Social Processes: Concept, Types and Salient Features

Social processes are the ways in which individuals and groups interact, adjust and readjust and establish relationships and pattern of behaviour which are again modified through social interactions.

The concept of social process refers to some of the general and recurrent forms that social interaction may take. The interaction or mutual activity is the essence of social life. Interaction between individuals and groups occurs in the form of social process. Social processes refers to forms of social interaction that occur again and again.

Social Interaction:

Man is a social animal. It is difficult for him to live in isolation. Humans live in groups. As members of these groups they act in a certain manner. Their behaviour is mutually affected by each other . This interaction is the essence of social life. Social life is not possible without interactions.

Social interactions are reciprocal relationships which not only influence the interacting individuals but also the quality of relationships. According to Gillin and Gillin, “By social interaction we refer to social relations of all sorts in functions – dynamic social relations of all kinds – whether such relations exist between individual and individual, between group and group and group and individual, as the case may be”.

Eldredge and Merrill say, “Social interaction is thus the general process whereby two or more persons are in meaningful contact-as a result of which their behaviour is modified, however, slightly”. The mere placing of individuals in physical proximity, although it usually results in at least a medium of interaction, does not weld them into a social unit or group.

When the interacting individuals or groups influence the behaviour of each other it is called social interaction. People in action with one another means interaction of some kind. But not every kind of action is social.

When people and their attitudes are involved the process become social. Social interaction may then be defined as that dynamic interplay of forces in which contact between persons and groups result in a modifications of the attitudes and behaviour of the participants.

The two basic condition of social interaction are

(i) social contact and

(ii) communication.

In the words of Gillin and Gillin, “social contact is the first phase of interaction”.

Communication are essential adjuncts of social contact. Communication may be the form of direct person to person or it may take place through some medium of long-range contact such as the telephone, telegraph, television etc.

Social interaction usually takes place in the forms of cooperation’s, competition, conflict, accommodation and assimilation. These forms of social interaction are called “social processes”.

Meaning of Social Process:

Social processes refer to forms of social interaction that occur repeatedly. By social processes we mean those ways in which individuals and social groups interact and establish social relationships. There are various of forms of social interaction such as cooperation, conflict, competition and accommodation etc.

Types of Social Processes:

There are hundreds of social processes. But we find some fundamental social processes that are found to appear repeatedly in society. These fundamental processes are socialisation, cooperation, conflict, competition, accommodation, acculturation and assimilation etc. Loomis classified social processes into two categories; the elemental and the comprehensive or master processes.

He describes elemental processes are those by which the separate elements of the social system are articulated and comprehensive processes are those by which several or all of the elements are articulated or involved. These elements are beliefs (knowledge), sentiment, end or goal, norm, status-role (position), rank, power, sanction, and facility.

The elemental process are

(1) Cognitive mapping and validation,

(2) Tension management and communication of sentiment,

(3) Goal attaining and concomitant ‘latent’ activity,

(4) Evaluation,

(5) Status-role performance,

(6) evaluation of actors and Allocation of status-roles,

(7) Decision-making and initiation of action

(8) Application of sanctions,

(9) Utilisation of facilities.

The comprehensive or master processes are

(1) Communication,

(2) Boundary maintenance,

(3) System linkage,

(4) Social control,

(5) Socialisation and

(6) Institutionalisation.

Social process can be positive or negative. Accordingly, social process have been classified into two broad categories, variously entitled ‘conjunctive and disjunctive, ‘associative and dissociative’.

Associative Process:

The associative or conjunctive social processes are positive. These social processes work for the solidarity and benefit of society. This category of social processes include cooperation, accommodation, assimilation and acculturation etc. Three major social processes such as cooperation, accommodation and assimilation are discussed below.

1. Cooperation:

Cooperation is one of fundamental processes of social life. It is a form of social process in which two or more individuals or groups work together jointly to achieve common goals. Cooperation is the form of social interaction in which all participants benefit by attaining their goals.

Cooperation permeates all aspects of social organisation from the maintenance of personal friendships to the successful operation of international programmes. The struggle for exists forces the human beings not only to form groups but also to cooperate with each other.

The term ‘cooperation’ has been derived from two Latin words – ‘Co’ meaning ‘together and Operary meaning ‘to work’. Hence, cooperation means working together for the achievement of a common goal or goals. When two or more persons work together to gain common goal, it is called cooperation. Boys cooperate in games, men in business, workers in production, and public officials in community controls and so on, in an endless variety of beneficial activities that make possible an integrated social life.

Co-operation means working together in the pursuit of like or common interests. It is defined by Green as “the continuous and common Endeavour of two or more persons to perform a task or to reach a goal that is commonly cherished.

According to Merrill and Eldregde, “Cooperation is a form of social interaction wherein two or more persons work together to gain a common end”.

In the words of Fairchild, “Cooperation is the process by which the individuals or groups combine their effort in a more or less organised way for the attainment of common objective”, Cooperation involves two elements: (i) Common end and (ii) Organised effort. When different persons have the same goals and also realise that individually they cannot achieve these goals, they work jointly for the fulfillment of these goals.

The impossibility of solving many of our personal problems alone cause to work with others. Cooperation also results from necessity. It would be impossible to operate a modern factory, a large department store, or an educational system if the divisions and branches in each do not work together.


Following are the important characteristics of cooperation:

1. Cooperation is an associative process of social interaction which takes place between two or more individuals or groups.

2. Cooperation is a conscious process in which individuals or groups have to work consciously.

3. Cooperation is a personal process in which individuals and groups personally meet and work together for a common objective.

