A Discussion On Postmaterialism At A Modern


A Discussion On Postmaterialism At A Modern Day Campus Essay, Research Paper

The concept of postmaterialism was first proposed by Ronald Inglehart in the ‘Silent Revolution’ (1977). In this essay, I will firstly analyse what materialism then postmaterialism are. I shall then discuss some of the criticisms of the theory. I will then analyse to what extent Essex University students are postmaterialist using examples of student societies and then explain why I feel that they are more materialist and offer some explanations of why this is so. In order to fully understand what postmaterialism is, it seems necessary to firstly explain what is meant by materialism. Essentially, this is an explanation of social processes by referring to physical or material entities. It focuses on economics and material conditions of life in explaining how people think and act. Postmaterialism, defined by Inglehart as “a space where diverse social and intellectual tendencies converge and clash”; is the idea that society has moved on from this position and is no longer so concerned about material or physical conditions and place greater emphasis on (for example) job satisfaction, ecological issues, human and animal rights – the quality of life. Materialism therefore deals with the conditions of life, and postmaterialism – the quality of life. Postmaterialism rests on two hypotheses; the first one is the scarcity hypothesis, “one places greater subjective value on those things that are in relatively short supply.” Linked to this, is the idea that Individual needs can be put into a rank order; and people become concerned with a need once they perceive that more important ones have been satisfied. The second hypothesis is the socialisation hypothesis, “ones basic values reflect the conditions that prevailed during ones’ preadult years.” Peoples attitudes are “relatively deep-rooted, and early instilled as part of ones’ outlook of life.” Whatever was occurring during the time of life identified by Inglehart as ‘preadult’ affects an individuals outlook, ideas, and values in later years. This notion, he terms ‘formative security’ and he says the more secure an individual is, the less likely they are to emphasise materialist goals and be more postmaterialist as a result. Added to the two hypotheses is the belief that a generation will have a collective conscience, faced with similar situations a generation will have a similar degree of formative security. Value change is therefore a generational process, with each generation having a distinct set of priorities to its predecessor. It also means that a generations views can be explained by events which could have occurred during the formative period – up to sixty or more years previous to the time analysed. Inglehart argues that both materialist and postmaterialist ideas manifest themselves in an individual, however, materialist needs such as personal security and wealth can take priority and mask the postmaterial beliefs. Once the materialist goals have been fulfilled, postmaterialist goals become dominant. How soon materialist aims are achieved depends on the individuals experience of ‘formative security’ and to what degree they are needed before postmaterialist aims can be sought. What Inglehart is essentially arguing is that priorities are being reordered due to changes in societies wealth, they are by no means new priorities. The motivators of change to postmaterialism are security and economic development. Societies which have a high level of wealth and especially those who are the richest in a society are more likely to hold postmaterialist views. “The publics of relatively rich societies” experience extensive welfare provision, high levels of education and intellectually stimulating occupations; these in turn form subjective notions about security and priorities about materialism/postmaterialism. Inglehart argues that generations born after the second world war place less emphasis on materialist goals as a result of the lack of war or economic deprivation (i.e. high economic growth). As the new generations replace older ones, the gradual shift to postmaterialism of approximately 1% per year means that it will be held by over 50% of the population by around the year 2010. This means that in groups such as students at the University of Essex must have relatively high levels of postmaterialism in order for the trend to continue. There are a number of consequences for the growth of postmaterialism. As postmaterialist generations take up professions in business, the civil service and politics, an inevitable change in focus in policy and outlook will occur. Having also been well educated compared to the previous generations, they are also more able to argue and influence agendas thereby exacerbating their impact. As postmaterialists move away from the post war agenda, new political parties will emerge, confronting the traditional parties and eventually dominating the political agenda, parliament and policy. Postmaterialism will lead to a change in society and politics and cause much disturbance in the status quo whilst this occurs. Two main criticisms can be made of Ingleharts thesis. Firstly, his argument of ‘higher order needs’ seems weak, it is untestable and ambiguous as to how an individual can prioritise views which can contradict each other. Ingleharts definition of postmaterialism is very vague and can cover almost anything and becomes meaningless. It needs to be better quantified, as he later does, by saying postmaterialist goals are new, dealing with new issues on a new agenda characterised by single issue groups. It questions “traditional views on work, authority, traditional religion, sexual and social norms” and the emergence of “feminist, green and postmodern outlooks.” Postmaterialism also appears too simplistic, the changes cannot be fully accounted for and is at best an approximation of what is occurring. Society is much more dynamic, diverse and complex to be placed in a simple dichotomy such as Ingleharts. Perhaps a more complicated theory is needed to describe the apparent shift in the political views identified. `The University of Essex has many student societies