Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Materialistic refers to someone who adopts a materialistic perspective, most often in modern times someone whose focus is on material goods, as opposed to a proponent of materialism as a philosophy.

explanatory context

Materialistic is a term that, in modern usage, has developed a number of polemical meanings. These meanings have historical links to materialism, which is a philosophical position, but their current meanings owe nothing to contemporary philosophical debate. The confusion arises as the term materialist is used to refer both to someone who is a proponent of materialism and to someone who is materialistic.


Materialistic (as a non-philospohical referent) tends to mean selfish or greedy. This is usually compared to one meaning of idealistic, that of altruism or unselfishness.


A second meaning which generalises from the first is the notion of a materialistic person as having no moral or social scruples and as being totally self-seeking.


A third meaning of materialistic is that of a view point which regards the world in terms of material objects, rather than ideals, emotions or concepts. In effect this is a distortion and degredation of materialism as a philosophy.


A fourth meaning is the particularisation of the third, which applies this objectification to a view of life in which aquisition of material wealth becomes the primary goal. A materialist in this sense is someone who sets store by the ownership of material objects.

analytical review

A contribution to The Conversation (2010–2019):

Highly materialistic people believe that owning and buying things are necessary means to achieve important life goals, such as happiness, success and desirability. However, in their quest to own more, they often sideline other important goals. Research shows that highly materialistic people tend to care less about the environment and other people than "non-materialists" do. These findings lead to the assumption that highly materialistic people are largely selfish and prefer to build meaningful relationships with "stuff", as opposed to people. 

But other research shows that materialism is a natural part of being human and that people develop materialistic tendencies as an adaptive response to cope with situations that make them feel anxious and insecure, such as a difficult family relationship or even our natural fear of death.

associated issues


related areas

See also



The Conversation, 2010–2019, 'There's no shame in being materialistic – it could benefit society', available at, accessed 10 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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