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Reshaping Nonmaterial Culture: The Global Affect of the Material Culture of the West

Excellent example of paper 2 by Kristy Reddick.

While various systems of trade and currency exchanges have spanned the globe for thousands of years, the late 20th century and early 21st century has been witness to the advent of a bona fide global economy. Rapid advancements in industry, technology and the birth of the "information age" have had dramatic effects upon business's ability to produce and market goods and services the world over. The West, most notably the United States, has been at the forefront of the commercialized global economy, exerting an incredible influence upon fellow industrialized states and developing nations. The fashion icons, franchise logos, foods, and film industry of the United States have radically impacted the material cultures of other parts of the world. Yet the affects of the globalized commercial economy and world wide information network extend beyond the absorption of US products and services. The nonmaterial aspects of world cultures are being vastly influenced by globalization. This phenomena is being embraced and celebrated by many people the world over but is met with opposition by others who view our cultural influence to be detrimental and dangerous to their societies. My intent is to briefly explore how nonmaterial aspects of culture in nations such as those in the Middle East have been influenced by the inclusion of material culture from the West.

Material culture may be defined as consisting of "objects created in a given society, which are its buildings, art, tools, toys, publications, and other tangible objects...[which are] significant because of the meaning they are given" (Anderson, 2008) . Nonmaterial culture can be deciphered by observing the "norms, laws, customs, ideas, and beliefs of a group of people" (Anderson, 2008). While nonmaterial culture is generally intangible, it can be thought of as the "guiding force" of the behaviors of a society. Material and nonmaterial aspects of culture continuously interact and influence one another. They are dynamic forces, subject to change and evolve through time. Due to the intrinsically linked nature of this relationship, a shift in material culture may have a striking effect upon nonmaterial culture, and visa versa.

The globalization of the world economy has enabled the United States to market its material culture to rest of the planet. In reflection upon our nation's media influence, David Rothkop of the Foreign Policy Forum notes that "the United States dominates [the] global traffic in information and ideas. American music, American movies, American television, and American software are so dominant, so sought after, and so visible that they are now available literally everywhere on the Earth" (Rothkop, 1997). Rothkop states that our material culture influences "the tastes, lives, and aspirations of virtually every nation". The terminology which Rothkop uses in the above mentioned excerpt may be interpreted as the positive reaction with which our products are being received in other nations. However, Rothkop continues by pointing out that many nations believe that American music, movies, television and software are "corrupting". He notes that France and Canada have passed laws which "prohibit the satellite dissemination of foreign - meaning American - content across their borders and into the homes of their citizens" and Iran, China and Singapore have "aggressively sought to restrict the [Western] software and programming" that reaches their people (Rothkop, 3). According to Rothkop, in the Middle East, media from the West is often referred to as "news pollution". The efforts of the governments of Canada, France, Iran, China and Singapore to limit or ban distinctly American music, movies, television and software indicates a strong conviction on behalf of the leaders of these nations that this form of our material culture is, by and large, not acceptable. Acquisition and unlimited access to these forms of entertainment would allow for greater dissemination of Western material culture, which in many parts of the Middle East, for example, is diametrically opposed to the predominant nonmaterial cultural values prevalent in the society.

The concept that the nonmaterial cultural values of the Middle East may be seen as in conflict with our Western material culture is exemplified in Gallup Poll conducted by Richard Burkholder of Princeton, New Jersey. The question "in your own words, what do you most resent about the West?" was posed to people within eight Islamic nations; Morocco, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan and Iran. Four responses from each nation were graphed, resulting in an overwhelming percentage majority claiming that what which is most resented about the West is connected to "social aspects". The category of "social aspects" is elaborated into the West as "too free, low morals, free sex, impolite to elders, [and] dislocation of family relations" (Anderson, 2008). The eight nations polled in this survey revealed elements of their nonmaterial culture in their responses. According to this study, Islamic nations highly value morality, structure, engrained rules concerning sex, respect for elders and cohesive family units. It seems as though Western material culture is perceived as not upholding these important Islamic cultural norms and values, thus is viewed as detrimental and dangerous.


The globalization of the economy and information systems has reshaped the material culture of nearly every society on earth. The material culture of the West continues to pervade the globe, often disseminating into other societies and influencing the nonmaterial culture of the people. When a society rejects various forms of the material cultural of West, it is important to recognize that this may be due to the fact that the beliefs and values which constitute the nonmaterial culture group may not reflect the meaning implied in the Western material culture.


Works Cited

Anderson, M. L. (2008). Sociology in Everyday Life. USA: Thomson Wadsworth Co.

Rothkop, D. (1197). In Praise of Cultural Imperialsim? Effects of Globalization on Culture. Retrieved April 13, 2008, from Global Policy Forum: http://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/cultural/globcult.htm.