Summary: In about 650 words, the entry never defines explicitly the term, but presents an overview of the sociological literature about conflict, with special emphasis on the American discipline of the '50s and '60s.
The author firstly points out that the notion of conflict is itself a source of academic debate, the bone of contention being the nature (whether natural or system-threatening) of conflict.
Among the forerunners, the entry distinguishes theories of Marxist inspiration (which could be labelled "macrosociological" due to their focus on social groups or classes whose interests inevitably clash) from "microsociological" theories inspired by Durkheim (whose focus is on conflicting orientations at the individual level).
The sociology of the '50s combined these two traditions in an original way. On the one hand, the conflict between the classes ceased to be considered a threat to society to the extent that it became institutionalized in political parties, which gave up the idea of a revolutionary change. On the other hand, phenomena such as interests plurality and dispersions acquire relevance both at the organizational and at the individual level. Most notably Kirchheimer's argument shifted the attention of sociologists to the conflicting aims of the members of the same organization. He argued that the group-based interests aggregation, once politicized in the ideological conflict between regime and opposition, was replaced by an individual-based aggregation of minor private interests. More over, the phenomenon of overlapping membership came to be considered as a pillar of the stability of pluralistic democratic regimes.
The entry closes with an overview of criticisms levied on the latter notion.