Difference Between Material and Non-material Culture

Material vs Non-material Culture

Have you ever thought about the difference between Material and Non-material Culture? In this article, we are going to look at these two terms in detail. Culture is a way of symbolizing the way that people live, their lifestyles and creativity, etc. A culture includes art, knowledge, beliefs, values, norms, organizations, social relationships and so many other things in a community. A particular community may have one culture and there is cultural diversity among different cultures. However, each culture has its own material and non-material cultural possessions. Material culture is the physical objects that represent a particular culture whereas non-material culture contains ideas, attitudes or beliefs in a certain culture.

What is Material Culture?

As mentioned above, material culture includes the physical objects that can be seen, touched and felt by others. No matter to which period they belong, the archaeological sites people have created fall under material culture. This consists of human creations. Almost all the things that man produces can be considered as material culture. The material culture has made human life easier since it has built a bridge connecting humans with the physical environment. As a result, the material culture represents humans’ relationship with the nature also. The man may build a house in order to protect him from the sunlight and this process of survival has led the mankind to create a lot of material things, adding value to their own culture as well. Buildings, architecture, songs, art, music, plant fields, canals, tanks, statues along with some thousands of other creations we can identify as examples in material culture. By using the material culture, humans can add a value to his/her culture. Also, they may modify or even exploit the environment during this process. Nevertheless, material culture has made humans the dominant beings on earth.

Material Culture

What is Non-material Culture?

Non-material Culture contains ideas, values or attitudes that a culture is shaped. The knowledge, beliefs, norms and rules that form a society and its peoples’ behavior can be considered as non-material culture. Each and every culture has its own belief system and they may believe in Gods and angels, heaven and hell and many other myths and legends. These are passed from one generation to another and they have helped to bring people together in a community also. Generally, the attitude and belief system in a community is created by the social institutions such as family, religion, government, education, etc. Non-material culture includes intangible things and these do not have a physical existence as material objects. However, the material things have a symbolic value related to the non-material things. For example, people have religious faith in their hearts and this is non-material culture. This faith can be symbolized by some physical objects such as statues or emblems. So, the non-material faith is embedded in the material object. The wedding ring has a material existence and it may reflect love, care and faith to each other between couples.

Difference Between  Material and Nonmaterial Culture

What is the difference between Material and Non-material Culture?

In each and every culture, we can see material and non-material culture.

  • Material culture includes things that have a physical existence and these are created by man himself.
  • Non-material culture represents a community’s values, norms and attitudes and these do not have a material existence.
  • Further, the non-material culture is implanted in material objects, representing the value system in the particular community.

Both material and non-material culture help to shape a culture and they signify the peoples’ lifestyles and creativity in a community. Both these are subjected to change over time and both have a strong relationship in shaping a culture.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Material Culture by Massimo Catarinella (CC BY-SA 3.0)