Homelessness can be understood in the context of Conflict Theory, which holds that capitalism is the main reason for homelessness in the United States. This sample sociology paper explores the idea of Conflict Theory and its application to understanding the homeless problem in the United States.
Homelessness in America
Homelessness has been a substantial problem in the United States for decades. Many argue about the reasons for homelessness which include financial and psychological factors to name a few. Both conservatives and liberals have their specific reasons for the rise of homelessness in this country, but few seem to come up with successful and resilient solutions.
There is much debate regarding the claim that homelessness is the result of lack of resources, laziness, or even lack of motivation. It is evident that capitalism is one of the main reasons for homelessness in contemporary United States, and the cause for capitalism can be linked to the conflict theory.
Social problem’s in a capitalist economy
Homelessness has increasingly become a problem in the United States over the past few decades as is evident in Pennsylvania’s increasing homeless communities, and it is only continuing to get worse.
The epidemic has skyrocketed over the last few years, as “the number of homeless families rose by close to 30 percent between 2007 and 2009” (Champion, 2010).
Communities collect information on the extent of the problem of homelessness using electronic records from emergency housing shelters and a census conducted in abandoned properties, cars, on the streets, and other places. A point-in-time count of sheltered homeless populations presented by The State of Homelessness in America 2013 identified:
- 633,782 people experiencing homelessness at least one night in January 2012
- This translates to a national homeless rate of 20 per 10,000 people
- Veterans make up almost ten percent of the homeless population
It is quite evident that homelessness in America is a social fact with no singular clear explanation or even definition. It is also clear that homelessness is caused by many risk factors, including individual risks, low-income and poverty, and structural risks. The more a person is exposed to these risks, the greater their risk of becoming homeless. This also means that the chance for a person to remain homeless becomes greater as well.
Analysis of the homelessness problem
An explanation of the epidemic of homelessness involves capitalism. Those who are homeless lack economic, social, and human capital. This is combined with the fact that many who are homeless had a low level of resources in the first place.
According to McNaughton, many people become homeless because they already had low levels of capital resources which were reduced even further by edgework, and “anyone may become homeless, but they are more likely to when they have a low level of resources” (2008, p.108).
This also increases one’s risk of not only becoming homeless but remaining homeless.
The main explanation for homelessness is that the United States is quickly becoming a capitalist country. Capitalism is the main cause of unemployment and homelessness in the last few decades. Karl Marx, the famous philosopher who defined the words capitalism, socialism, and communism, said, in a capitalist society, there are those who have capital and those who do not. Furthermore, this type of society identifies the ownership of capital as a deciding factor in a person’s worth both financially and personally.
Right to own property versus right to shelter and protection
The right to own property is protected by law in a capitalistic society such as the United States, while the right to shelter and food are simply not protected by our government. Those who are in charge of corporations and in politics make up the top percentage of the wealthy in this country, and millions of homes are vacant and abandoned. Meanwhile, working class people with children live in crowded shelters or in vehicles. These are the signs of a capitalistic society.
Capitalism basically divides the people into two categories:
- Those who have capital
- Those who do not
In other words, the people are divided into those who are winners in society and those who are not. And it is becoming increasingly clear that those who are homeless are considered to be losers by those who are not are not lacking a roof over their head and meals every day. After all, being homeless involves a loss of some sort:
“Potent social forces [capitalism, patriarchy, imperialism, home ownership] do exist and being homeless is to lose a stake in several of them” (Neale, 2007, p.46).
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Sociological theory applied to homelessness and the conflict theory
A sociological theory that can be used to explain capitalism as a cause for homelessness is the conflict theory. Under Karl Marx’s conflict theory, society has two classes of people: the owners and the workers. The theory suggests that owners basically exploit the workers, depriving them of the basic human necessities such as food and shelter. Meanwhile, the workers believe that they are taken care of adequately, and they rely on the owners for their well-being. But the owners do not have the workers’ best interests in mind because they want to produce wealth by any means.
Under the conflict theory, many people in a capitalistic society see wealth as something that was earned through education, hard work, and dedication. They see the poor and the homeless as lacking motivation, lazy, and uneducated. They believe they want welfare and others to take care of them.
Marx believed that this type of thinking was false consciousness. His conflict theory says that homelessness and other social issues are results of a person’s shortcomings and personality flaws instead of the flaws of society itself.
The conflict theory can be used in research papers to explain capitalism and ultimately homelessness because constant resentment is held by those who have against those who are described as the “have nots” towards the “haves”. There are power differences among social classes that are created by our capitalistic society, and the entire country is dominated by wealthy groups who gain control through competition and ultimately power.
Champion, J. (2010, December 10). Millions of homeless, millions of empty homes. Workers.org. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from http://www.workers.org/2010/us/homeless_and_homes_1216/
McNaughton, C. (2008) Transitions through Homelessness: Lives on the edge. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Neale, J. (1997) ‘Theorising homelessness: contemporary sociological and feminist perspectives’, in Burrows, R., Pleace, N. and Quilgars, D. (eds) Homelessness and Social Policy. London: Routledge: 35-49.
The State of Homelessness in America 2013. (2013, April 8). National Alliance to End Homelessness:. Retrieved December 30, 2013, from http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/the-state-of-homelessness-2013