Group Conflict Theory
by Erick Miron
Group Conflict Theory is defined as the hostility which exists when two groups believe they are competing for limited resources. The theory was coined by Donald Campbell in 1965 in his book, “Ethnocentrism: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes, and Group Behavior.” Campbell believed that conflict was bound to arise within groups who held conflicting interests and were competing for scarce resources. In their article, “Social Psychology of Prejudice: Historical and Contemporary Issues,” Victoria M. Esses, John F. Dovidio, Henry A. Danso, Lynne M. Jackson, and Antoinette Semenya discuss ways in which conflict can intensify between competing groups. While the article states that conflict is bound to be caused by a limit in tangible resources, it also expresses that the genuine root of the conflict and hostility lies within the mental perceptions of the groups. According to the article, “Perceived competition may be over a variety of real and symbolic resources,” (Esses et al., 98). In other words, real competition between groups doesn’t have to exist in order for conflict to be initiated. Often times, a group may simply feel threatened by the presence of another group, which causes the threatened group to believe that there is some form of competition (when that is in fact, not the case).
A prominent example of the Group Conflict Theory can be seen in American immigration. There appears to be a one-sided tension in American citizens towards immigrants, in which immigrants have been viewed as a threat to American society. One argument used by many Americans is the idea that immigrants take jobs away from the American population. According to Michael A. Zarate, Berenice Garcia, Azenett A. Garza, and Robert T. Hitlan’s article, “Cultural Threat and Perceived Realistic Group Conflict as Dual Predictors of Prejudice,” there is a perception that immigrants take jobs that could have been given to citizens. This perception causes many American citizens to have negative perceptions of immigrants. In this scenario, the “limited resources” which both groups are “competing” for are jobs. Despite the fact that most immigrants work high labor jobs with low-paying wages, there are American citizens who feel like the labor market is threatened by the presence of American immigrants.
LeVine, Robert A., Marilynn Brewer, and Donald T. Campbell. Ethnocentrism: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes, and Group Behavior. Wiley, 1971.
Esses, Victoria M., John F. Dovidio, Henry A. Danso, Lynne M. Jackson, and Antoinette Semenya. “Historical and Modern Perspectives on Group Competition.” Social Psychology of Prejudice: Historical and Contemporary Issues, edited by Christian S. Crandall and Mark Schaller, Lewinian Press, 2004, 97-111.
Zarate, A. Michael, Berenice Garcia, Azenett A. Garza, and Robert T. Hitlan. “Cultural Threat and Perceived Realistic Group Conflict as Dual Predictors of Prejudice.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, El Sevier, 2003, 99-104.
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