4. Cooperation is a continuous process. There is continuity in the collective efforts in cooperation.

5. Cooperation is a universal process which is found in all groups, societies and nations.

6. Cooperation is based upon two elements such as common end and organised effort.

7. Common ends can be better achieved by cooperation and it is necessary for the progress of individual as well as society.

Types of Cooperation:

Cooperation is of different types. Maclver and Page have divided cooperation into two main types namely, (i) Direct Cooperation (ii) Indirect Cooperation.

(i) Direct Cooperation:

Under direct cooperation may be included all those activities in which people do like things together. For example, plying together, working together, carrying a load together or pulling the car out of mud together. The essential character of this kind of cooperation is that people do such identical function which they can also do separately. This type of cooperation is voluntary e.g., cooperation between husband and wife, teacher and student, master and servant etc.

(ii) Indirect Cooperation:

Under indirect cooperation are in included those activities in which people do unlike tasks together towards a common end. For example, when carpenters, plumbers and masons cooperate to build a house. This cooperation is based on the principle of the division of labour.

In it people perform different functions but for the attainment of the common objective. In the modern technological age, specialisation of skills and function are more required for which indirect cooperation is rapidly replacing direct cooperation.

A.W. Green has classified cooperation into three main categories such as (i) Primary cooperation (ii) Secondary cooperation (iii) Tertiary cooperation.

(i) Primary Cooperation:

This type of cooperation is found in primary groups such as the family. In this form, there is an identify of interests between the individuals and the group. The achievement of the interests of the group includes the realization of the individual’s interests.

(ii) Secondary Cooperation:

Secondary cooperation is found in secondary groups such as Government, industry, trade union and church etc. For example, in an industry, each may work in cooperation with others for his own wages, salaries, promotion, profits and in some cases prestige and power. In this form of cooperation there is disparity of interests between the individuals.

(iii) Tertiary Cooperation:

This type of cooperation is ground in the interaction between the various big and small groups to meet a particular situation. In it, the attitudes of the cooperating parties are purely opportunistic; the organisation of their cooperation is both loose and fragile. For example, two political parties with different ideologies may get united to defeat their rival party in an election.

Ogburn and Nimikoff divided cooperation into three main types:

i. General Cooperation:

When some people cooperate for the common goals then there is cooperation, which is known as general cooperation e.g. cooperation found in cultural functions is the general cooperation.

ii. Friendly Cooperation:

When we want to attain the happiness and contentment of our group we give cooperation to each other, then this type of cooperation is known as friendly cooperation e.g. dancing, singing, dating etc.

iii. Helping Cooperation:

When some people work for the victims of famine or flood then this type of cooperation is known as helping cooperation.

Role of Cooperation:

Cooperation is the most elementary form of social process without which society cannot exist. According to Kropotkin, it is so important in the life of an individual is that it is difficult to survive without it. Even among the lowest animals such as ants and termites, cooperation is evident for survival.

Cooperation is the foundation of our social life. The continuation of the human race requires the cooperation of male and female for reproduction and upbringing of children. Cooperation for human beings is both a psychological and social necessity. It is needed at every step in our life.

If one does not cooperate with others, he is left to live a solitary life. The physical mental and even the spiritual needs of the individual remain unsatisfied if he does not agree to cooperate with his fellow-members. It is very difficult for a man to lead a happily conjugal life without the active cooperation of his wife and via-versa.

Cooperation helps society to progress. Progress can better be achieved through united action. The outstanding progress in science and technology, agriculture and industry, transport and communication would not have been possible without Cooperation.

All the progress that mankind has made in the various fields is to be attributed to the cooperating spirit of the people. Cooperation is an urgent need of the present- day world. It is not only needed among the individuals and groups but also among the nations. It provides solutions for many international problems and disputes.

2. Accommodation:

Adjustment is the way of life. It can take place in two ways such as adaptation and accommodation. Adaptation refers to the process of biological adjustment. Accommodation, on the other hand, implies the process of social adjustment. “Accommodation is the achievement of adjustment between people that permits harmonious acting together in social situation. It is achieved by an individual through the acquisition of behaviour patterns, habits and attitudes which are transmitted to him socially.

It is a process through which individuals or groups make adjustment to the changed situation to overcome difficulties faced by them. Sometimes new conditions and circumstances arise in the society. Individuals have learned to make adjustment to the new situation. Thus, accommodation means adjusting oneself to the new environment.

According to Park and Burgess, human social organisation is fundamentally the result of an accommodation of conflicting elements. Conflicts are bound to be there in life. Since conflict cannot continue indefinitely, the conflicting individuals or groups reach an agreement and understanding and conflict comes to an end.

Adjustment and agreement reached by the conflicting individuals and groups called accommodation. Accommodation is a process by which those once in conflict can work together in common enterprises. As end-result of a conflict there emerge arrangements, agreements, treaties and laws which define relationships, rights, obligations and methods of cooperation.

As Maclver and Page say, “the term accommodation refers particularly to the process in which man attains sense of harmony with his environment”.

According to Ogburn and Nimkoff, “Accommodation is a term used by sociologist to describe the adjustment of hostile individuals or groups.”

As Horton and Hunt defines “Accommodation Is a process of developing temporary working agreements between conflicting individuals or groups”.

In the words of Gillin and Gillin “Accommodation is the process by which competing and conflicting individuals and groups adjust their relationship to each other in order to overcome the difficulties which arise in competition, contravention or conflict”.

