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In sociology, post-materialism is the transformation of individual values from materialist, physical, and economic to new individual values of autonomy and self-expression.
Post-materialism is a tool in developing an understanding of modern culture. It can be considered in reference of three distinct concepts of materialism. The first kind of materialism, and the one in reference to which the word post-materialism is used most often, refers to materialism as a value-system relating to the desire for fulfillment of material needs (such as security, sustenance and shelter) and an emphasis on material luxuries in a consumerist society. A second referent is the materialist conception of history held by many socialists, most notably Marx and Engels, as well as their philosophic concept of dialectical materialism. The third definition of materialism concerns the philosophical argument that matter is the only existing reality. The first concept is sociological, the second is both philosophical and sociological, and the third is philosophical.
Depending on which of the three above notions of materialism are being discussed, post-materialism can be an ontological postmaterialism, an existentialistic postmaterialism, an ethical postmaterialism, or a political-sociological postmaterialism, which is also the best known.
The sociological theory of post-materialism was developed in the 1970s by Ronald Inglehart. After extensive survey research, Inglehart postulated that the Western societies under the scope of his survey were undergoing transformation of individual values, switching from materialist values, emphasizing economic and physical security, to a new set of post-materialist values, which instead emphasized autonomy and self-expression. Inglehart argued that rising prosperity was gradually liberating the publics of advanced industrial societies from the stress of basic acquisitive or materialistic needs.
Observing that the younger people were much more likely to embrace post-materialist values, Inglehart speculated that this silent revolution was not merely a case of a life-cycle change, with people becoming more materialist as they aged, but a genuine example of Generational Replacement causing intergenerational value change.
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