Material culture
In the social sciences, material culture is a term that refers to the relationship between artifacts and social relations. Studying a culture's relationship to materiality is a lens through which social and cultural attitudes can be discussed. It is also a term used by historians, sometimes described under the variant term material history, where it means the study of ancient objects in order to understand how a particular culture was organised and functioned over time.

People's relationship to and perception of objects are socially and culturally dependent. The perceived importance of our material heritage was expressed in 1976 by a UNESCO panel that claimed "cultural property is a basic element of people’s identity and ‘being depends on having’ (Rowlands, 2002: 127)" Although protecting cultural heritage can help to empower minorities, preoccupations with official monuments can also silence diverse histories.

This discourse has its roots in museums, but there has been "a shift from such favored objects of theory as Stonehenge and Kula valuables to consumables like tomato soup" This shift is also made visible by the number of books that explore our engagement with the physical world through specific objects; Pencils, zippers, toilets, tulips, etc.

Critical discourse surrounding contemporary material culture has become an important aspect of design education
Design education
Design education is the teaching of theory and application in the design of products, services and environments. It encompasses various disciplines of design, such as graphic design, user interface design, web design, packaging design, industrial design, fashion design, information design, interior...

 because it offers designers new perspectives on how their practice affects society and the environment. Discussions about material culture have offered critiques of consumerism
Consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts. The term is often associated with criticisms of consumption starting with Thorstein Veblen...

 and throw-away culture. New approaches to materiality can be seen through ideas such as Cradle to Cradle Design and Appropriate technology
Appropriate technology
Appropriate technology is an ideological movement originally articulated as "intermediate technology" by the economist Dr...


Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 study the material culture of past societies, and study past societies through their material culture remains.

See also

  • Planned obsolescence
    Planned obsolescence
    Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design is a policy of deliberately planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete or nonfunctional after a certain period of time...

  • Disposable
    A disposable is a product designed for cheapness and short-term convenience rather than medium to long-term durability, with most products only intended for single use. The term is also sometimes used for products that may last several months to distinguish from similar products that last...

  • Over-consumption
    Over-consumption is a situation where resource-use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to inevitable environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases...

  • Sustainable consumption
    Sustainable consumption
    Main articles: Sustainability, Sustainable livingDefinitions of sustainable consumption share a number of common features, and to an extent build in the characteristics of sustainable production, its twin sister concept and inherit much of from the idea of sustainable development:* Quality of...

  • Anti-consumerism
    Anti-consumerism refers to the socio-political movement against the equating of personal happiness with consumption and the purchase of material possessions...

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