Conflict Theory vs. Exchange Theory

Question: Compare and contrast the conflict theory with exchange theory. In what ways are they similar and different to each other? Answer: The conflict and exchange theories have many similarities with each other. For example, according to the text, the exchange theory “focuses on how individuals’ various personal resources affect their relative positions in families or other groups.” Conflict theory also “calls attention to unequal power within groups or larger societies,” according to the text. This unequal power is a direct effect of personal resources. The exchange theory “fights the tendency to see family relationships in far more romantic and emotional terms.” It is basically saying that all relationships, even family ones, are based on what a

person can get from the other person or persons he or she is involved with. This extends into domestic violence. The person committing the violent act is getting something out of doing it. This goes along with the conflict theory, which according to the text includes the idea that “family interaction can include domestic violence as well as holiday rituals – sometimes both on the same day.” The conflict theory lead to the discovery of child abuse, wife abuse, husband abuse, elder abuse, child sexual abuse, parent abuse, and sibling abuse. Both theories see relationships not as loving, emotional ones like would exist in a Utopian society, but as closeness that exists out of individual need and or gain.

The conflict and exchange theories also have many differences. The conflict theory works on three main principles, which according to the text are that “not all of a family’s practices are good”, “not all family behaviors contribute to family well-being”, and “what is good for one family member is not necessarily good for another.” The exchange theory doesn’t go quite this far. It sees everything a family does as an exchange, or trade-off. The exchange theory doesn’t see these exchanges between family members as detrimental to the family. Conflict theory also brings “latent family and social conflict out into the open.” Exchange theory once again does not focus so much on the negative violence found in many families. Conflict theory is the more pessimistic of the two. The textbook also reads that “conflict theory is difficult to accept for those in privileged categories.” Exchange theory would probably be much more acceptable to people in privileged categories because they can identify with the idea that relationships are based at least somewhat on personal resources.