What Is Cultural Materialism?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Mar 29, 2020 7:37:40 PM ET
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Cultural materialism is an anthropological research method that prioritizes the study of material conditions to understand human nature. Material conditions include geography, food, climate and societal organization. The study of cultural materialism works with the idea that the best way to understand a culture is to observe how humans react to problems presented by their environment.


The theoretical approach to cultural materialism studies socio-economic systems on three different levels. The first level is superstructure which consists of the mental and physical behaviors of people in the culture. Elements of the superstructure include literature, advertising, sports, science, art, rituals, hobbies, values, emotions and traditions. The structure includes the domestic and political economies. The domestic economy are the people in the civilization who interact on an intimate, day-to-day level. Members of the political economy interact with each other for the continuation of the society without emotional interaction.

Infrastructure involves the study of production and reproduction of the society. Reproduction involves studying the technology and methods that are utilized by a civilization to grow. Production studies the technology and methods that the civilization uses to cultivate crops, expand and develop resources such as energy and other types of basic subsistence production. Elements of the infrastructure are also studied for the ways in which the civilization limits production and reproduction.