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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.

  • The scarcity hypothesis
  • The socialisation hypothesis
  • Maintaining order in the nation.
  • Giving people more say in important political decisions.
  • Fighting rising prices.
  • Protecting freedom of speech.
  • Roland Benedikter, Postmaterialismus - Die zweite Generation. Volume 1: Einfuehrung in das postmaterialistische Denken (2001), Volume 2: Der Mensch (2001), Volume 3: Die Arbeit (2001), Volume 4: Die Natur (2002), Volume 5: Das Kapital (2003), Volume 6: Die Globalisierung (2004), Volume 7: Perspektiven postmaterialistischen Denkens (2005). Vienna, Passagen Verlag 2001-2005.
  • Ronald Inglehart 1971: The Silent Revolution in Post-Industrial Societies. In: American Political Science Review 65: 991-1017. ISSN 1537-5943
  • Ronald Inglehart 1977: The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Ronald Inglehart, Miguel Basánez, Jaime Díez-Medrano, Loek Halmann and Ruud Luijkx (eds.) 2004: Human Beliefs and Values. A cross-cultural sourcebook based on the 1999-2002 values surveys. Coyoacan: siglo veintiuno editores.
  • Abraham H. Maslow 1987 (1954): Motivation and Personality. 3rd edition. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Franz Urban Pappi and Michael Terwey 1982: The German Electorate: Old Cleavages and New Political Conflicts. In: Herbert Döring und Gordon Smith (eds.), Party Government and Political Culture in Western Germany, London: Macmillan: 174-196.
  • Michael Terwey: ALLBUS: A German General Social Survey. In: Schmollers Jahrbuch. Zeitschrift für Wirtschafts- un Sozalwissenschaften. Journal of Applied Social Science Studies. Nr. 120, 2000: 151-158. ISSN 0342-1783
  • ZA (Zentralarchiv für Empirische Sozialforschung) and ZUMA (Zentrum für Umfragen, Methoden und Analysen): German General Social Survey. ALLBUS / GGSS Cumulation 1980 - 2004 (ZA-Study-No 4243), Electronic Codebook, integrated Data File, and Survey Description, Cologne: GESIS.


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