Solidarity Movement Essay

Despite the fact that from 1945 to 1989 the Soviet Union imposed significant control over the internal and external affairs of eastern European nations, that control was never complete. At one time or another that situation was true in all Eastern bloc nations, but nowhere so much as in Poland. The Poles demonstrated their independent streak at intervals in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s.

In many instances there were riots and bloodshed, and Soviet troops stationed in Poland ostensibly as defense against a Western attack were used to keep order. In 1953 the Polish premier informed the Soviets that while he would accept military assistance from Soviet troops already in the country, he would mobilize the entire Polish army to fight them if more were sent in. In 1980 a labor union that named itself Solidarity would come into being. It would eventually play a principle role in the ending of the communist regime in Poland.

Solidarity was founded in September 1980 in immediate response to increasing food prices, which had already precipitated several strikes. There was already a basic organization in place around which representatives of the striking workers could meet and discuss issues. This was the Workers Defense Committee, which had come into being as a result of strikes, riots, and the killing and injuring of workers in the 1970s.

The month before Solidarity was formed, almost 20,000 workers struck at the Lenin Shipyard in the city of Gdan? sk. These strikers, led by Lech Wale? sa, a shipyard electrician, locked themselves in the shipyard and were soon communicating with other groups who were joining in strikes of their own. The workers presented a list of demands that were granted by the government, which included the ability to organize free unions that were not sponsored or sanctioned by the Polish Government. With this victory, Solidarity would come into being, replace the old Workers Defense Committee, and then begin to grow throughout the country.

In December another group, calling itself Rural Solidarity, which was the agricultural equivalent to the industrialized organization, also came into being. Growth was dramatic, and by mid-1981, nearly all laborers were members of or represented by Solidarity.

The Polish government, which had made the concessions that allowed Solidarity to legally come into being, began to view developments with alarm. The same concern applied to the Soviet leadership. Leonid Brezhnev and members of the Soviet Politburo made their concerns increasingly clear to Poland’s head of state, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who would feel pressure from the Soviet Union and at home.

Encouraged by its newfound legalized existence and successes thus far, Solidarity became active in 1981, calling for additional strikes and increasing its demands. By late 1981, faced with the demands of Solidarity, Jaruzelski was coming under increased pressure. He received frequent calls from Brezhnev demanding that he put a stop to Solidarity’s activities.

At the same time the Soviet army moved closer to the Polish border and conducted substantial maneuvers with other Warsaw Pact troops, thus underlining the threat that if he did not act on his own, Jaruzelski could face an invasion. At least that is what Jaruzelski said years later when on trial for treason. That trial, from which he was later acquitted, tried to resolve whether Jaruzelski had saved Poland from invasion by what he did to Solidarity or had betrayed Poland’s independence, however limited that might be.

In mid-December 1981 Jaruzelski finally took action. Solidarity was suppressed. Lech Wale? sa and the other leaders of the union were imprisoned, and martial law was imposed. The Polish army now ran everything in the country, and any union activities, strikes, or demonstrations would be met with force.

Eventually the leaders of Solidarity were quietly released, and, although the organization was illegal, it did remain active. Its leaders remained in contact with each other, and an underground organization, based on those that had existed during World War II, emerged. Western journalists were able to bring to the West a picture of Solidarity, no longer legal and not functioning as it had but still alive.

Having imposed order, Jaruzelski was now compelled to improve the Polish economy. Brezhnev had died in 1982, and his two immediate successors were also dead by 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev assumed responsibility for leading the Soviet Union. In the 1980s the Soviets were beginning to exercise looser control and endless assistance to the Eastern bloc nations. Jaruzelski’s attempts at reform were now opposed by Solidarity, which was reemerging as a political force.

Widespread strikes in Poland forced Jaruzelski to begin conversations with Wale? sa and the Solidarity leadership. Solidarity was once again legalized in April 1989, and that same year it won a crushing majority in the national elections. A coalition of Solidarity and Communists formed a government in August 1989, and Wale? sa, who less than 10 years before had been jailed for his union activities, was now president of Poland.

Since that time, Solidarity has declined in both membership and influence. There were personality and philosophical clashes among several of the leaders, not least of whom was Wale? sa. It can also be argued that once it had defeated a common enemy that posed a major threat, it could not maintain cohesion on all issues. It did not have any of its candidates elected in 2001, and the membership is about a tenth of what it was in the early 1980s.


  1. Castle, Marjorie. Triggering Communism’s Collapse: Perceptions and Power in Poland’s Transition. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003;
  2. Cirtautas, Arista Maria. The Polish Solidarity Movement: Revolution, Democracy and Natural Rights. London: Routledge, 1997;
  3. Garton Ash, Timothy. The Polish Revolution: Solidarity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002;
  4. MacEachin, Douglas J. U.S. Intelligence and the Polish Crisis: 1980–1981. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Intelligence, 2000;
  5. Wale? sa, Lech. The Struggle and the Triumph: An Autobiography. New York: Arcade, 1992.

Henry David Thoreau Essay

Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) remains politically salient due to his essays “A Plea for Captain John Brown,” “Slavery in Massachusetts,” “The Last Days of John Brown,” and his energetic defense of “Civil Disobedience.” He also derived significant notoriety from his writings on nature and his relationship with the transcendentalist movement, especially the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. As Emerson noted in his eulogy, however, Thoreau aimed “at a more comprehensive calling, the art of living well” (53). Like Socrates, Thoreau lived the “examined life,” most especially in his famous autobiographical reflections Walden (1854).

“Civil Disobedience” (1849) has had an enduring legacy; for instance, Mahatma Gandhi stated simply that “it left a deep impression upon me” (71). In it, Thoreau articulated the first theoretical argument for a form of resistance to oppression and tyranny that did not depend upon force of arms. Thoreau was not a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King Jr., though he did spend a night in jail for refusing to pay a tax out of protest for the U.S. invasion of Mexico as well as slavery. In fact, Thoreau’s critique of the state is reminiscent of the anarchist tradition; it is more a general opposition to tyranny than a simple opposition to slavery or war.

Thoreau believed that there were two ways to judge human laws, either by expediency or by individual conscience. By expediency, Thoreau meant a simple majority of the electorate. Thoreau made it clear that, for him, individual consciousness meant far more than legislations, which regularly made men “the agents of injustice.” These two different judgments—by expediency or by conscience—lead either to obedience or to disobedience. Thoreau, in Walden and Civil Disobedience, writes that “if [the injustice] is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law” (396).