It is the termination of competing or conflicting relations between individuals, groups and other human relationship structures. It is a way of inventing social arrangement which enable people to work together whether they like it or not. This led Sumner to refer to accommodation as ‘antagonistic cooperation’.


Characteristics of accommodation are :

(i) It is the End-result of Conflict:

The involvement of hostile individuals or groups in conflict makes them realize the importance of accommodation. Since conflict cannot take place continuously, they make room for accommodation. It is the natural result of conflict. If there were no conflict, there would be no need of accommodation.

(ii) It is both Conscious and Unconscious Process:

Accommodation is mainly an unconscious activity because a newborn individual accommodates himself with his family, caste, play-group, school, and neighbourhood or with the total environment unconsciously. Sometimes, individuals and groups make deliberate and open attempt to stop fighting and start working together. For example, warring groups enter into pacts to stop war. Striking workers stop strike after having an understanding with the management.

(iii) It is a Universal Activity:

Human society is composed of antagonistic elements and hence conflicts are inevitable. No society can function smoothly if the individuals and groups are always engaged in conflict. They must have to make efforts to resolve conflicts, so accommodation is very much necessary. It is found in some degree or other in every society all the time.

(iv) It is a Continuous Process:

Accommodation is not confined to any particular stage or to any fixed social situation. Throughout the life, one has to accommodate oneself with various situations. The continuity of the process of accommodation does not break at all. It is as continuous as man’s breathing.

(v) It is a Mixture of both Love and Hatred:

In the words of Ogburn and Nimkoff, accommodation is the combination of two kinds of attitude love and hatred. The attitude of love makes people to cooperate with one another but it is the hate which leads them to create conflicts and to get involved in them and then to accommodate with one another.

Forms or Methods of Accommodation:

Accommodation or resolution of conflicts may be brought about in many ways and accordingly may assume various forms, the most important of them being the following:

1. Admission of one’s Defeat:

This method of accommodation is applicable between the conflicting parties of unequal strength. The stronger group can pressurize the weaker group by its strength. The weaker party submits to the stronger one out of fear or because of fear of being over-powered.

For example, in war, the victorious nation imposes its will on the vanquished and the war comes to close when the stronger party achieves a clear-cut victor) over the other. The loser has to choose whether it will admit one’s own defeat or continue the conflict with the risk of being eliminated together.

2. Compromise:

This method is applicable when the combatants are of equal strength. In compromise, each party to the dispute makes some concessions and yields to some demand of the other. The “all or nothing” attitude gives way to a willingness to yield certain points in order to gain others.

In other words, it can be aid that this method is based on the principle of give and take. Both the combatants should make some concessions or sacrifices voluntarily for each other because they know that conflict would cause the sheer waste of their energy and resources.

3. Arbitration and Conciliation:

Accommodation is also achieved by means of arbitration and conciliation which involves attempts of the third party to resolve the conflict between the contending parties. For example, the conflict between the employer and the employee, husband and wife, two friends, labour and management are resolved through- the intervention of an arbitrator or a conciliator or a mediator. Difference should, however, be noted between conciliation and arbitration.

The conciliator offers only suggestions in order to terminate a conflict. The acceptance of these suggestions is up to the discretion of the contending parties. It has no binding force upon them. Arbitration differs from conciliation in that the decision of the arbitrator is binding on the parties concerned.

4. Toleration:

Toleration is the method of accommodation in which there is no settlement of dispute but there is only the avoidance of overt conflict or open conflict. Toleration is found in the field of religion where different religious groups exist side by side, having different policies and ideologies.

For example, the co-existence of States with radically different economic and social system such as communist and capitalist systems are the examples of toleration. Similarly, at many places we find temples, churches, mosques etc. standing in close proximity to each other for centuries. After many years of religious conflict this kind of religious toleration has been possible.

5. Conversion:

Conversion is a method of accommodation in which one of the contending parties tries to convent his opponents to his view of point by proving that he is right and they are wrong. As a result, the party which has been convinced is likely to accept the view point of other party. For example, the conversion of a large number of Hindus to Islam and Christianity was owing to their inability to tolerate the sufferings of caste-restriction in India. This method may also occur in politics, economics and other fields.

6. Rationalisation:

Accommodation can be achieved by rationalisation. It is a method which involves the withdrawal of contending party from the conflict on the basis of some imaginary explanations to justify his action. In other words it means an individual or a group rationalises has behaviour by plausible exercises and explanations.

For example, the poor people, attributes their poverty to the will of God. Sometimes, students believe that their failure in the examination is due to the defects in the valuation of their answer scripts by examiners, they do not see the fact that their preparation for examination is quite inadequate.

7. Superordination and Subordination:

The most common method of accommodation which is found in each and every society is superordination and subordination. In the family the relationships among parents and children are based on this method. In larger groupings whether social or economic the relationships are fixed on the same basis.

Even under a democratic order there are leaders who give order and the followers who obey order. A caste society, for example, is a stratified society in which groups have accommodated to a low or high position. When individuals or groups ordinarily accept their relative positions as a matter of fact, accommodation is said to have reached a state of perfection.

Importance of Accommodation:

Accommodation is the way which enable people to work together whether they like it or not. Society can hardly go on without accommodation. Since conflict disturbs social integration, disrupts social order and damages social stability, accommodation is essentially essential to check conflict and to maintain cooperation which is the sine qua non of social life.

It not only reduces or controls conflict but also enables the individuals and groups to adjust themselves to changed conditions. It is the basis of social organisation. As Burgess remarks: “Social organisation is the sum total of accommodation to past and present situations. All the social heritages, traditions, sentiments, culture, techniques are accommodations………….. ”

Accommodation makes for group life. It is indispensable in modem complex society. In accommodation the barriers between the parties have been partially broken down, social distance weakened and formal relations established whereby groups can work together.

