Lewis A Coser’s version of Conflict theory provides a suitable and appropriate framework for understanding the development of the Black Lives Matter movement that have gain prominence in recent years. Lewis A Crosser was a German Sociologist that sought to bring balance to what he viewed as the short comings of Conflict theory and of functionalism. He felt that Conflict theory did not speak much to the “integrative” aspects of conflict nor did functionalism highlight the “disintegrative” side of conflict.
Coser’s version of Conflict theory hinges on certain assumptions: 1) There are super ordinates and subordinates in a system of inequality. 2) Conflict happens when the legitimacy of the super ordinates is withdrawn by the subordinates. 3) Chances of Conflict increases when there are few are no avenues of redress (and no upward mobility for subordinates). And 4) the chance of conflict increases when the sense of the degree of deprivation increases. Coser’s goes on to explain that the violence levels of conflict increase over “nonrealistic” issues involving culture and values and is is likely to be mitigated over issues that allow for common ground and compromise.
Viewed in this manner, the social phenomenon of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement shares several parallels to Coser’s framing. The First parallel is the fact BLM was instituted to address the problem of police officers disproportionate use of violence against Black people. In this scenario, the police officers are the super ordinates and the Black civilians they interact with of the subordinates. This is by virtue of the authority, deference and respect that is almost unilaterally afforded law enforcement personnel. This satisfies the first point.
The second point lies in the fact that given the longstanding racist history of law enforcement particularly in the United States and the inherent contradiction in the precept of equal treatment under the law for all citizens regardless of race and the application thereof, the legitimacy of police departments is questioned by those that are oppressed and mistreated by them.
Third, due to advantages such as qualified immunity and a close, biased relation with prosecutors’ offices there is often little to no accountability of police officers when they do violate the rights and lives of Black people. This increases the chance of conflict.
Fourth and finally, because of the prevalence of cell phone cameras in the general population, the heinousness and vile nature of these interaction are capture and shared widely, thus increasing the sense of deprivation contributing to the likelihood of conflict.
Black Lives Matter has, in my opinion, largely been successful in its efforts because compromise can be found between civilians and police (according to the stated ideals of equal treatment) and is evidenced by the increased accountability of the police. The conviction and sentencing of Derek Chauvin is a prime example of this small but important progress.