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

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Material and non-material culture

Sociologists divide culture in two kinds – material culture and non- material culture.

Material culture

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It includes material or concrete things used by man such as house, household commodities, different kinds of apparatus, instruments, weapons, pots and means of conveyance, etc.

Non-material culture

It includes abstract things, such as different customs, conventions, methods, arts, knowledge and religion of a society, etc.

Universal Factors of Culture

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Clark Wissler has included the following universal factors in the culture of every human community – (1) language, (2) concrete apparatuses like food, house, means of conveyance, dress, weapons, utensils, arms, industries and occupations, (3) Arts, (4) Legendary and scientific knowledge, (5) Rituals and blind beliefs, (6) Family and marriage, social control, games and other social institutions of the kind, (7) Property, value, exchange and trade, (8) Government and law, (9) War.

These universal factors of culture are found in all cultures but their forms are different. Different forms of marriage are found in different societies, such as polyandry and polygamy, group marriage, monogamy, etc.

There is a great difference among different cultures regarding food articles. In Whiffen’s ‘North West Amazons’, it is written that Boro and Vito to people of a tribe, known as Issaajapura, in the Western Amazon region, consider monkeys, frogs and lizards as a very delicious food.

They eat even the bees and lice from the heads of their neighbours. According to Gorer, the people of certain tribes in South East Asia are very fond of eating food preparations of dragons and poisonous snakes like Cobra, etc.

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Study of Group Culture

To study a group culture, it’s both the aspects, material and non- material, shall be studied. It will include the above nine factors given by Wissler. For example, if Eskimo culture is studied, their dwellings, conveyance, means of communication, dress, weapons, industries, utensils, etc., will be studied along with the study of their social organization, family, marriage and other social institutions, religion, customs and beliefs, arts, language, legendary and scientific knowledge, government and law and war etc. Ogburn and Nimkoff have given a detailed description of all these in their description of the Eskimo culture.

Eskimo culture (material)

In the material aspect of Eskimo culture, elements given below are important:

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1. House

Eskimos live in house built of snow having the shape of half a ball. There is a small and long door to enter it. One has to bow down in order to enter it. It is kept warm with the help of an earthein lamp containing the fat of a whale fish to keep it lighted. This lamp gives so much warmth that the dwellers inside can do without clothes.

2. Means of communication

Eskimos use for their means of communication, a cart which is called ‘sledge’ and which is drawn by dogs or reindeer. Eskimos use, on water, a light leather boat.

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3. Dress

Eskimos keep themselves covered from head to foot with a cloak of leather covered with longhair. Their shoes are specially comfortable.

4. Industries

Eskimos people have to wander far and wide in search of food. They catch fish and also some other animals and kill them.

5. Weapons

Eskimos people use weapons made of stone or bone. They use a weapon called harpoon in killing walrus and other animals.

Eskimo culture (non-material)

The following is the description of Eskimo’s non-material culture:

1. Social organization

The social organization of Eskimo people depends on families and village group. Men work outside and women inside the house.

2. Art

Their art is not developed. But they are expert in making things of cloth and elephant tusks. Their houses are clean.

3. Religion

Their main goddess is Sedna who controls seasons and seas. They have snow made houses for prayer. Religious leaders ‘angkut’ are regarded as very powerful.

4. Morality

Eskimos do not possess a high moral standard. Promiscuity is not found but even wives are often sent to guests as a mark of hospitality. People are severely punished for doing things which they are prohibited to do.

5. War

There are generally no wars among Eskimo people. Quarrels are mostly settled through competitions in laughter and music.

The above description of the culture of the Eskimo people must have made it clear that culture is a wide phenomenon and there is found a great difference in different forms of factors.

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