Thus, accommodation is essential for social harmony. It is close to cooperation and conflict and thus must take trends on both fields into consideration.

3. Assimilation:

Assimilation is a fundamental social process; it is that process by which individuals belonging to different cultures are united into one. Successful accommodation sets the stage for an additional consequences of human interactions, namely assimilation. This implies the complete merging and fusion of two or more bodies into a single common body, a process analogous to digestion, in which we say that food is assimilated.

Assimilation in social relationships means that the cultural differences between divergent groupings of people disappear. Thus, they come to feel; think and act similarly as they absorb new common traditions, attitudes and consequently take on a new cultural identity. We see the process operating among ethnic groups which enter a society with their own society’s culture.

For instance, American Indians adopted cultural elements of whites abandoning their own culture. But assimilation is not limited to this single field only. For example, husbands and wives with dissimilar background often develop a surprising unity of interest and purpose.

The term is usually applied to an immigrant or ethnic minority in process of being absorbed socially into a receiving society, e.g. the assimilation of African Negroes as immigrants in American society. But this does not mean that the immigrants have abandoned everything of their culture and that they have not contributed anything to the host country. The assimilation of Negroes has contributed much to American cultural store in the form of Jazz music.

The contact between the two groups inevitably affects both; though it is natural that culturally weaker group would do more of the borrowing from and would give very little to the culturally stronger group. When two cultures meet, the dominant culture becomes the common culture of the two interacting cultures. For example, before Muslim rule Malaya had the influence of native culture and Budhism. But subsequently, Muslim culture prevailed upon the local culture.

Some of its definitions of assimilation are given below:

According to Biesanz and Biesanz, “Assimilation is the social process whereby individuals or groups come to share the same sentiments and goals”.

“Assimilation”, says E.S. Bogardus, “is a process whereby attitudes of many persons are united, and thus, develop into a united group”.

As Ogburn and Nimkoff define, “Assimilation is the process whereby individuals or groups once dissimilar become similar, that it become identified in the interests and outlook”.

According to Park and Burgess, “Assimilation is a process of interpenetration and fusion in which individuals and groups acquire the attitudes and values of other persons or groups, and by sharing their experience and history, are incorporated with them in a common cultural life”.

Characteristics of Assimilation:

1. Assimilation is an associative process.

2. Assimilation is a universal process. It is found in every place and at all times.

3. Assimilation is a slow and gradual process. It is gradual as the individual comes to share the expectations of another group and slowly acquires a new set of values. The process cannot take place overnight. The assimilation of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman cultures has taken more than two centuries in Britain.

4. Assimilation is a unconscious process. Individuals are not conscious that the discard their own values and acquire new set of values.

5. Assimilation is a two-way process. It is based on the principle of give and take. Assimilation takes place when groups of individuals borrow cultural elements from each other and incorporates them to their own culture. Contact between two groups essentially affects both. Both the groups discard their cultural element and substitute them with new ones.

Factors affective Assimilation:

Assimilation is a complex process. There are certain factors which facilitate assimilation and other which hinder or retard it. The rate of assimilation depends upon whether facilitating or regarding factors predominate. Assimilation occurs most readily when social contacts are those of primary group – that is when they are intimate, personal and face to face.

According to Gillin and Gillin, factors favouring assimilation are toleration, equal economic opportunity, sympathetic attitude on the part of the dominating groups towards the minority group, exposure to the dominant culture, similarity between the cultures of the minority and dominant groups, and amalgamation or intermarriage. On the other hand, factors hindering assimilation are isolating conditions of life, attitude of superiority on the part of the dominant group, excessive cultural and social difference etc.

The following factors may account for the ready occurrence of assimilation:


Toleration is an important factor which facilitate the process of assimilation. Tolerance helps people to come together, to develop contacts and to participate in common cultural and social activities. When the dominant group is hospitable and tolerant towards differences, the minority groups have a greater opportunity to participate in the total community life.

Close Social Contact:

Close social contact is another leading factor which promotes the process of assimilation in a greater way. When the people or group of different cultures come into close proximity with each other, the assimilation process takes place very easily. The close social contact creates a good understanding among the people and the group and this creates a healthy atmosphere in which people exchange their views in a better way.

For instance, in India the assimilation between Hinduism and Buddhism is possible due to the close social contact among the members of these two religious groups. Thus, the close physical proximity plays a vital role in promoting the assimilation process.


Amalgamation is another promoting factor of assimilation. By amalgamation we mean, individuals or groups come into close contact to one another. It occurs when two different cultural groups establish matrimonial relationship among themselves.

For example, the marital relations among the Hindus and non-Hindus facilitate the process of assimilation. The marital relationship brings the people of different culture very close to one another. Thus, amalgamation is an important factor which promotes assimilation process through matrimonial contacts or alliances.

Equal Economic Opportunity:

The inequality of economic status among the people of different cultural groups hinder the process of assimilation. But the equal economic opportunities facilitate assimilation process. The people or groups having equal economic position become more easily intimate. Thus, intimate relationship promotes assimilation.

Common Physical Traits:

Common physical traits or qualities of the people of different cultures also promote the process of assimilation. The foreign immigrants of the same race can more easily assimilate than those with different races. For instance, the Indians who live in America permanently can easily assimilate with the Indian culture.