From Thoreau’s viewpoint, true power stems from the willing cooperation of people: “If one honest man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartner ship, and be locked up in the county jail therefore, it would be the abolition of slavery in America” (397).

Though Gandhi and other practitioners of nonviolent resistance to oppression have admired Thoreau for this sentiment, Thoreau’s increasing antislavery activism led him to endorse violent resistance as well. Thoreau praised abolitionist John Brown, the leader of the unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (1859) as quoted in Milton Meltzer’s Thoreau: People, Principles, and Politics, “like the best of those who stood at Concord Bridge . . . only he was firmer and higher-principled. . . .” (115). Thoreau wholeheartedly embraced Brown’s attempt to use of violence to end slavery in the United States, but he died in 1862, before Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and before the end of the bloody U.S. Civil War (1861–1865) brought to the end of slavery throughout the country.


  1. Donahue, James J. “‘Hardly the Voice of the Same Man’: ‘Civil Disobedience’ and Thoreau’s Response to John Brown.” Midwest Quarterly 48, no. 2 (2007): 247–265.
  2. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Thoreau.” Atlantic Monthly, December 2006, 53–54.
  3. Gandhi, Mahatma. The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, edited by Raghavan Iyer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
  4. Hyde, Lewis, ed. The Essays of Henry D.Thoreau. New York: North Point Press, 2002.
  5. Meltzer, Milton, ed. Thoreau: People, Principles, and Politics. New York: Hill and Wang, 1963.
  6. Rosenblum, Nancy L., ed. Thoreau: Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  7. Steger, Manfred B. “Mahatma Gandhi and the Anarchist Legacy of Henry David Thoreau.” Southern Humanities Review 23, no. 3 (1993): 201–215.
  8. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Civil Disobedience. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.

Social Control Essay

Social control refers to all the practices that contribute to social order. More specifically, it refers to all the ways in which a society establishes and enforces its cultural standards or group expectations.

The norms of a culture—that is, the “shoulds” and “should nots” that govern our behaviors—are the central ingredients of social control. Ideally, appropriate norms are instilled in us via socialization. Norms vary in type. Folkways govern our most routine interactions—expectations concerning the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, and so on. Mores instruct us in the areas of morality—the expectations regarding proper sexual conduct or regarding the sanctity of life. Many norms (folkways and mores) become formally stated as laws and are backed by the power of the state—laws prohibiting public nudity or laws prohibiting acts of violence. Society regards and responds to violations of the normative order as deviance, and its major social institutions—education, religion, business, the military, and others—work conjointly to encourage conformity and discourage deviance.

The enforcement of norms occurs via the use of positive and negative sanctions as well as formal and informal sanctions. Positive sanctions reward our conformity to norms (e.g., praising a child for saying “Please” or “Thank you” or giving an employee a raise for good job performance). Negative sanctions punish deviation from norms (e.g., scolding a child for using profanities or issuing a ticket to a speeder). A formal sanction is one carried out by officially designated agents of social control—the police, courts, prisons, and so on. Anyone in society can exercise an informal sanction, since no special training or credentials are required. Historically, social control has largely displayed a punitive face. In recent decades, however, an increase in therapeutic social control— reliance on medical experts to “treat” rather than punish deviant behavior—has evolved. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, use of electronic surveillance as a tool for social control increased significantly.

While a tendency exists for people to equate social control with its “formal” manifestation—such as with the work of police, courts, prisons, or hospitals— formal social control is not the primary tool for maintaining order in society; informal sanctioning is far more prevalent in our lives. Indeed, effective socialization guarantees the power of informal social control. Properly socialized individuals come to care about what others think of them and thus are good candidates for the influence of informal social control. The smiles, compliments, gestures, sighs, frowns, and harsh words we exchange throughout the course of a day all are part of the informal social control we exercise.

Despite its ubiquitous nature, social control varies across social space. Access to and use of the law, for instance, is often the luxury of the powerful and wealthy. Social subordinates have at times been legally prohibited from invoking the law against superiors. The poor lack the resources needed for economic awards and sanctions—that is, giving raises to deserving workers or withholding wages from the nondeserving. Yet the socially disadvantaged do not suspend their normative expectations of others; they too seek ways to bring offenders back into line. For example, they can engage in a variety of sanctioning tactics such as rebellion (open violence against social superiors), covert retaliation (secret payback by subordinates), noncooperation (refusal to perform for superiors), appeals for support (asking third parties to intervene as allies), flight (avoiding further contact with superiors), and distress (employing illness or injury as a way to sanction an offending superior). Some of these tactics, particularly rebellion and non-cooperation, may well provoke legal or violent responses from social superiors. Other tactics like covert retaliation, flight, and distress are more veiled (and thus safer) efforts to get others to fall into the normative line.

Ideally, the intent of social control is to create and maintain social order. Ironically, however, social control can often produce the opposite results. Escalation may result when the very process of exercising social control triggers further normative violation: for example, police efforts at crowd control might trigger further unruly crowd behavior. Non-enforcement produces further deviance when offenders see the lack of sanctions as a license to continue their deviant behavior. Covert facilitation occurs when efforts by legal authorities structure interactions or social opportunities in ways that favor the commission of a crime—for example, setting up sting operations. In each case, social control efforts contribute to the violations of norms, not to social order.

The irony of social control is also apparent with regard to the issue of terrorism. While the post-9/11 world seeks increasing control of terrorism, this seemingly straightforward policy is not without its problems. Arguably terrorism is itself a type of social control; it is “self-help” behavior that responds to and sanctions the perceived offenses of others. Taped statements by Osama bin Laden, for instance, assert that the 9/11 attacks were part of a holy war against the United States. If it is correct to view terrorism as a form of social control, the social control responses made to terrorism will likely exacerbate the conflict. Terrorists will regard repercussions as unjustified attacks and will feel justified in continuing to use terrorist tactics to redress any and all efforts at social control. Terrorism will beget social control that will beget terrorism, and the cycle will continue.

Clearly, social control is a fundamental of social existence—we can’t have group life without it. It plays a role in both the production of conformity and the production of deviance.