which are set up and run by students with a particular common interest or view. These societies are extremely diverse and cover almost any interest a student may have. If it is taken that these societies are a fair reflection of students views, some of these societies can be seen to be materialist or postmaterialist and the level of participation for each looked at. Other societies, such as those with a cultural or ethnic interest are more difficult to define as these tend to be set up by and for foreign students to support themselves whilst in Britain, and so difficult to characterise. The final grouping is those societies set up to cater for students in a particular degree scheme which again cannot be defined along Ingleharts dichotomy. Society Membership No Society Membership No Labour 105 Gregorian 255 Conservative 20 Islamic 205 Lib democratic 20 Christian Union 38 Student Industrial Society (SIS) 85 Jewish (J&I) 58 Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) 20 Table 1: Materialist Societies and Membership Levels. 6/3/96. 1429 total students. `Old, ‘Conditions Of Life’ Societies. Total: 806 `(56%) ` Society Membership `No Society Membership `No Cohort `% Green 24 Animal Rights 30 Pure Postmaterial Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Supporters (LGB) 43 HIV and AIDS Awareness 31 9% With Club UK 136 Rock 120 Postmaterial Soul 25 Poetry 36 31% Tendencies Music (Musoc) 39 Classical 47 Photography 41 Little Postmaterial Tendencies 5th Monarchists 51 4% Table 2: Postmaterialist Societies and Membership Levels. 6/3/96. 1429 total students. `New, Socially Aware, ‘quality of Life’ Societies. Total: 623 `(44%) According to Inglehart, University of Essex students should be predominantly postmaterialist. They benefit from the post-war period of high levels of education, welfare state and little threat from war or poverty. However, tables 1 and 2 do not show this, they show that the two groups are broadly equal in size, the materialists accounting for 56% and the postmaterialists, 44%. The traditional party groups such as Labour and the newly formed societies representing Conservatives and Liberal democrats show that Essex students still empathise with the traditional political parties. The Student Industrial Society is concerned with material wealth, attempting to make links with the local community and commerce. the ‘traditional’ or established religions advocated by the Gregorian, Islamic, Christian union and Jewish societies shows the strength which still exists for them at Essex. The postmodern societies can be divided into three groups; the first I shall term ‘pure’ postmodern societies and are lightly shaded in table 2. These are easily defined as postmodern, and there is little ambiguity about them. The second group are the clear group in table 2, these consist of groups with postmaterialist tendencies but it seems wrong to label them as such as the are broadly apolitical and have little to do with religion or culture; they are broadly related to hobbies. They are also not especially new. the final category is the diagonally filled area in table 2 and relates specifically to the 5th Monarchists. This society does not fit into any of the above categories but needs including as a small number of them organise Action by Students for Kids (ASK) who raise money for crèche facilities. They cannot be included as a ‘pure’ postmaterialist society as it is in reality an informal drinking club for a small clique of students and therefore not concerned with postmaterial goals. At first analysis, 56% of all students analysed belong to materialist societies, whereas 44% belong to postmaterialist ones, however, if only the ‘pure’ societies are examined, they are only 9% (128 students), a very small proportion. To refer back to Inglehart, who saw younger generations becoming more and more postmaterialist with each successive generation, the theory does not seem to hold for Essex. The question which now needs to be addressed is, “Why are University of Essex students more materialist than what Inglehart suggests?” An economic answer which would be proposed by Inglehart in this circumstance. He states that there is an inverse relationship between inflation and postmaterialism, as inflation rises, the level of postmaterialism falls. When this is put in context with his second hypothesis about formative security, he would argue that University students place a high level of importance on material goals due to experiences as a preadult. Scarbrough argues that on the face of it, there is an inverse correlation. However, upon further analysis, she argues that the relationship is spurious. She suggests that either the relationship is very complex or there is a missing variable leading to a misspecification. A combination of inflation, unemployment, changes in real gross domestic product (GDP), and growth would produce a less spurious correlation. However, such a complex model is difficult to analyse over time as definitions of each regularly change and are not easily comparable, for example, the many different definitions of unemployment used by the British Government in the 1980s and 90s. To explain the low level of postmaterialism amongst Essex students, an analysis of political events can be used in combination with the two hypotheses used by Inglehart to produce a basic explanation. If it is assumed that the majority of students at the University of Essex are between the ages of 18 and 24, we can look back over the last two decades as their preadult socialisation (the second hypothesis). A number of important issues can be recalled during this period which may explain the low level of security amongst present students (the first hypothesis) resulting in a materialist outlook. As detailed in Appendix 1, The most dominating issue over the last two decades is arguably the primeministership of Mrs Thatcher. She advocated materialist policies based on the ideology of the ‘free economy and the strong state’. The implementation of Thatcherite policies – the constant emphasis on inflation, privatisation and anti-Trades union, are materialist concerns. Postmaterialist goals such as green issues, human rights and animal rights were barely