Cultural similarity:

Cultural similarities between two groups of individuals promote assimilation. If there are similarities between culture groups, assimilation is quick to take place. Similarly, assimilation occurs most readily when two culture groups have common language. Without knowledge of language, the individual remains outside the adopted society. The first step in assimilation into a new society is, therefore, to a lean language.

In reality, assimilation is a part of life itself, as the individual slowly learns to participate in the symbols and expectations of another group. Assimilation can be hastened by such devices as learning of language, getting a job and joining a union. But these things all take time.

Factors Hindering Assimilation:

Merely bringing persons of different backgrounds together does not assure that a fusion of cultures and personalities take place. Sometimes it results in conflict rather than fusion between the contiguous groups. There are various factors that retard assimilation. These factors are discussed below.

Physical Differences:

Differences in features, complexion of skin and other physical trait may also help or hinder in assimilation. Generally the adjustment problems are the easiest for those immigrants who in appearance are supposedly most like the people of the new land.

It may be pointed out that physical differences in themselves may not produce antagonisms or prejudice between peoples as is the case in South Eastern, Asia and Latin America, but when other factors operate to produce group frictions, physical differences give rise to inferiority and undesirability.

Cultural Differences:

Language and religion are usually considered to be main constituents of culture, Immigrants having the same religion and language can easily adjust themselves in other area or country. In America for example English speaking Protestants are assimilated with the great speed and ease whereas non-Christians who do not speak English, have the greatest difficulty in being assimilated there. Customs and belief are other cultural characteristics who can aid or hinder assimilation.


Prejudice is a barrier to assimilation. Prejudice is the attitude on which segregation depends for its success. As long as the dominant group prejudices those who have been set apart, neither they as a group nor their individual members can easily become assimilated to the general culture. Prejudice also impedes assimilation between constituent elements within a given society.

Religious groups often allow the social distance created by prejudice to maintain their separateness when both would benefit by a cooperative effort in community undertakings. Prejudice within a community, within a family or within any group plays into the hands of factions who prefer disunity to a fusion of interests.

Not all prejudice is negative; however, when groups prejudice one another with unusually favourable attitudes, the process of assimilation is speeded, just as it is retarded by negative attitudes.

Sense of superiority and inferiority:

Assimilation is hindered by the feelings of superiority and inferiority. The people who have strong feelings of superiority, generally hate the people who suffer from a sense of inferiority. Due to this reason intimate relationship between two groups of people become difficult. Hence, assimilation is retarded.

 Domination and subordination:

Assimilation between two groups of people is almost impossible where one group dominate the other. In this case social relation which is essential for assimilation does not develop among the people of dominant and subordinate groups. The dominant group always considers the people of subordinate group as inferior and exercises its power over them. As a result jealousy, hatred, suspicion and conflict etc. develop among them. All these hinder the process of assimilation.


Isolation also hinders assimilation. People who live in isolation fail to establish social contacts with others. The isolated people cut off entire social relationship with other people in society. Therefore, the process of assimilation becomes very difficult.

In short, it can be summed up that assimilation is a slow process of adoption and adjustment on the part of individuals. There is no abrupt change in the way of life. In short, assimilation is a process of cultural adoption and adjustment.

Dissociative Processes:

Social process which leads to negative results is called dissociative processes. These social processes result in disintegration of society. These also known disjunctive social processes. Competition and conflict etc. are examples of dissociative social processes.


Competition is one of the dissociative from of social processes. It is actually the most fundamental form of social struggle. It occurs whenever there is an insufficient supply of anything that human beings desire, in sufficient in the sense that all cannot have as much of it as they wish. Ogburn and Nimkoff say that competition occurs when demand out turns supply. People do not complete for sunshine, air and gifts of nature because they are abundant in supply.

But people compete for power, name, fame, glory, status, money, luxuries and other things which are not easily available. Since scarcity is in a sense an inevitable condition of social life, competition of some sort or the other is found in all the societies.

In any society, for example, there are normally more people who want jobs than there are jobs available; hence there is competition for them. Among those who are already employed, there is likewise competition for better jobs. There is thus competition not only for bread but for luxuries, power, social, position, mates, fame and all other things not available for one’s asking.

According to, Sutherland, Woodword and Maxwell. “Competition is an impersonal, unconscious, continuous straggle between individuals and groups for satisfaction which, because of their limited supply, all may not have”.

As E.S. Bogardus says. “Competition is a contest to obtain something which does not exist in quantity sufficient to meet the demand.”

According to Biesanz and Biesanz, “Competition is the striving of two or more persons for the same goal with is limited so that all cannot share it”.

Park and Burgess write, “Competition is an interaction without social contract”.


By analyzing various definitions, the following characteristics of competition can be drawn:

(i) It is Universal:

Competition is found in every society and in every age. It is found in every group. It is one aspect of struggle which is universal not only in human society but also in the plant and animal worlds. It is the natural result of the universal struggle for existence.

(ii) It is Impersonal:

Competition is not a personal action. It is an ‘interaction without social contact.” The competitors are not in contact and do not know one another. They do not compete with each other on a personal level. The attention of all the competitors is fixed on the goal or the reward they aim at. Due to this reason competition is known as an impersonal affair.

(iii) It is an Unconscious Activity:

Competition takes place on the unconscious level. Achievement of goal or the reward is regarded as the main object of competitors. Rarely they do know about other competitors. For example, the students of a particular class get engaged to secure the highest marks in the final- examination. They do not conceive of their classmates as competitors. Students may, no doubt, be conscious of the competition and much concerned about marks.

