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Conflict Theory And Development Theory Comparison & Contrast Paper

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Conflict Theory: Explanation

Conflict theory holds that life is full of discord and competition. This theory aligns with colloquial “it’s a jungle out there.” The theory believes conflicts directs, molds, and influences the dynamics and interactions of a family. The conflict theory focuses on the strive to hold the most power as the one who holds the power also controls how the family operates. This theory exemplifies the struggle for power often seen in society finds itself permeating in the operations of a family as well. Conflict theory centralizes on the idea that life can be full of discord and competition for finite resources.

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Conflict Theory: Core Concepts

There are three core concepts to grasping the design of the conflict theory. The first concept is the ambition for the fulfillment of self-desires or the lust after something that would benefit the individual. Secondly, power is a central concept, which states there are four distinct source of power, and those who have the most power gets to have a larger say, or even the ultimate say, in the direction or dynamics of the family. The last core concept focuses on selfish desires. Humans are innately self-interested; their gut reaction is to advance their own goals as opposed family as a unit or system.

Developmental Theory: Explanation

This is a theory of family sheds light on the idea of family experiencing specific stages throughout life, and these stages dictate the direction of the relationships, composition, and “norms” of the family. All stages are given particular criteria of what should happen in the family. Dynamic is driven by what stage the family is experiencing and how they are responding to the tasks allocated to the stage they are undergoing.

The development theory that most clearly lays out these stages are Evelyn Duvall’s Eight Stages of the Family Life Cycle.

Developmental Theory: Core Concepts

The two core concepts would be the life cycle and development tasks. The family life cycle explains shifts in the structure of the family and roles of the individuals encountered at each stage. The second concept is coined “development tasks.” These are considered the callings (or criteria previously mentioned) which arise at certain stages in the life of the family.


The two main differences between the conflict theory and developmental theory is the question they answer and their view on when to examine the family through the lens of the theory. Conflict theory answers the question “Who has the most power right now?” Development theory answers the question “What stage is the family in and what are they experienced based on this phase?” This leads into our second difference, which is how long the theory follows a family through time and evolvement. Conflict theory looks at specific moments when examining a family where someone held more power over another. Who held the power and therefore got to call the proverbial “shots.” This is differing from the development theory which look at family as a whole from its beginning to its end in order to assess the family’s stage and allows the stage to dictate the placement of the family on the spectrum of dynamics, experiences, and tasks.


However, these two theories share the common trait of erroneously attempting to fit families into specific molds. The conflict theory is rigid and views families from an economic standpoint, assuming everyone is looking out for themselves. It does not take into consideration that love changes everything and the sacrificial love present in a family is what distinguishes it from another group in society where power is yielded and used for self-benefit. The development theory tries to fit families into a mold by insinuating all families must experience certain stages at certain times. It assumes one of the final stages would be the “empty nest” stage but may not always be the case for grandparents, whose adult child might move back in with them for financial reasons. Although the neglect for unique circumstances is seen in different ways, both theories share this trait.

Conflict Theory Application

Application of conflict theory challenges the presentation of families as stable, harmonious, and peaceful social units. Applying the conflict theory to Samira’s situation, it appears as though there is conflict in not only differing opinions in her family of origin but in her future family of procreation as well. Given her current circumstances, Samira is feeling tension with her parents as well as her fiancée, Gregory. Within the first paragraph, we read that Gregory has been pressuring Samira to move in with him for financial reasons and if she is unable to do so, he will have to move at least an hour away. He is living out of the fear of the finite resources of his finances, and uses leverage in his relationship with Samira by exerting power over her. There are four key types of ways that power is extended in the conflict theory. There is legitimacy, money, physical coercion, and love. Legitimacy is the idea that someone has power over someone else because of some sort of lineage. An example of this would be the classic line “because I am are the parent, that’s why”, or putting the oldest sibling in charge simply because they are the oldest sibling. Secondly, money is a source of power as the person who brings the most money in the family has power and control over the dynamics of the family. Third, there is physical coercion which states some have power over their families by using physical force (which doesn’t necessarily mean abuse). Last, there is love. In reality, this is only a perceived love and could be more accurately defined as manipulated. It’s using phrases like “if you really love me, you’ll do what I say.” Gregory appears to be using finances as a source of power over Samira in this conflict. He also appears to be using physical coercion but instilling in her the thought that he might have to physically relocate in order to regain financial stability, which triggers a fear of relational strain between them in Samira’s mind.

Addressing Samira’s family of origin, her father is asserting legitimacy as his source of power over his daughter in this conflict. Using the words “You can be independent make decisions once you are married. Until then, what we say goes.” as a response to his daughter voicing her desires to move in with Gregory prematurely, confirms her father’s source of power over her to be from legitimacy.

Development Theory Application

The development theory is brought into light in two specific instances in this scenario between Gregory, Samira, and her parents. First, Samira’s family of procreation is established which begins her journey in the development theory, we can examine Evelyn Duvall’s Eight Stages of the Family Life Cycle. In each stage of life, you go through challenges in your family which allow you to develop or gain new skills and techniques in life. This theory provides a unique way to study families because it stresses the importance of family evolution over time as it suggest families are social entities influenced by “developmental processes.” From these eight stages we can assess that Gregory and Samira are in the beginning stage called “family formation” or “beginning family.” In this stage, the tasks or areas of development/growth would be to establish a satisfying home and marriage/relationships as well as preparing for children. Looking again at her father’s response towards her desire for some independence from his religious stringency, we can determine that Samira’s family of origin (or her dad’s family of procreation) is most likely to be experiencing the sixth stage of Duvall’s theory, the “launching phase.” This is from the time the oldest child leaves the family for independent adult life till the time the last child leaves. The developmental tasks assigned to this stage is the releasing of young adults and accepting new ways of relating to them; maintaining a supportive home base; adapting to new living circumstances. Samira’s dad is struggling specifically with the developmental task of finding new ways to relate to them, as he doesn’t relate to her wanting to go against his moral compass on moving in with your significant other before marriage. This is affecting another task in this stage of maintaining a support home base, as Samira does not feel supported in this disagreement, but instead experiences internal conflict.


I agree more with conflict theory over the development theory because it feels like I’m more able to immediately asses the sources of power in an example or case study family as opposed to figuring out which stage a family is in. It is not so much that I agree with the conflict theory more, rather I don’t find the development theory to be a reliable way to view family. There seems to be too many variables as to when families will go through certain stages that it is not a dependable way to view a family. Different ways of analyzing the same problem could be useful to open one’s eyes to different perceptions. Seeing something from a different lens often brings up fresh and new thoughts as it forces the brain to think critically. It could be challenging as frustrations could arise when fallacies are found in theories and there does not seem to be one theory that really clicks with the circumstances or individuality that comes with families. I would use theory to guide my own practice or research in a field by using them as framework for the direction of my study. For example, if I were to do a study examining the treatment of different gendered twins in a family, I might look and see if they experience conflict and sources of power differently, I might look at their family dynamics through the feminist perspective, etc.

03 December 2019

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