining ethnic conflicts. The needs of both the Kusasis and Mamprusis in Bawku include who owns the chieftaincy. However, they are deep interests which tend to derive these needs. These include political support and small arms. The needs of both ethnic groups remain very fundamental, uncompromising and non-negotiable.
The Human needs theory believes that conflict in society can be resolved when needs are met. This embeds needs-based negotiation which involves assessing the needs of the parties and meeting these needs (Barsky, 2000). Talking of the Bawku conflict, the needs of both Kusasis and Mamprusis move concurrently and for the conflict to be resolved, both needs must be met. This, however, seems difficult because the needs the two ethnic groups seek (the chieftaincy) are the same. This raises the question: when the need is one and indivisible between two parties, how it can be met? The human needs theory also fails to explain which needs should be met with appropriate satisfiers to resolve a conflict or prevent and even how these can be met from occurring (Faleti, 2006).
Relative Deprivation Theory
This theory is a corollary to the human needs theory of conflict, and mainly sees conflict as arising from the denial (deprivation) of the satisfaction of human needs. Unlike the human needs theory, the relative deprivation theory looks at the needs of two individuals or groups relative to each other. According to Rosati (1990), humans have basic needs which they seek to fulfill. The denial (deprivation) of these needs by other groups such as an ethnic group or an individual can lead to conflict between the two groups or individuals. Any attempt by one group or individual to prevent another group from satisfying these needs will result in strong resistance from that group through violence. Human needs are non-negotiable and cannot be compromised and therefore their deprivation leads to conflict (Burton, 1990). Needs such as subsistence, identity, freedom, security, participation and affection are fundamental to all people and cannot be countenanced. Thus, to provide access to one and deny access to another is comparable to complete denial and could make people to resort to violence (Faleti, 2006).
A group that has been denied access to power or a resource such as land that they claim legitimacy will find a way to defend that need. The group compares that need relative to another group and could resort to violence in order to satisfy their quest (need) for that power or resource. The ethnic conflict between the Kusasis and Mamprusis which is the subject of this research arises from expression of deprivation of their basic needs for identity, recognition, security, power (chieftaincy) and resource (land). These issues make that need uncompromising and non-negotiable. Both groups compare that need relative to each other and this makes the resolution of the conflict somewhat difficult. It is not possible to negotiate a settlement to a conflict that requires one of the parties to compromise a basic need (UN DESA, 2001, p. 16). The long quest for power which both ethnic groups hold on to remains very dear and totally attached to their whole-being. In sum, conflicts based on deprivation of one’s basic needs are protracted and difficult to resolve since they are what Burton (1990) calls ‘deep-rooted conflicts’ which are far more intractable because they are caused by the frustration and denial of basic human needs. As a result their protraction, these conflicts tend to produce strings of violence a cycle of violence which results in insecurity, low productivity in economic activities and, thus affecting development.
The relative deprivation theory has some shortcomings. The denial (deprivation) or inability of people to satisfy their basic needs cannot be the only reason that accounts for conflict among groups. Both Ross (1997) and Deutsch (1991) observe that a multitude of factors come to play when attempting to understand social conflicts. In other words, no one reason can adequately explain social conflict. Thus, the theory over-emphasizes the deprivation of human needs as the sole factor for explaining social conflict to the detriment of other factors. The theory also places premium on some needs as being more important than others, which is not so. All human needs are equal and uncompromising. It is not only the deprivation of needs for identity, recognition, security, the right to belong and power that will result in conflict. Any need denied can also result in conflict. Also, conflict cannot be resolved by merely meeting needs, peoples’ interest also matter a lot in conflict resolution (Frisher & Kreashly, 1990). Conflict resolution involves both needs and interest being adequately met.