Their attention is focused on the reward or goals rather on the competitors. (iv) It is Continuous Process: Competition never comes to an end. It is not an intermittent process. It is continuous. As goods are short in supply there must be competition among the people for their procurement. The desire for status, name, fame, glory, power and wealth in an ever increasing degree makes competition a continuous process in human society.

Forms of Competition:

Competition can be divided into many categories or forms. They are economic competition, cultural competition, social competition, racial competition, political competition etc. It exists everywhere but appears in many forms.

Economic Competition:

Generally, economic competition is found in the field of economic activities. It means a race between he individuals and groups to achieve certain material goods. Thus economic competition takes place in the field of production, consumption, distribution and exchange of wealth. For example, competition between two industrial sectors for the production of goods. In modern industrial society, the materialistic tendency of people has led to economic competition to a great extent.

Cultural Competition:

Cultural competition is found among different cultures: It occurs when two or more cultures try to establish their superiority over others. This type of competition leads to cultural diversities in society. When one culture tries to establish its supremacy over other cultures, it gives birth to cultural competition.

In ancient times, it was found that there was a strong competition between the Aryans and non-Aryans and sometimes it led to conflict. The religious competition between the Hindus and Muslims in present day is a bright example of cultural competition.

 Social Competition:

Social competition is mainly found in modern societies. It is the basic feature of present day world. For acquiring a high status, popularity, name and fame in society people compete with each other. Social competition plays a vital role in the determination of individual’s status in society.

Racial Competition:

Racial competition is found among different races of the world. It takes place when one race tries to establish its superiority over the other. The whole human society is divided into a number of races and there always arises an intense competition among them. The competition between the Indo-Aryan race and Dravidian race in India is example of racial competition. Similarly, in South Africa, there is a competition between the white and black races.

Political Competition:

Political takes place in the political field. In all democratic countries, competition is inevitable among the various political parties and even between the different members of a political party to obtain political power. Similarly, at the international level, there is always diplomatic competition between different nations. In India, competition between Congress (I) and B.J.P. for political power is a bright example of political competition.

Besides the above types, there are two other types, of competition such as personal and impersonal competitions. Personal competition means the rivalry between the people. It occurs among the two opponents on their personal level.

In this competition, the competitions are well known to each other personally. Competition between the two students in a class-room or competition between two players in a particular game is the bright example of personal competition.

Impersonal competition, on the other hand, takes place among the groups not among the individuals. In this competition, the competitors compete with one another not one personal level but as members of groups such as business, social and cultural groups. In India, competition between he various religious groups like Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc. is an example of impersonal competition.

Role of Competition:

Competition is considered to be very healthy and a necessary social process. It is indispensable in social life. It has played a major role in the survival of human beings. It is the basic law of life. It is extremely dynamic. It performs many useful functions in society, According to H.T. Mazumdar; it performs both positive and negative functions. They are briefly mentioned below:

(i) Assignment of right individual to proper place:

Competition assigns right individual to a place in the social system. It provides the individuals better opportunities to satisfy their desires for new experiences and recognition. It believes in achieved status. It spurs individuals and groups on to exert their best efforts. Competition determines who is to perform what function. The division of labour and specialisation of function in modern life are the products of competition. It fulfills one’s desire for higher status, which one can achieve by struggling and competing.

(ii) Source of motivation:

Competition motivates others to excel or to obtain recognition or to win an award. The practice of awarding prizes and scholarships to those who occupy the few top position on the merit is designed to foster creativity and promote striving excellence. Competition stimulates achievement by lifting the levels of aspiration for which some individuals work harder for success.

(iii) Conducive to progress:

Healthy and fair competition is considered essential for economic, social as well as technological and scientific progress. Through competition a proper man is selected and placed in the proper place. It is obvious that when a proper man is in the proper place the technological and general progress of the society cannot be hampered. People make their best efforts when they find themselves in competition. It is competition which has made inventions and discoveries in different fields possible.

Besides the above positive functions, competition also performs a few negative functions as well.

(i) Competition may lead to frustration:

Competition may create emotional disturbances. It may develop unfriendly and unfavourable attitudes among the persons or groups toward one another. Unfair and unhealthy competition has the most disintegrating effects. It may lead to neurosis through frustration and to violation of the rules by those who fail in the struggle for status according to “the rules of the game”.

(ii) Competition may lead to monopoly:

Unlimited competition in a capitalist economy gives rise to monopoly. It throws the real needs of the people into waste and causes starvation in the midst of plenty. It may cause fear, insecurity, instability and panic.

For example, in the economic field, businessmen seek to protect themselves against competition that is, by erecting tariff barriers against foreign competition by agreeing upon prices. Labourers unite for protecting their wages and bureaucrats protect themselves through their associations.

(iii) Competition may lead to conflict:

Competition, if it is uncontrolled, may lead to conflicts which are considered inimical to group solidarity or cohesion. Sometimes it may become violent involving unethical and unfair means to divert the competitors’ attention from sportsmanship which is outcome of fair competition.

Therefore, competition should always be healthy and fair.


Conflict is one of the dissociative or disintegrative social processes. It is a universal and fundamental social process in human relations. Conflict arises only when the attention of the competitors is diverted from the object of competition to themselves.

As a process, it is the anti-thesis of cooperation. It is a process of seeking to obtain rewards by eliminating or weakening the competitors. It is a deliberate attempt to oppose, resist or coerce the will of another or others. Conflict is a competition in its occasional, personal and hostile forms.

Conflict is also goal oriented. But unlike cooperation and competition, it seeks to capture its goal by making ineffective the others who also seek them.