touched upon. These policies and their effects could be seen to have an effect on an individuals priorities in preadult years and lead them to be now more materialist. Other important issues over the last two decades include, global stagflation and the intervention of the IMF in 1976, the two recessions of the 1980s sandwiching the mid 1980s boom. The Falklands and Gulf wars, arguments about falling education standards in Britain, and the bombing campaigns of the Irish Republican army on mainland Britain. All these issues are mainly pessimistic and someone growing up in this time is likely to have a need for a high level of security before they become concerned with postmaterialist goals. If it is a whole generation who gain a form of collective conscience as Inglehart suggests, then this theory can explain the lower level of postmaterialism than would be expected by Inglehart. An individual therefore socialised with these events occurring is likely to be more materialist than predecessors as each one is likely to reduce overall confidence and lead to low level of formative security. With views on past events, attitudes to the present and future should now be discussed. Few students can now be certain of having paid employment on leaving university, when this is coupled with the many thousands of pounds of debt many face, the prospects for the future appear bleak which must lower their level of security and so make them more concerned about material issues. This can be seen to be reflected by the membership levels in materialist societies, which are higher than what Inglehart would suggest, and for what I have termed ‘pure’ postmaterialist societies, the membership is much lower. There a few problems with using the analysis of societies in this way which need to remembered when discussing them. The first is that societies are not mutually exclusive and students are free to join as many as they so wish. At this University, it is not possible to know how many students belong to two or more societies and whether they join similar groups (i.e. two postmaterialist or materialist groups) or two different groups. secondly, the membership levels for each society does not show the level of active membership – those who perhaps joined but are no longer interested in the society. Similarly, it does not account for students who hold a view but do not join a related society for other reasons. The analysis also rests on the assumption that membership levels are a fair reflection of the student population. It needs to be assumed that broadly, students with a particular interest will join the relevant society, remain fairly active in the society activities, and the society reflects the views of its members. Thirdly, the societies could be divided into different ways depending on the definition of postmaterialism. It has already been stated that the definition is diverse and vague and this leads to a problem in determining what societies are. Further difficulties arise in defining cultural and department societies which appear broadly not compatible with the theory. The definition could be changed to include these though or even to say that societies are a postmaterialist concept and so all societies are postmaterialist. This way of analysing societies appears more difficult to analyse and still does not eliminate the problems already highlighted. Despite these problems, it seems a fair and accurate way of characterising University of Essex students and able to draw conclusions from these. Inglehart in 1977 argued that there was an emerging postmaterialist society in industrialised countries which would grow in size with each successive generation. This new society would hold new goals and attitudes, and be more concerned about the quality of life – green issues, human rights and so on. It appears in 1996, postmaterialism is not as dominating as what Inglehart suggests. Amongst student society members, Postmaterialist members account for 44% of those studied, 9% of whom could only be considered as ‘pure’ postmaterialist. This is much lower than what Inglehart would suggest and points to a change in the ‘motivators of change’ – economic and political events in preadult years which affect the level of formative security and so the level of postmaterialist goals. The recent history of the United Kingdom, as shown in Appendix 1, does appear to show a case for a low level of formative security in students and this can be seen to be a main cause in the present low levels of postmaterialism at the University of Essex. Appendix 1. `Year Events leading to low levels of formative security. Economic events Formative Security events 1975 1976 IMF Called In ` 1977 Trades Union Unrest ` 1978 1979 Thatcher Elected ` Winter Of Discontent 1980 Unemployment Rises Rapidly. ` 1981 Inner City Riots – Brixton And Broadwater Farm 1982 Falklands War 1983 1984 Miners Strike ` Brighton Bombing 1985 YUPPIES ` 1986 Unemployment Reached 3.1m ` 1987 Inflation Rises Hungerford ` 1988 Recession Begins ` 1989 1990 Thatcher Removed `Maastricht Signed Poll Tax Riots `Gulf War 1991 South Shields And Oxford Riots ` 1992 ERM Collapse `Inflation Rises 1993 Grant Cuts Announced ` 1994 Back To Basics Campaign 1995 Nolan Committee 1996 Scott Report `Dunblane Bibliography. Gibbins, J.R. (ed). Contemporary Political Culture. `Sage Modern Politics Series. Vol 23. ECPR. Sage. London. 1989. Inglehart, R. Culture Shift. Princetown Univeristy Press. New Jersey. 1990. Inglehart, R. The Silent Revolution. Princetown Univeristy Press. New Jersey. 1977. Jones, B. et al. Politics UK. 2nd edition. Harvestor Wheatsheaf. `Hemel Hempsted. 1994. Kreuzer, M. New Politics: Just-Post-Materialism? The Case of the Austrian and Swiss Greens. West European Politics. Vol 13. Nov 1990. Poguntke, T. New Politics and Party Systems: The Emergence of a New Type of Party? West European Politics. Vol 10. 1987. Robertson, Dictionary of Politics. Penguin. St Ives. 1985. Scarbrough, E. Materialist-postmaterialist Value Orientations. in Van Deth & Scarbrough. The impact of Values. passim Van Deth, J.W. & Scarbrough, E. (eds) The impact of Values. `Oxford University Press. Oxford. 1995.

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