Protracted Social Conflict theory
The protracted social conflict (PSC) theory, which also refers to in some circles as the social conflict theory, mainly has its underpinnings in Azar’s Model of Protracted Social Conflict. Azar’s (1990, p. 93) protracted social conflict theory simply refers to "…prolonged and often violent struggles by communal groups for such basic needs as security, recognition, acceptance, fair access to political institutions and economic participation". The protracted social conflict theory examines the root causes, effects and the implications of conflicts in a society or country which are protracted or intractable. Thus, the theory examines conflicts which keep recurring and seem almost irresolvable (Reiman, 2000).
To this end, Coleman (2000) says that an intractable conflict is one that is often intense, deadlocked and difficult to resolve. The common characteristics of intractable (protracted) conflicts are:
They are often intense, persistent and vicious with occasional outbursts of conflicts;
They involve values, identity and needs that the parties consider part of their survival;
The effects of the conflict are often pervasive affecting all aspects of a person or community’s social, political and economic life and tend to also affect institutions;
There is hopelessness for a constructive resolution;
There is motivation to harm which creates a general insecurity and fear; and
There is resistance for a peaceful resolution of the conflict (Coleman, 2000).
The causes of intractable conflict usually include questions of values, claim to identity, cultural norms, power, resources, human needs, past history of ethnocentrism, discrimination, colonialism and abuse (Coleman, 2000).
The protracted social conflict theory identifies a plethora of factors as being responsible for intractable conflicts. This theory pays attention to ethnic and other forms of communal conflicts and emphasizes that the sources of these protracted conflicts are more internal (within a state) rather than external (Azar, 1990; Reiman, 2000). These sources, according to Azar (1990), include cultural, political, economic, colonial and institutional factors.
According to Azar (1990), there are four clusters of variables that are preconditions for protracted social conflict - the communal content, deprivation of needs, the role of the state and international linkages (dimension). Azar maintains that the communal content remains the most important cause of protracted social conflicts. This is seen in the identity group - racial, religious, ethnic, cultural among others. In multi-ethnic societies, when one group attempts to dominate or marginalize other groups and deprives them of their needs or there is a past history of ethnic marginalization, it breeds fragmentation, frustration and polarization which become very difficult to resolve (Azar, 1990; Reiman, 2000).
The second precondition for PSC is the deprivation of needs. According to Azar (1990), deprivation of individuals or groups from fulfilling their needs leads to grievances which are usually expressed collectively. Azar opines that needs are ontological and non-negotiable and makes conflicts arising out of needs deprivation intense, vicious and intractable. He states that human needs include development needs, security needs, political access needs and identity/acceptance needs (cultural and religious expression).
The state’s role is also a precondition for protracted social conflict. Azar (1990) observes that the state lacks the ability to properly mediate in conflict by getting needs satisfaction for multiple communities or groups. He states further that the state at times takes certain policies that tend to discriminate against other groups based on their communal identity. For example, the political interference of the state in relation to multi-ethnic groups can lead to or exacerbate conflict, thereby making it protracted or when a group is deprived of their needs, it can lead to dissatisfaction and violent actions. Azar (1990) adds that the power monopolization by dominant communities or groups results in "crises of legitimacy" as a result of the state discrimination against other ethnic groups and this makes the state incapable of meeting the needs of the other groups. The last condition for PSC is the role of international linkage. The influence of the Diaspora supporting with arms to rival groups in a conflict tends to protract it.
In sum, the protracted social conflict theory is an all-encompassing theory that looks at conflict from the structural, cultural, ethnic, political, economic, religious, human needs as well as social factors. Mail, Ramsbotham & Woodhouse (1999) suggest that, in resolving protracted social conflicts, there is the need to properly manage ethnic dominance, provide economic opportunities for people and the state (government) should protect and provide minority needs and rights. Proper needs satisfaction remains important for resolving protracted social conflicts (Coleman, 2000). The Bawku conflict fits well into a PSC because its sources involve claim to values, identity, power as well as cultural contestation. The continuous and vicious cycle of violence in Bawku makes the conflict defy any workable solution despite all interventions that government and NGOs have made and are still making.