  1. Baumgartner, Mary P. 1984. “Social Control from Below.” Pp. 389-422 in Toward a General Theory of Social Control. Vol. 1: Fundamentals, edited by D. Black. New York: Academic Press.
  2. Black, Donald. 2004. “Terrorism as Social Control.” Pp. 9-18 in Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: Criminological Perspectives, edited by M. Deflem. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Elsevier.
  3. Marx, Gary. 1981. “Ironies of Social Control.” Social Problems 28(3):221-33. Staples, William. 1997. The Culture of Surveillance. New York: St. Martin’s.
  4. Marx, Gary. 2000. Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in Postmodern Life. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Genetic Theories Essay

Genetic theorists assert that we can explain human characteristics, health, and/or behavior, to a significant degree, by the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequence present in the genes of a person or of a group of people presumed to have meaningful genetic similarity.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, when they rediscovered the earlier published work of Czechoslovakian monk Gregor Mendel, Western scientists have agreed that recessive and dominant factors of heredity govern numerous human traits (such as eye color). Two contributing alleles determine these traits, one from each parent, with dominant factors always physically expressed, as they have the power to mask recessive ones. Scientists call these factors genes—although this term was (and some argue still is) quite imprecise—and they conceptualize genes as clustered together on chromosomes. By the 1950s, biologists had demonstrated that the DNA within genes influences heredity, and in 1953, scientists James Watson and Francis Crick published their famous double helix model, which is still used today, to conceptualize how discrete strands of DNA interlock with matching base pairs of adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine.

Today, common agreement exists that a gene is a stretch of DNA that produces a code specifying the amino acid sequence of one of the many proteins essential to the structure and function of the human body. DNA sequences in genes (the genotype) have some relationship to the physical expression of the human organism (the phenotype). However, disagreement persists about the degree of influence biological heredity has in determining who people are and how they behave. Some geneticists, biologists, and other scientists assert the dominance of a genetic paradigm in explaining human phenomena at both the individual and the societal level. Critics often argue that such assertions are greatly exaggerated and that factors such as family, natural, and social environments and economic and political structures have much more explanatory value. “Nature versus nurture” and “genes versus the environment” are frequently invoked shorthand terms for describing the tension between these points of view.

In the early 21st century, the pendulum between nature and nurture inclines quite steeply toward the former. Genetic explanations figure prominently in dominant understandings about what differentiates humans from one another as well as what determines health and behavior. Nonetheless, what is asserted by some as genetic knowledge is contested by others as genetic theory. This struggle over definitions and explanatory power is an ongoing social problem with both practical and theoretical implications.

Debates About the Fundamental Assumptions and Politics of Genetics

Behind debates over particular genetic issues lie several fundamental assumptions that are themselves contested. One is the premise that we best generate meaningful knowledge by examining the smallest parts of organisms—the DNA on genes. Proponents of genetic theories assert that the information gathered in this process can reveal the very essence of human life in an objective manner buffered from social or political influence. An opposing point of view is that reducing people to tiny parts (“reductionism”) does not allow for a more holistic and useful understanding of humans as complete and relational beings. Reductionism has been central to most traditional forms of scientific endeavor, but many view genetics as its ultimate expression. Critics also extend to genetics a long-standing critique of scientific objectivity, arguing that all knowledge is in fact constructed through such processes as deciding how to define issues, what questions to ask, and how to examine and interpret data.

A second contested point is the relationship between knowledge and concrete interventions to improve human health. Much genetic research receives broad public and political support on the assumption that knowledge about micro processes in the body will benefit all through targeted tests and medical interventions. Critics counter that the ability to test for and diagnose real or predicted problems has always been far greater than the capacity to treat them and that there is a problematic tendency to produce tests and use them as the capacity to do so emerges, without adequate consideration of the ethical, legal, and social consequences of such actions.

A third issue is the exercise of human agency. Do genetic theories lead to a sense of fatalism because genetic endowment cannot be (and should not be) controlled by individuals? Or conversely, do they lead to a sense of hope because they may ultimately lead to greater control over intractable diseases, over the kinds of babies people have, and over what can be predicted about people’s behavior and talents?

Also at stake in debates about genetics are questions about the allocation of social resources. Genetic research of all kinds, like many forms of scientific research, successfully attracts enormous financial investment. Are these dollars well spent, or might they yield greater benefit if they were used to address other problems?

Genetics and Genomics

In 2003 scientists completed the multibillion-dollar Human Genome Project, which resulted in a description or “map” of all the genes on all the chromosomes in a prototypical human body. With this massive enterprise came a shift in scientific discourse from a focus on genetics, characterized as single gene disorders or characteristics, to a focus on genomics, which takes into account both the interaction among genes and the complex interaction between genes and the environment. This shift opened the door for genetic theories to move from explanations featuring direct, linear causality (i.e., gene X causes manifestation Y) to more complex hypotheses. Recognition that the way many genes will express themselves is integrally connected to environmental factors is a particularly notable aspect of the movement from genetics toward genomics.

However, some argue that the shift to genomics greatly expanded the reach of genetic explanations and bolstered assumptions that genomic research can best illuminate and address ever-larger arenas of our social world. For example, genetics traditionally focused on relatively rare disorders, such as Huntington’s disease, which are associated with mutations of just one gene. Genomics, in contrast, focuses on the genetic component of nearly all common illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, schizophrenia, and cancer. The concern is that emphasis on the genetic component of these conditions detracts attention and resources from factors that exert greater influence over health outcomes, such as poverty and environmental toxins.

Genetic Issues in the Early 21st Century

Genetics and genomics are central to a growing number of emerging practices across arenas as diverse as medicine, criminology, special education, employment, and informatics. Two of the most salient of these issues will illustrate how genetic theories apply to concrete social problems.

Predictive Screening and Resting

Predictive screening and testing is perhaps the most tangible form genetics takes in the lives of individuals. These tests identify genetic mutations or information that is presumed to meaningfully predict a person’s “risk” for disease. For example, pregnant women now routinely test their fetuses for various mutations and make deliberate decisions about which babies to have and not have. Women identified with the “breast cancer gene” (BRCA1 or 2) may increase the frequency of visits to doctors for screening, or they may have prophylactic mastectomies. Parents whose babies get positive newborn genetic screens may act to prevent, mediate, or even anticipate disease. Proponents argue that these tests illustrate the promise of the genetic revolution. Critics argue that both the accuracy of the tests and the availability of effective treatments or prevention strategies are highly questionable, as increased testing results primarily in greater numbers of people who think of themselves or their children as sick or deviant despite no manifest symptoms of disease. Further, critics contend, mass testing programs function not just as medical procedures but also as mechanisms for categorizing individuals (e.g., as “normal” or as “deviant”).