According to J.H. Fitcher, “Conflict is the social process in which individual or groups seek their ends by directly challenging the antagonist by violence or threat of violence”. As K. Davis defines, “Conflict is u codified form of struggle”.

According to A.W. Green, “Conflict is the deliberate attempt to oppose, resist or coerce the will of another or others”.

Gillin and Gillin say, “Conflict is the social process in which individuals or groups seek their ends by directly challenging the antagonist by violence or threat of violence”.


Conflict is an important form of social process. It is a part of human society. The main characteristics of conflict are as follows:

It is a Universal Process:

Conflict is an ever-present process. It exists at all places and all times. It has been in existence since time immemorial. The cause of the universality of conflict is the increase of man’s selfishness and his materialist tendency. Karl Marx has rightly mentioned, that ‘violence is the mid-wife of history’.

It is a Personal Activity:

Conflict is often personal and its aim is to eliminate the opposite party. The defeat of the opponent is the main objective in conflict. When competition is personalised it becomes conflict. The parties, locked in conflict, lose sight of their definite goal or objective and try to defeat one another.

It is a Conscious Activity:

Conflict is a deliberate attempt to oppose or resist the will of another. It aims at causing loss or injury to persons or groups. The attention of every party is fixed on the rival rather than on the reward or goal, they seek for. So consciously, knowingly or deliberately the parties make struggle with each other in conflict.

It is an Intermittent Process:

There is no continuity in conflict. It is occasional. It lacks continuity. It is not as continuous as competition and cooperation. It may take place all of a sudden and may come to an end after sometime. If the conflict becomes continuous, no society can sustain itself. So it is an intermittent process.

Causes of conflict:

Conflict is universal. It cannot be definitely said when conflict came into existence or there is no definite cause for its emergence. Still then a number of thinkers have pointed out the valid causes of conflict.

Malthus an eminent economist and mathematician says that conflict arises only when there is shortage of food or means of subsistence. According to him, the increase of population in geometrical progression and the means of subsistence in arithmetical progression is the main cause of conflict between the people.

According to C. Darwin, an eminent biologist, the principle of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest are the main causes of conflict.

According to Frued and some other psychologists, the cause of conflict lies in man’s inmate or inborn aggressive tendency.

Some thinkers point out that the differences in attitudes, aspirations; ideals and interest of individuals give rise to conflicts. No two men are exactly alike. Due to the differences they fail to adjust themselves which may lead to conflict among them.

Social change becomes cause of conflict. When a part of society does not change along with changes in the other parts, cultural lag occurs which leads to conflict. The old generation and new generation conflict is the result of social change.

The rate of change in the moral norms of a society and in man’s hopes, demands, and desires is also responsible for the emergence of conflict. For example, the moral norm that children should obey their parents have persisted in our country since time immemorial but now the younger generation wants to go in its own way. In consequence, there is more parent-youth conflict than before.

Type of Conflict:

Maclver and Page have distinguished two fundamental types of conflict. Direct and Indirect conflict.

Direct Conflict:

When a person or a group injures, thwarts or destroys the opponent in order to secure a goal or reward, direct conflict occurs; such as litigation, revolution and war.

 Indirect Conflict:

In indirect conflict, attempts are made by individuals or groups to frustrate the efforts of their opponents in an indirect manner. For example, when two manufacturers go on lowering the prices of their commodities till both of them are declared insolvent, indirect conflict in that case take place.

George Simmel has also distinguished four types of conflict. These are:


When all the efforts to resolve the conflict between two States fail, war finally breaks out as it is the only alternative to the peaceful means of solution. War provides only means of contact between alien groups. Though it is dissociative in character but it has a definitely associative effect.


Feud or factional strife does not take place among the states or nations. It usually occurs among the members of the society. This kind of strife is known as intra-group but not the inter-group conflict.


Litigation is a form of conflict which is judicial in nature. To redress their grievances and to get justice people take recourse to legal means in the court of law.

Conflict of Impersonal ideals:

It is a conflict carried on by the individuals not for themselves but for an ideal. For example, the conflict carried on by the communists and capitalists to prove that their own system can bring in a better world order.

Another eminent sociologist, Gillin and Gillin has mentioned five types of conflict: personal, racial, class, political and international conflict.

Personal conflict is a conflict between two persons within the same group. Racial conflict is conflict between the two races-whites and Negroes in South Africa. The class conflict is a conflict between two class such as poor and rich or the exploiters and the exploited. Conflict between the two political parties for power is the political conflict. International conflict is the conflict between two nations such as between India and Pakistan over Kashmir issue.

Besides the above, conflict can also be of the following types:

Latent and Overt Conflict:

Sometimes individuals or groups do not want to express their feeling of conflict due to some reasons. The unexpressed or hidden conflict is known as the latent conflict. When the individuals or groups feel bold enough to take advantage of a particular situation, they express their feeling of conflict openly. Such open conflict is known as overt conflict. For example, the latent conflict between India and Pakistan may become overt in the form of war over Kashmir issue.

Personal and Corporate Conflict:

Personal conflict arises among people within a group. It occurs due to various personal motives like hostility, envy, treachery etc. Corporate conflict, on the other hand, arises among groups within a society or between two societies. It is both inter-group and intra-group conflict. For example, racial riots, communal riots, war between nations, labour-management conflict etc.

Role of Conflict:

At the outset, it may be said that conflict causes social disorder, chaos and confusion. It may disrupt social unity but like competition, conflict performs some positive functions. Conflict is both harmful as well as useful for the society.

Positive Functions:

Following are the positive functions of conflict.

