Nonmaterial Culture: Definition, Components & Examples

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  • 0:02 Material & NonMaterial
  • 0:57 Components & Examples
  • 3:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that there are seven components to non-material culture? Learn more about non-material culture from examples. Then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Two Aspects of Culture: Material and Nonmaterial

Our culture can be defined as the values, norms, and beliefs that our society holds. We believe that stealing from someone is wrong and stopping at red traffic lights while driving is right. But did you know that culture has both material and nonmaterial components?

Material culture refers to the physical pieces that make up a culture. Material culture consists of things that are created by humans. Examples include cars, buildings, clothing, and tools. Nonmaterial culture refers to the abstract ideas and ways of thinking that make up a culture. Examples of nonmaterial culture include traffic laws, words, and dress codes. Unlike material culture, nonmaterial culture is intangible. So what are the components of nonmaterial culture?

Components and Examples

There are seven components of nonmaterial culture:

  1. Gestures
  2. Language
  3. Values
  4. Norms
  5. Sanctions
  6. Folkways
  7. Mores

Let's take a closer look at examples of each.

Gestures are movements that people make in order to communicate with their bodies. All cultures use gestures. Two cultures may use the same gesture, but it may have different meanings in both cultures. For example, in America it is perfectly normal to beckon or signal someone using your index finger. In Japan, beckoning someone with your index finger can be seen as offensive.

Language consists of written and spoken words that we use to communicate with each other. Each word can be thought of as a symbol to which the culture gives a specific meaning. For example, the word 'school' in itself is just a combination of letters. The American culture has given the word 'school' a specific meaning, which is a learning institution. This definition is one shared throughout the culture, so that whenever someone speaks about a school, we know exactly what they are talking about. Language allows us to share ideas and experiences. Most of our communication is done by using language.

Values refer to a set of standards by which people define what is ethical in a society and what is not. An example of an American value is freedom of speech.

Norms are set standards for how to behave in any given situation. An example of a norm in America is to drive on the right side of the road.

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