Genetics and Race

Genetic theories also play a prominent role in contemporary debates about race. On the one hand, the Human Genome Project’s discovery that little genetic variation exists among people (about .1 percent) received extensive publicity. On the other hand, research on what genetic differences do exist among people continues at a rapid rate. Examples include studies to determine genetic components of health disparities; studies to develop “race-based” therapeutics such as BiDil, the first drug to be developed and marketed specifically for blacks; and the Human Genome Diversity Project, which is looking at DNA from groups around the world to understand evolutionary history. Despite care taken to differentiate contemporary genetic theories about race from historical precedents such as Nazi eugenics, such theories do continue to assert that we can meaningfully understand the differences among people through analysis of DNA. Critics contend that social inequality is a much more useful frame for analyzing difference and promoting equality and that genetic theories about race are both scientifically questionable and socially misguided.


  1. Duster, Troy. 2003. Backdoor to Eugenics. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
  2. Hubbard, Ruth and Elijah Wald. 1999. Exploding the Myth: How Genetic Information Is Produced and Manipulated by Scientists, Physicians, Employers, Insurance Companies, Educators and Law Enforcers. Boston: Beacon Press.
  3. Kevles, Daniel and Leroy Hood, eds. 1992. The Code of Codes: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  4. Nelkin, Dorothy and Laurence Tancredi. 1994. Dangerous Diagnostics: The Social Power of Biological Information. New York: Basic Books.
  5. Rothman, Barbara Katz. 2001. The Book of Life: A Personal and Ethical Guide to Race, Normality and the Implications of the Human Genome Project. Boston: Beacon Press.

Sogdians Essay

Sogdiana was the meeting point of Asia and Central Asia before 100 b.c.e. The Sogdiana area encompassed modern-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and was also called Transoxiana. The use of the word Sogdiana was an attempt to distinguish surrounding Bactria from Transoxiana, and the provincial Persian terminology has persisted in modern historical literature. Sogdiana was a collective term to describe the various principalities within its area. Positioned alongside the Silk Road, it is where Greco-Roman, Indian, and Persian culture collided. The major cities of Sogdiana—Samarkand (Samarqand), Bukhara, and Pendzhikent (Penjikent, Panjikand)—enjoyed the fruits of trade that came with their positioning along the Silk Road and played an important part in establishing and maintaining trade relationships between Asia and Central Asia.

Merchants and trade caravans traversed the Silk Road during the early first century b.c.e. Contrary to popular belief, the Silk Road was actually a network of roads that crossed from China into Europe. It was at least 2,000 years old by the time the Chinese had set up satellite towns along specific routes to facilitate trade and commerce. Some cities were the creation of such trade and were in existence from the Bronze Age.

Inscriptions dating to the reign of King Darius I (522–486 b.c.e.) refer to the Sogdian area as Sugudu or Sughuda (in Persian), and the whole region was under the patronage of the Achaemenids for some time. Each province functioned much like a separate state, with its own political, economic, and even social systems. Greek and Latin manuscripts speak of a “Land of the Thousand Cities,” roughly located in the area surrounding Bactria, and in 329 b.c.e. Alexander the Great overthrew the area, placing it under the control of his extended empire. Later, Transoxiana experienced various political changes due to a wave of strategic invasions led by nomadic tribes. The Kushan Empire (an offshoot of a Chinese nomadic tribe called the Yuezhi [Yueh-chih]) established a state that encompassed the Transoxiana area, however Sassanians overthrew them in 300 c.e. The Sassanid Empire is believed to have been partly responsible for the reformation of Sogdiana (politically, economically, and socially) and hence contributed to its rise among the trading cities along the Silk Road. Sogdian cities endured various foreign rulers such as the Samanids, who had their capitals at Samarkand and Bukhara, and the Mongols from 1219 to 1369 c.e. under Genghis (Chinggis) Khan and Tamurlane (Timur).

The area was a melting pot of religion and culture. Major religions included Buddhism, Manichaeanism, Zoroastrianism, Daoism (Taoism), and Nestorian Christianity, and all were tolerated by the Sogdians. Different ethnic and religious groups were free to worship any god until Islam became the dominant religion. From around the seventh century c.e. Islam strongly permeated the Sogdian area and as a consequence the area is renowned for its Islamic architecture and for the urbanization of the surrounding areas for irrigation, housing, and farming. The inhabitants were skilled linguists as they often acted as translators to the Chinese with whom they traded and delivered Buddhist scrolls. The spoken language of Sogdiana was primarily an Iranian dialect (Sogdian); however, due to the mixture of nationalities other languages as diverse as Tajik (Persian as spoken by Tajik ethnic groups of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), Mongolian, Greek, and Chinese were widely used. Indo-European languages spread quite quickly as the popularity of the trade route grew, and the numbers in the trading cities increased substantially. Written language was highly evolved. Sogdian script was derived from Aramaean script and was used to communicate business deals (among other things) between the trading cities along the Silk Road.

The Sogdian cities first participated in intracountry trade with China around 140 b.c.e. The great Chinese diplomat Zhang Qian (Chang Ch’ien) established commercial trade with the Sogdiana area as well as other parts of Central Asia. The Silk Road is thought to have originated from Chang’an (Ch’ang-an), a prosperous and thriving Chinese city whose markets sold silk, glassware, perfumes, and various spices. It is from this city that Asian traders journeyed to the west, passing such cities as Samarkand, Bukhara, and Pendzhikent.

Due to the wealth attained by commerce the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Pendzhikent all had internal palaces, surrounded by housing, independent shops, and bazaars. Most bazaar spaces could accommodate more than 2,000 people. The inclusion of palaces pointed toward the existence of a sophisticated social network and hierarchy. Sections of the cities were transformed into market gardens that produced food for the city inhabitants, as well as providing a surplus for close intracity trade. Most cities of sizable proportions were heavily fortified, its citizens protected by the walls of the city. The cities also had their own citadels outside of the city that offered added protection to inhabitants and wandering traders. Each city, though it encouraged trade, could be self-reliant when required. The Sogdian region was an area that traditionally had a strong Turkish and Iranian presence, politically, economically, and socially.

