Cultural Materialism - Marvin Harris
Cultural Materialism is an anthropological paradigm founded upon, but not constrained by, Marxist Materialistic thought. The term Cultural Materialism, first coined by Marvin Harris in his The Rise of Anthropological Theory (1968), is derived from two English words: "Culture" (social structure, language, law, religion, politics, art, science, superstition, etc.) and "Materialism" (materiality, rather than intellect or spirituality, is fundamental to reality). Harris developed Cultural Materialism by borrowing from existing anthropological doctrines, especially Marxist Materialism.
Cultural Materialism - Infrastructure, Structure and Superstructure
Cultural Materialism retains and expands upon the Marxist Three Levels of Culture Model: Infrastructure, Structure and Superstructure.
- Infrastructure -- population, basic biological need, and resources (labor, equipment, technology, etc.).
- Structure -- pattern of organization (government, education, production regulation, etc.).
- Superstructure -- social institutions (law, religion, politics, art, science, superstition, values, emotions, traditions, etc.).
Cultural Materialism - Organization, Ideology and Symbolism
Cultural Materialism seeks to explain cultural organization, ideology and symbolism within a materialistic (Infrastructure/structure/superstructure) framework. Cultural Materialists believe society develops on a trial and error basis. If something is not beneficial to a society's ability to produce and/or reproduce, or causes production and/or reproduction to exceed acceptable limits, it will disappear from society altogether. Therefore, law, government, religion, family values, etc. must be beneficial to society or they will cease to exist within society. Cultural Materialists ignore "Emic" (society's opinion) in favor of "Etic" (observation of phenomenon via scientific method).
Cultural Materialism - Criticisms
Proponents of alternative anthropological doctrines criticize Cultural Materialism for various reasons. Marxists criticize Cultural Materialism for ignoring Structure's influence upon Infrastructure. Postmodernists believe that reliance upon "Etic" in studying culture is not appropriate, as science is merely a function of culture. Idealists criticize Cultural Materialism for ignoring variables such as genetics, and believe "Emic" is more significant than Cultural Materialists allow. Finally, it seems that Materialism is too simplistic. We must consider intellectual and spiritual influences upon society as well. We are intelligent creatures who tend to have spiritual inclinations that cannot be accounted for by material means alone.