Deviance can be defined as any action, thought, or feeling that violates norms and values that are accepted in a group or society. When the accepted attitudes and rules of coordinating the interactions between people are disrupted intentionally, it points to some form of deviant behavior (Kramer, 2015). Workplace bullying is one of the important problems in organizations, which can be expressed in physical harm, as well as psychological and emotional discomfort as a result of verbal bullying. This paper aims to explore workplace bullying in terms of conflict and labeling theories to better understand its causes and nature.
According to a conflict theory by Marx, society always contains fundamental conflicts of interest and that the social order is achieved by a balance of power. The interests of the strong people direct the needs and demands of the weak ones (Bowman, 2018). This theory allows stating that the social order is essentially unstable and is probably the result of a struggle. The efforts to overcome stress are devoted to changing the balance of power, which, in turn, leads to social changes. Workplace bullying can be seen as systematic harassment of a person, which indicates the presence of unresolved social conflicts. It can be suggested that bullying relationships contain dominant and subordinate positions likewise the strong and weak sides of the conflict theory. Those who use maltreatment receive some benefits from exploiting their victims. For example, it can be the pressure to complete tasks or take the blame for some misbehavior (Bowman, 2018). These advantages also give a higher status and control over their colleagues, which explains why people refer to bullying.
The theory of labeling was introduced by Becker to explain the reasons for deviant behaviors in society. Kramer (2015) mention that this theory underlines that such behavior happens as a result of the dominance of a social group that identifies minority groups that are believed to perform actions contrary to social norms. The theory discusses how individuals can perceive or define behavior and various terms that the dominant group uses to categorize them. According to this theory, when a society gives a person negative connotations, it makes people accept labels that are attached to them. In the workplace, the prejudice to those who are perceived as powerful can produce negative outcomes by affecting their behaviors. Psychological distress that occurs in response to the stereotyped attitudes causes stigma and anxiety (Kramer, 2015). For example, a manager labeled as cruel and inattentive is likely to adopt these features and use them in his or her everyday communications.
The critical review of the identified theories helps to understand the causes of workplace bullying. However, it seems that the conflict theory contains more details and clarifications. As Goethe (n.d.) says, “I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good” (para. 5). One should agree with the conflict theory that every social group and a separate person compete with each other for resources. More to the point, they strive to power and domination, which can be achieved through social change. Accordingly, in case of workplace bullying, people try to receive more resources and control others. Thus, it is possible to conclude that bullying relationships between employees reflect the example of the conflict theory that defines society as being in a constant state of conflict for limited benefits.
- Bowman, D. (2018). The sociology of bullying: Prevention and intervention using a three themed model. Honors Theses.
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- Kramer, A. J. (2015). One strike and you’re out: The application of labeling theory to the New Jersey anti-bullying Bill of Rights Act. Seton Hall Law Review, 45, 261-288.