The trade routes between some cities were in heavy use, especially that between Samarkand and Bukhara, which was referred to as the Royal Road, or Golden Road. The area was famed for the production of artwork and architecture, and Sogdiana artisans were in high demand along the Silk Road. Pendzhikent and Bukhara were known along the route for their frescoes and murals, and Bukhara was believed to have functioned more as a city of artisans and scholars than as a commercial trading city, such as Samarkand. Bukhara was also infamously known for its trade in Turkish slaves, who were often used as city laborers or transported to Baghdad for use by the courts. Despite an emphasis on artworks by Bukhara artisans, Samarkand and Bukhara were seen as the two major trading towns in the Sogdian area. This perhaps contributed to the small size of Pendzhikent in relation to Samarkand and Bukhara.

Samarkand is one of the oldest known inhabited cities in the world. The original city was called Afrasiab (Samarkand expanded and outgrew the old city) and may have been Marakand or Marakanda, the Greek name given by Alexander the Great and his forces. It functioned as the eastern administrative region for the Achaemenid empire and functioned as the commercial center of the Sogdian region. It was also named the capital of Mongolian rule in Central Asia by Tamurlane. The city had an eclectic and diverse history of rulers, having experienced mild domination by the Chinese, Mongolian, Persian, and Turkish empires. Though each empire had acted as an overlord of sorts, Samarkand, Pendzhikent, and Bukhara were able to maintain some degree of independence (much like a state would function within a country) and thus continued to flourish due to the influx of trade and the different social and cultural customs of the merchants.

Samarkand was considered the epicenter of trade in Sogdiana; the local traders had established a mint and produced their own coinage. The city was known for trading lustrous textiles and gilded ware (silver and gold). It had established profitable commercial trading ties with China to the extent that Samarkand traders lived in China and had established a trading embassy of sorts. Samarkand was also known for its military prowess and for the breeding of military grade horses.

Similarly, Pendzhikent was a highly organized and economically stable city. It was located southwest of Samarkand, overlooking the valley, and was the smallest of the satellite capitals. Pendzhikent acted as a capital of the local area before Samarkand rose in popularity and is believed to have been established around 500 b.c.e. It experienced a prominent role in the region during the seventh to eighth centuries c.e., mainly due to the trade and commerce brought into the region by the Silk Road.

The city was quite wealthy and had a well-established and famous bazaar that indicated a constant influx of traders and merchants had passed through. The city was used by the Hephthalites (an Iranian tribe believed to have ancestry with the Yuezhi (Yueh-chih) of Central Asia) as a capital, then also by Persian invaders aiming to control the lucrative region.

Bukhara had strong ties with Samarkand and once functioned as a capital for the Samanids. The word Bukhara is thought to mean “favored place” in ancient Sogdian, or it is thought to refer to a Buddhist word vihara, meaning “place of learning.” Persian sources (verbal and written histories such as Tarikh-i Bukhara) speak of a city in the area after Alexander had established his sovereignty. It was already an established crafts center in 709 b.c.e. Archaeological sites have been uncovered that point toward the city being somewhat active during Kushan rule. A female, Khatun, ruled Bukhara on behalf of her son Bukhar Khudah Tughshada sometime before 670 b.c.e. Persian sources confirmed her existence when their invading forces came into contact with Sogdiana.

The Samanids were interested in trading with Europe, and coinage from Bukhara has been located as far north as Scandinavia. These points toward a sophisticated commerce culture, something that the three cities are well known for in their own right. The Sogdian cities enjoyed a relatively long period of influence in the area and even managed to survive numerous political, religious, and social changes. Samarkand, Bukhara, and Pendzhikent contributed greatly to commerce between Asia and Central Asia, even extending as far as the northern tip of Europe. They disseminated learning, in the form of manuscripts and scrolls, cultural exchange, and political and social tolerance.


  1. Christian, David. “Silk Roads or Steppe Roads? The Silk Roads in World History.” Journal of World History (v.11/1, 2000);
  2. Dien, Albert, E. “The Glories of Sogdiana.” Silkroad Foundation. Available online. URL: (October 2005);
  3. Drege, J. P., and E. M. Buhrer. The Silk Road Saga. New York: Facts On File, 1989;
  4. Faltz, Richard. Religions of the Silk Road: Overland Trade and Cultural Exchange from Antiquity to the Fifteenth Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002;
  5. Franck, Irene, and David Brownstone. The Silk Road: A History. New York: Facts On File, 1986;
  6. Gangler, Anette, et al. Bukhara: The Eastern Dome of Islam, Urban Development, Urban Space, Architecture and Population. Stuttgart, Germany: Axel Menges, 2004;
  7. Grotenhuis, Elizabeth Ten. Along the Silk Road. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2002;
  8. Vaissiere, Etienne. Sogdian Traders: A History, Handbook of Oriental Studies. Trans. by James Ward. New York: Brill Academic Publishing, 2005;
  9. Wood, Frances. The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Social Constructionist Theory Essay

Social constructionist theory is a paradigm based upon uncovering the methods by which individuals and groups participate in the creation of their perceived reality. The approach involves examining how social phenomena are created, institutionalized, and made into an agreed-upon tradition. Social construction is understood as an ongoing process, as reality is constantly being (re)produced through the interactions of people and their knowledge of that reality.

Social constructionist theory is most notably a critique of two significant assumptions in Western classic philosophy. First, the tradition of the individual knower (the rational, self-directing, and knowledgeable agent of action) is questioned. The notion of the individual knower is foundational to Cartesian dualistic thinking, most noted in the phrase cogito ergo sum (“I think therefore I am”). Social constructionist theory challenges this individualist tradition and invites an appreciation of knowledge as a communal agreement. Second, this communal view of knowledge represents a major challenge to the view of an essential “Truth,” “Real,” “Good,” or the possibility that one way of viewing the world is more or less objective or accurate in its depiction of reality than another.

Social constructionist theory’s implications for the study of social problems are that supposed problems are simply a construction relative to the structure of a specific social context. For instance, some believe social problems are straightforward factual issues concerning what is right or wrong or in need of address via a moral framework; however, social constructionist theorists suggest that social problems are never self-evident. For instance, C. Wright Mills once defined politics as the public construction of private troubles. The sociologist Herbert Blumer stated that social problems have no existence in some objective, a priori state but are instead produced in the process of collective definition of recognition: legitimation, mobilization, formulation of proposed responses, and implementation. Despite various strands of thought, social constructionist theories examine the meaning-making of both problems and solutions as fluid, changing, contextual, and often disputed.

