12 julio, 2024

Non-material culture: what it is, elements and examples

What is non-material culture?

The non-material culture, or immaterial, is the set of human creations that are not physical objects. They are, for example, norms, traditions, values, symbols, beliefs or language.

Norms are the rules and expectations by which society guides the behavior of its members. They can be proscriptive, which prohibits behaviors, and prescriptive, which explains what is allowed to be done. Although the rules are binding, especially with regard to conduct, they are not always followed.

Regarding values, they cannot always be defined in general terms, since they vary according to the different traditions and societies with their cultural heritage. Values ​​are principles of action that tell us what is right and what is wrong, and as mentioned before, they vary with different cultures.

Nor is there a uniformity of cultural values, even in the same society. There are majority and minority, hegemonic and marginal, inherited or innovative values.

For example, national identity is the feeling of belonging to the country of birth. Other examples are tradition or religion. These vary according to the culture of each region: what is true for some is not true for others.

All this belongs to the realm of non-material or immaterial culture.

Elements of non-material culture


Different societies transform some elements into symbols. A symbol is anything that has a special meaning and is recognized by people who share the same culture.

People are so used to the symbology of their culture that they pay no attention to it. But when they are inside a strange culture, they find themselves at a loss for not understanding the cultural symbology.


Beliefs are certain statements that people hold to be true. They are the issues that, according to the individual, can be considered true or false.

The cultural ones determine how the environment is perceived, and are part of how a certain society sees the world from its moral point of view. Most of the beliefs are inherited from the family itself, as is the case with religious values.


Language is a system of symbols that allows society to identify and communicate. It is the most important instrument of any culture, as it reflects its cosmological vision, its vision of the world and its way of understanding things.

The word, oral or written, is culturally variable due to language differences and also due to different alphabets. The different alphabets or ideograms that are used also differ in the way of writing. From right to left, from left to right or from top to bottom, depending on the culture and tradition.

It is estimated that there are more than 6,900 different languages ​​in the world, with Chinese being the most widely spoken, as China is the country with the largest population.

English and Spanish follow. There are also thousands of languages ​​spoken in different regions by minority groups. Most are not the official language of the country to which they belong.

Examples of non-material culture

The tradition of the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Western democracy. The place of women in Islamic countries. Colloquial oral expressions in Argentina and Uruguay. Give each other kisses on the cheeks when greeting each other (Spain, France, Italy, etc.).


Immaterial culture. Retrieved from es.wikipedia.org.
Immaterial culture. Recovered from mitecnologico.com.

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