It promotes the solidarity and fellow-feeling:

The conflict which promotes the solidarity and fellow-feeling within the groups and societies is known as corporate conflict. This conflict tends to increase the moral and promote the solidarity of the in-group, threatened by the out-group. For example, in war time cooperation and patriotism among the citizens of a nation are more perfect than in peace time. “Inter-group conflict”, to quote Ogburn and Nimkoff’ is a potent factor in promoting inter-group cooperation.”

It enlarges the victorious group:

The victory won through the process of conflict enlarges the victorious group. The victorious group either increases its power or incorporates new territory and population. In this way conflict makes possible the emergence of a larger group.

It leads to redefinition of value system:

Conflict may lead to a redefinition of the situation by the contesting parties. Generally, the parties which are in conflict with each other give up the old value system and accept new ones when the conflict is over. In this way conflict may give rise to new types of cooperation and accommodation.

It acts as a cementing factor in the establishment of intimate relations:

Conflict in certain cases acts as a cementing factor in the establishment of intimate and friendly relations among people or parties that were involved in it until a short time ago. For example, the end of the verbal conflict between lovers, friends and married couples leads to the establishment of relations which are now more intimate than before.

It changes the relative status of the conflicting parties:

Conflict changes the relative status of the contestants and of the non-contestants as well. For example, after the Second World War, both Germany and Japan lost their status as great powers. China today has become a leading Asian power; United States has merged as a super-power.

Negative Functions:

The negative functions of conflict are mentioned below:

It causes social disorder, chaos and confusion: War, a type of conflict, may destroy the lives and properties of which are involved in it. It may bring incalculable damage and immeasurable suffering to a number of people. The warring parties generally incur great losses. They gain nothing in comparison with the loss incurred. The modern mode of warfare which can destroy million of people and vast amount of properties within a few minute, has brought new fears and anxieties for the mankind.

It disrupts social unity and cohesion:

Conflict is regarded as anti-thesis to cooperation. It disrupts normal channels of cooperation. It is a costly way of settling disputes. The results of intergroup conflict are largely negative. Conflict weakens the solidarity of the group by diverting members’ attention from group objectives. It violates the national integration in a greater way which may lead to the disorganisation of the society.

It causes a lot of psychological and moral damage:

The morale of individuals touches a new low in conflict on a personal level. It makes people psychologically weak. It spoils the mental peace of man. It may even make the people to become inhuman. In case, conflict does not come to quick end, it makes the conflicting individuals very weak and apprehensive about losing something. Therefore, it is quite likely that- it may lead to their moral deterioration.

Distinction between competition and Conflict:

To clarify the distinction between conflict and competition the following points may be noted:

i. Conflict takes place on a conscious level, competition is unconscious.

ii. Conflict involves contact, competition does not.

iii. Conflict may involve violence, competition is non-violent.

iv. Conflict is personal, competition is impersonal activity.

v. Conflict lacks continuity, competition is a continuous process.

vi. Conflict disregards social norms, competition does care for norms.

vii. Conflict diverts members attention from group objectives, competition keeps members alert to the goal or objective.

Cooperation, Conflict and Competition: Interrelations:

Cooperation is the basic form of human interaction in which men strive jointly with each other for a good goal. Competition as a form of interaction occurs when two or more persons or groups struggle for some goal. Conflict takes the form of emotionalised and violent opposition in which the major concern is to overcome the opponent as a means of securing a given goal or reward.

It is direct and openly antagonistic struggle of persons or groups for the same object or end, cooperation is an associative process, while competition and conflict are dissociative processes. Competition and conflict divide men. But competition differs from conflict in that the former is impersonal, while the latter is personalised competition in a less violent form of struggle than conflict.

The three forms of interaction thus appear to be distinct and separate. In reality, however, cooperation, conflict and competition are interrelated. They are ever-present processes in human relations. They are not separable things but phases of one process which involves something of each.

According to Cooley, conflict and cooperation are not separable things, but phases of one process which always involves something of both. Even in the most friendly relations and in the must intimate associations there is some point where interest diverge. They cannot therefore cooperate beyond that point and conflict is inevitable. The closest cooperation, for instance, within the family does not prevent the occurrence of quarrels.

Cooperation exists between men when their interests remain harmonious. But according to Davis, there is no group whether family or the friendly group which will not contain the seeds of suppressed conflict. Elements of conflict exist in all situations, because the ends which different individuals try to attain are always to some extent mutually exclusive.

Conflict also involves cooperation. In very conflict, there is some hidden basis of compromise or adjustment. For example, enemies in wartime cooperate under certain rules while they proceed to annihilate each other with the accepted modes and weapons of war. As end-result of conflict, there emerge arrangements and agreements which give rise to cooperation.

Regarding the end of a conflict Mack and Young comments, “At its most rudimentary level, conflict results in the elimination or annihilation of the opponent. In human society, however, most conflict ends in some sort of arrangement or accommodation or in the fusion of the two opposing elements”.

There is no competition which will not contain the seeds of conflict. As competition becomes more personal, it shades into conflict. Conflict does not always occurs when competition become acute. It only happens if attitudes of the competitors become personal and hostile toward one another.

But every competition will contain such attitudes, though suppressed. An individual wishes not only to win the prize but beat another individual. Each knows that he can win the prize only by defeating the other. When competition becomes personalised in this way and becomes keener, hostility between the competitors easily develops.

Competition also involves cooperation. A competitive struggle implies some agreement among the competitors. Members of football teams compete according to rules prescribed for them.

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About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
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