Social constructionism varies in its strength: from weaker versions in which there is still some underlying objective factual elements to reality, to stronger renditions in which everything is socially constructed. Further, radical social constructionists are concerned with how social processes influence the very things thought of as most objective: science and technology. For instance, radical social constructionist theory claims that the meaning of science and technology, including facts about its proper working, are themselves social constructs. This strand of social constructionist theory has given rise to the development of postmodernism—the concept that stresses the ongoing building of worldviews that comprise the imagined worlds of human social existence and activity, gradually reified by habit into institutions, given legitimacy by mythology, maintained by socialization, and subjectively internalized in one’s identity.


  1. Baudrillard, Jean. 1994. Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila F. Glaser. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
  2. Foucault, Michel. 1980. Power/Knowledge. New York: Pantheon.
  3. Gergen, Kenneth J. 2001. Social Construction in Context. London: Sage.
  4. Lakoff, George and Michael Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  5. Lyotard, Jean-Francois, ed. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Translated by G. Bennington and B. Massouri. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneapolis Press.
  6. Potter, Jonathan. 1996. Representing Reality: Discourse, Rhetoric and Social Construction. London: Sage.

Genetic Engineering Essay

Genetic engineering is the concept of taking genes and segments of DNA from one individual or species (e.g., a spider) and inserting them into another individual or species (e.g., a goat). The biotechnology of genetic engineering has created a broad spectrum of ethical issues, ranging from genetically modified organisms, as in crops, to animal and human cloning, genetic screening for diseases, prenatal and preimplantation diagnosis of human embryos, xenotransplantation, and gene replacement therapy.

Genetic engineering presents an exciting range of possibilities. For example, genetic engineering can give plants and crops desirable traits, such as drought resistance and additional nutrients. Such promises are not without their potential perils; some environmental groups raise concerns that the creation and use of these genetically engineered plants amounts to “genetic pollution” and that they should not be released into the environment until there is a full scientific understanding of their long-term impact on the environment and human health.

The stakes rise even higher when applying genetic engineering to animals or humans or animal-human combinations. For example, by inserting a spider’s gene into a goat embryo, a biotech firm created Biosteel, a unique high-performance spider fiber, prized for its toughness, strength, lightness, and biodegradability. Possible applications include the medical, military, and industrial performance fiber markets. However, bioethicists raise concerns about crossing species boundaries and question whether or not we are creating long-term effects on the environment, inflicting harm on these creatures that we create, and whether or not we should place some ethical, social, and legal controls or reviews on such research.

The engineering or combination of animal and human genes (also referred to as “transgenics”) represents a booming aspect of biotechnology. For example, genetically engineered pigs provide potential organs for transplantation (known as “xenotransplantation”). Researchers are also exploring the use of cell transplantation therapy for patients with spinal cord injury or Parkinson’s disease. However, several drawbacks to xenotransplantation exist, for example, the small but significant risk of the transmission of usually fatal zoonotic diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also known as “mad cow disease”). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned xenotransplantation trials using nonhuman primates until adequate demonstrations that the procedure is safe and sufficient public discussion of the ethical issues take place.

Some groups advocate the use of genetic engineering for the enhancement of the human species, but this raises the specter of eugenics, once used as an excuse for genocide and the creation of the “perfect race.” Others call for a ban on species-altering technology enforced by an international tribunal. Part of the rationale for a ban is the concern that such technology could create a slave race, that is, a race of exploited subhumans. In April 1998, activist scientists opposed to genetic engineering applied for a patent for a “humanzee,” part human and part chimpanzee, to fuel debate on this issue and to draw attention to potential abuses. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the patent on the grounds that it violated the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits slavery. These activists appealed the decision, but the appeal has not yet reached a court, and it may never do so, because the appeal may be dismissed on other technical grounds.

A question for the future is how the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetic engineering will challenge traditional notions of personhood.


  1. Baylis, Francoise and Jason Scott Roberts. 2006. Primer on Ethics and Crossing Species Boundaries. Washington, DC: American Institute of Biological Sciences. Retrieved March 29, 2017 (
  2. Glenn, Linda MacDonald. 2004. Ethical Issues in Genetic Engineering and Transgenics. Washington, DC: American Institute of Biological Sciences. Retrieved March 29, 2017 (
  3. Rasko, John, Gabrielle O’Sullivan, and Rachel A. Ankeny, eds. 2006. The Ethics of Inheritable Genetic Modification: A Dividing Line? Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Rollins, Bernard E. 1995. The Frankenstein Syndrome: Ethical and Social Issues in the Genetic Engineering of Animals. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Soga Clan Essay

The Soga became the most powerful ruling clan in the early Japanese Yamato state between the seventh and eighth centuries c.e. The origins of the Soga clan are unclear, but they claimed to be descended from the Katsuragi clan leader who survived the purge of emperor Yuryaku in the fifth century c.e. Some scholars believe that the Soga were an immigrant family from the Korean peninsula. They moved to the Soga region of the Yamato state in central Japan and formed alliances with immigrants from the Korean kingdoms, providing scribal and managerial technical skills. The Soga clan’s rise to power began with Soga no Iname, the head of the clan and the first Soga to hold the position of grand minister. He was victorious in the policy debates of 540 c.e. and married two of his daughters to Emperor Kimmei. However, neither of Iname’s grandsons became heir to the throne.

The next Soga clan head, Soga no Umako, also grand minister, succeeded in marrying one of his daughters to Kimmei’s son, King Bidatsu, and the couple produced a son who was one of three candidates for the throne. The Soga candidate was eventually enthroned as emperor Yomei after fierce military battles between the Soga clan and their rivals, the Mononobe, who also supplied a male heir to the throne through a Mononobe woman. Yomei took another daughter of Soga no Iname to be his queen, and the two produced the famous prince Shotoku Taishi. The victory was short lived however when Yomei fell ill, and fighting between the Soga and Mononobe resurfaced. Again the Soga were victorious, and another male offspring of a Soga woman became the sovereign King Sushun. Once the main line of the Mononobe was massacred in 587 the Soga dominated court affairs.

Despite Sushun’s connection to the Soga, rumors spread that Sushun would betray his uncle Umako, so Umako had him assassinated and Sushun’s consort, Suiko, became empress. Suiko ruled alongside her son and regent, Shotoku, during a time when the Soga clan heads Emishi and his son Iruka attempted to assert Soga dominance by levying taxes and trying to expand their lands. Suiko, despite being a part of the Soga, refused requests to expand Soga lands. Iruka even killed Prince Shotoku’s son. Histories of the time criticize the Soga for trying to become monarchs. The most tyrannical of the Soga patriarchs, Iruka, was assassinated in 645 in a palace coup that effectively ended the Soga rule.

The significance of the Soga dynasty was their importation of culture, government, and religion from China and Korea and their influence in domestic politics through marriage arrangements and intrafamilial assassination. The Soga supported Buddhism over other forms of court-related native religions, creating several large Buddhist temples, statues, and bells that attested to their power in the physical and spiritual realms. This support for Buddhism further antagonized other clans, who often held key religious-political positions.


  1. Ebersole, Gary. Ritual Poetry and the Politics of Death in Early Japan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989;
  2. Hall, John. The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 1: Ancient Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988;
  3. Piggot, Joan. Emergence of Japanese Kingship. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Hegemony Essay

The term hegemony means domination with consent. From the Greek hegemonia, it denotes leadership of an alliance by a single leader, or hegemon. Although ancient hegemons tended to possess great power, their allies conceded them leading roles due to other qualities, such as skill and virtue, as well as the policies they embraced. The tendency toward domination without consent, however, has led many international relations scholars to equate hegemony with domination that does not respect the independent existence and autonomy of allies, thus providing a different definition of the term.

In the twentieth century, political theorist Antonio Gramsci renewed interest in the concept of hegemony when he used the term in the context of domestic politics rather than international relations. Gramsci sought to understand the formation of alliances among groups to achieve domination, and he stressed the important role of ideology in convincing followers to support a leadership. Gramsci assigned a distinctive role to intellectuals as formulators of ideas that link leaders to followers. At the same time, he stressed that political struggle continued as subordinate groups sought to achieve a position of domination through a counter hegemony. This implies that some groups, instead of being enlisted in a hegemonic enterprise, are suppressed, sometimes with force. Thus, hegemony in this interpretation is a system of domination with minimal violence.

Hegemonic And Nonhegemonic Domination

With respect to both international and domestic politics, a distinction can be made between hegemonic and nonhegemonic domination, that is, between alliance and empire and between democracy and tyranny. Both employ ideology to justify themselves and to provide policy guidance. In nonhegemonic alliances and tyrannies, the dominant leader or group exercises power over others without their consent and employs ideology largely to rationalize or justify its domination. In contrast, in hegemonic alliances and democracies, leaders employ ideology to convince others to follow, and followers extend their consent to domination, implying that they retain the freedom to withhold consent. Furthermore, a hegemonic system always includes politics in which discussion and debate are possible. A nonhegemonic system, in contrast, is based solely on violence and other coercive means.

Hegemony presumes ongoing debate and discourse, dominant states or groups exerting leadership to retain their power, and allies or subordinate groups striving to shape the policy direction of the leadership. Beyond policy matters, allies or subordinate groups sometimes strive to overturn the dominant states or groups through struggle, or counterhegemonic activity, and to establish a different hegemonic order. Thus, hegemonic arrangements involve continuous contestation. Counterhegemony arises from the ideological framework of a hegemonic arrangement, but its triumph relies upon crisis and the addition of new ideological beliefs that are combined with those from which it arose.

Autonomy And Persistence

The distinctive feature of hegemony is autonomy. There are three types: autonomy within hegemony, autonomy from counter hegemony, and autonomy based on an opposed hegemony. Within hegemony, groups can advocate and implement deeply opposed policies within the context of the prevailing hegemonic system; for example, within the same system, a shift in fundamental economic policy could occur from one based upon Keynesian principles of state intervention in the private economy to one based upon Friedrich von Hayek’s commitment to minimizing the state’s participation in the economy. Change with counterhegemonic autonomy involves a deeper shift in which once subordinate groups forge an alliance that brings a radically different hegemonic arrangement, as exemplified in the shift in Germany in 1933 from a republic to a dictatorship, or in the shift in Eastern Europe at the end of the cold war from communist systems to liberal democratic, capitalist ones. An opposed hegemony provides a foundation for a different sort of autonomy, for example, in the cold war in which the Soviet Union retained its autonomy outside the hegemonic system dominated by the United States.

Hegemony thus refers to long-term and persistent political arrangements within which a state or a coherent group provides leadership and direction over others. At the same time, allies and subordinate groups retain their scope for participation in, and even rejection of, the leadership. Leaders have a tendency to dominate without consent, but allies and other states tend to check or balance those aspiring to a position of dominance in international relations, and subordinate groups within a society struggle to affect policies and to achieve leadership within the society. So long as these autonomous activities are sustained, hegemony can be said to persist. When allies and subordinate groups lose their scope for free participation, hegemony ends, and empire or tyranny begins.


  1. Ando, Clifford. Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
  2. Politics. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. New York: The Modern Library, 1943.
  3. Castoriadis, Cornelius. Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy. Edited by David Ames Curtis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  4. Ehrenberg,Victor. The Greek State. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1960.
  5. Fontana, Benedetto. “State and Society:The Concept of Hegemony in Gramsci.” In Hegemony and Power: Consensus and Coercion in Contemporary Politics, edited by Mark Haugaard and Howard H. Lentner. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006.
  6. Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Translated and edited by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers, 1971.
  7. The Peloponnesian War. Translated by Steven Lattimore. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998.
  8. Wickersham, John. Hegemony and Greek Historians. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1994.
  9. Wolf, Eric R. Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Social Conflict Essay

The ubiquitous nature of social conflict often leads to an intuitive understanding that human beings are inherently conflictive by nature. Typifying this view was Sigmund Freud. Although he noted the importance of social processes in its unfolding, Freud thought that the fundamental causes of social conflict existed in a priori drives. Human beings, according to him, are not “gentle creatures” who always prefer to be at peace with one another. Rather they are endowed with a death instinct, the instinctual capacity to be aggressive at best or self-destructive at worst. Sociological understanding, on the other hand, transcending a person-centered approach that gives undue emphasis to intrapsychic dynamics, assumes that the sources of social conflict reside in social relations.

The structure of these social relations render as inevitable the eventuation of conflict that ultimately leads to a major social change or alternatively, if the social mechanisms for properly managing it are available, the reproduction of the existing social order. In extreme cases, social conflict could be reduced to a benign level. By and large, human beings are not characteristically aggressive or amicable, for social structure has the capacity to enable or constrain members and groups of society to go either way.

Sources and Functions of Social Conflict

Although social scientists agree on the social nature of conflict, they differ on its source. Karl Marx was among the first modern social scientists who examined its causes, and according to him, social inequality, accompanied by social institutions that reinforce disproportionate distribution of resources, is the foun-tainhead of all conflicts. To the extent that processes reproducing social stratification are intact, social conflict remains steady and pervasive. However, conflicts between contending classes open only at critical historical moments. Insofar as superordinate groups do not exhaust their rulership role, social conflicts remain hidden until a legitimization crisis ensues. Such a crisis arises when a subordinate class turns itself from a “class-in-itself” into a “class-for-itself”; that is, a class aware of its interests that works toward attaining the historical mission of constructing an alternative social order.

Although not fully subscribing to Marx’s view, Max Weber, like his predecessor, was deeply interested in the social causes of conflict. Going beyond Marx’s economic theory of conflict, Weber added the dimensions of political and cultural factors to an understanding of social conflict, thereby suggesting a tripartite view of social stratification. From his perspective, social conflict arises when there is “status consistency.” Whereas status inconsistency refers to a condition wherein groups fare differentially in the multiple areas of social organization, thereby forestalling the feelings of powerlessness, status consistency is a condition in which certain groups have disproportionate power, wealth, and prestige simultaneously. Conflict reaches a critical stage when some members—denied access to the cultural, political, and economic capitals of their societies—become indignant at the existing system of social arrangements.

However, Weber did not, like Marx, assume that acute conflicts ultimately lead to a perfect social order. Societies are full of historical accidents that detract a linear development of society from unfolding.

By synthesizing these arguments, Ralf Dahrendorf provided an alternative approach that addressed the contemporary sources of social conflict. In his dialectical conflict perspective, Dahrendorf assumed that the grounds for conflict reside in what he called “imperatively coordinated associations” (ICAs), organizations within which two antithetical roles with an unequal power differential exist.

In the ICAs, power is legitimated when it is viewed as an authority relation; that is, when the ruling are endowed with a “normative right” to exercise their domination over the ruled. This authority relationship does not remain permanent, because power and authority are scarce resources that rival groups seek. Whereas the ruling groups are interested in maintaining the social order, the ruled seek to alter the existing power and authority relations. The normative right of the ruling is challenged when the ruled, due to the availability of technical, political, and social conditions, transform themselves from a quasi group into a conflict group, a group aware of its interests and committed to the redistribution of power and authority. The tug of war between the contending groups ultimately leads to successful social changes as a result of which the institutionalization of alternative ICAs becomes possible. This in turn sets the stage for another organizational setup prone to conflict and change.

In addition to examining the sources of social conflict, sociologists have addressed the social functions of social conflict as well. Georg Simmel and Lewis Coser are among the most important thinkers who dealt with this issue in some depth. Simmel was the first sociologist to insist that we should not perceive conflict as a source of discordance that causes social disruption alone. Rather, conflict can have an important impact on society, such as creating social solidarity among members of a group. In a conflict situation, wherein individuals see a clear distinction between themselves and “others,” cohesion among individuals who share the same perception is reinforced. Conflict also acts as a stabilizing mechanism by causing the centralization of authority and the management of disputes and deviance. Extending the insights of Simmel, Coser notes that, in addition to fostering collective identity among groups, in open societies the social functions of conflict lie in creating the condition for the emergence of safety valve institutions that allow the release of tensions. Most important, open societies, by permitting the expression of rival claims and through the constant adjustment of an existing system of social organization, are able to avoid catastrophic results that harm society. Moreover, through the process of revitalization of existing norms or by creating alternative ones, these societies deal with the demands of new social conditions.

Types of Social Conflict

Social conflict assumes various forms, ranging from micro- to macro-processes. The minutest type of micro-conflict takes place at an individual level, with role conflict (caused by the coexistence of multiple roles corresponding to different statuses) and role strain (caused by the contradictory expectations of the same status) among the most important ones. However, much sociological analysis has focused on middle-range as well as macro-conflicts that emerge as a result of the place groups occupy in the existing system of class, race, and gender relations. The system of social stratification related to these relations leads to collective reactions that focus on issues of economic justice and human, political, and cultural rights. The three social categories, however, do not operate disjointedly. Rather the social realm is an interlocking system in which the simultaneous functioning of all three takes place. In addition to this intersectional approach, a growing recent interest lies in the study of global conflict caused by processes that have far-ranging implications for economic, cultural, and geopolitical relations between nation-states.

There are diametrically opposite views on the nature of global conflict, with the perspectives of Immanuel Wallerstein and Samuel Huntington among the most notable ones. According to Huntington, the end of the cold war brought the movement of international conflict out of a Western context. The contending powers are now the West and “the Rest,” and the new fault lines are rival civilizations and not ideologies or economic paradigms. The “clash of civilizations” is the latest phase of conflict in the history of modernity, preceded by conflicts that took place between princes, nation-states, and adherents of different ideologies. Despite its cultural emphasis, critics note that the fundamental problem in Huntington’s argument lies in its mistaken assumption of civilizations as though they are compartmentalized cultural monads. On the other hand, Wallerstein provided a more nuanced approach to the understanding of global conflict through his world-systems analysis, an analysis that benefits from a historicist and eclectic approach yet centered on conflict theory. Wallerstein views the world-system as a modern historical construct that evolved into three major politico-economic zones: core, periphery, and semi-periphery. Core nations have the advantage over the other two because of their economic and military might. Peripheral nations rank the lowest in the world economy. Often they are appendages to the core because of their least-developed economies that put them at an ill-fated position in the world market transactions. The semi-periphery—mostly acting as a go-between among the two zones—are on a higher plane than peripheral nations, although lower in rank than core nations. Global conflict, accordingly, is nothing but a manifestation of the dynamics of opposing interests and capabilities and balance of power of the three zones. Core nations certainly have more power than others in maintaining their hegemonic status.


  1. Jayaram, Narayana and Satish Saberwal, eds. 1998. Social Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Klare, T. Michel. 2002. Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict. New York: Holt.
  3. Tyagi, S. P. 2006. Sociology and Social Conflict. Jaipur, India: Sublime Publications.