Dear participants, we have discussed how the departments of cultural studies came up in UK and in USA, now we would look at some of the major theorists who have influenced the contemporary understanding of the word culture. We begin our discussion by taking up the works and philosophical contribution of Raymond Williams.
As all of us know Raymond Williams was basically a Marxist critic, he was also a novelist as well as a media theorist, a critical literary theorist. He was initially from the working class background but he was educated in Cambridge and could never come to terms with this feeling, he never felt at one with the Cambridge environment, he was also a member of the Communist Party.
But when he joined the British Army during the Second World War, we find that the Communist Party being opposed to this idea of its members joining war efforts opposed it.
And very soon, we find that Raymond Williams did not renew his membership and he left. Despite this fact we find that the impact of Marxist is very dominant in his writings, he is considered to be a very important figure of the new left, he has influenced the ideas of the new left as well as he was also influenced by them. He also made important contributions to the Marxist critique of culture and arts.
And along with Richard Hoggart and E.P. Thompson, he was instrumental in founding the field of cultural studies; he formulated also cultural materialism as an approach which later on became a very popular way of looking at literary texts. In his ideologies, we find that he is followed Herbert Marcuse as well as Antonio Gramsci and certain other Marxist critics. His analysis of literature and culture is based on his understanding of the class according to the Marxist purview.
In his early days, he was inspired by T.S. Eliot work on culture. When he read his “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture”, he decided to investigate this idea of culture further and this impact of T.S. Eliot and certain other modernist, critics and theories can be seen easily in his early work. One of his major work is on the impact of media.
His book which was published in 1974, Television Technology and Cultural Form evaluates the work of Marshall McLuhan and even though he agrees with most of the suggestions given by Marshall McLuhan, we find that he does not agree to the technical determinism which is sometimes a part of McLuhan’s prophetic work. He suggests that in the development of human processes, it is always the social which will have precedence over a technological.
Whereas in McLuhan, we find that the idea is different. Another major text which was published in 1976 and later on revised in 1983 is based on the explanation of certain words, certain terms and Raymond Williams attempts to contextualise them fully. In his earlier edition, he had taken up 60 words but then in the later edition, he added 21 new words incorporating words like ecology and anarchism.
He wants to give a cultural interpretation of these terms also. A similar bent of mind can be seen in some other publications also for example, Marxism and Literature, Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review as well as any selected essays which came out with the title of problems in materialism and culture in 1980. In all his works we find that there is a continuous endeavour to look at the phenomena of culture from different perspectives and understand and explain it fully.
Raymond Williams calls himself an evolved Marxist, he looked beyond the economic forces only particularly in the realm of culture. He has re-evaluated the orthodox position of Marxist and took up what is sometimes known as conjectural analysis to move beyond the reductionist applications of Marxism which based on defining economic situation or the class consciousness only as a sole governing factor behind different social formations.
Instead of that Williams looks at a combination of events to find out the cultural responses of the people. He has also made some interesting and fascinating postulates in literary criticism, in fact it is the analysis of Wuthering Heights by Raymond Williams which has introduced the idea of class consciousness in a major way in literary criticism. His critic of Wuthering Heights talks about how the origins of the class system took place in the British society.
What was the impact of industrialisation on British society and culture particularly, in the far-off areas, he also looks at Heathcliff's character as a reminder of dramatic social change. Towards his later work we find that he has shifted from new criticism to moral criticism of the kind which was popularised by FR. Leavis and as we have seen earlier, he is a major influence on the British left.
If you look at the British critical context at the time when Williams had started writing, we find that the situation was a bit fuzzy. It has been best commented on by one of his former students, Terry Eagleton. Interestingly, Terry Eagleton has criticised Williams writing style suggesting that it does not have enough abrasiveness and enough sharpness which is required in the field of cultural studies.
I quote from Terry Eagleton, he suggest that “when Raymond Williams had started writing in the early 1950’s, the ethos of the criticism of 1930’s was compounded by vulgar Marxism, bourgeois empiricism and romantic idealism and these combinations offered him practically nothing.” He further says “Marxism had inevitably influenced Williams indeed Marxism and Socialism supplied between them the formative influence on his early development”.
In a way Terry Eagleton has summed up the influence of Marxist theoretical approach on Raymond Williams as well as the way he has dissociated himself from the previous norms of critical field. Williams is particularly known for his contribution which later on became popular as cultural materialism.
This idea was developed by Williams in a series of books particularly Culture and Society which was published in 1958, soon after that in his 1961 publication, The Long Revolution and later on refined further in his 1977 publication with the title of Marxism and Literature. This was further popularised by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield in their book Political Shakespeare. Cultural materialism ultimately developed as a theoretical movement in literary and critical and cultural theories during the 1980’s.
It has been defined by Graham Holderness as a “politicised form of historiography”. This term refers to a particular approach of literature in terms of criticism and cultural studies which combines the methods of leftist culturalism and traditional Marxism.
It is very much different from the way New Historicists used to look at a literary text. The readings of New Historicists were basically apolitical on the other hand, cultural materialism is a very politically conscious method we can say that this is a Marxist orientation of new historicism. Critics in the field of historical materialism looks at various documents, historical contexts and political perspectives in their close readings of literary texts.
And they want to criticise traditional approaches of interpretation which have till this point been taken up in the context of canonical literature. There is also an emphasis on unearthing the non- mainstream and the marginal aspects of historical context and thereby reviewing the possibilities of how these marginal non-mainstream aspects can subvert the dominant and hegemonic positions.
This approach also often embodies a political obligation as a result of the influences of Marxism as well as later on of feminist studies. It is aware of the ideological underpinnings of texts and also how power relations operate within the field of literary criticism. Williams has commented that the production of culture in itself is material; he also says that culture is always necessarily political.
The reason for these statements is that the social processes according to Williams which are addressed by political analysis are always inevitably embedded in our culture and therefore culture is the whole way of life and therefore, it makes up the whole human society, there is nothing which is outside culture, there is nothing which cannot be taken up in the domain of cultural studies.
Within this domain of culture, we find that political processes are only a specialised frameworks and therefore, political aspects of culture and cultural aspects of politics are basically united. It reverses the conventional Marxist idea that culture is only a super structure. In his views when he says that culture is always political and political processes are only specialised frameworks within it he aims to transform the socio-political order and emphasises the plight of the marginalised and exploited by looking at the possibilities of subversion within the text as an interpretative act. He affirms the textuality of history as well as the historicity of texts very much like the new historicists but he looks at the whole process through a Marxist prism.
It is interesting to look at various ways of looking at culture which have been taken up by Williams from time to time. There is a continuity of his arguments in all his texts but his phraseology always attracts people towards these definitions. In The Long Revolution he writes of the theory of culture as the study of relationships between elements in a whole way of life. His understanding of culture can also be contextualised within the position which has been adopted by the authors of the 5th report of the critical studies Centre at Birmingham which was published in 1959.
In his works, Williams has identified 3 different aspects of culture, firstly he says that culture is the whole pattern or configurations of values and meanings in a society and we have seen how he looks at this idea of culture as being the basis of our existence. Secondly, he talks about the inclusion and relevance of all kinds of culture and therefore for him, the stratification of culture into high popular and low does not exist.
Because everything which we do everything within our experiences is a part of culture, thirdly he views these expressive cultural forms as an important part of social life and therefore we find that the social life and the cultural life for him are not very different from each other.
He further says that culture includes the organisation of production, the structure of the family, the structure of institutions which express or governs social relationships, the characteristic forms through which members of the society communicate. He goes a step further when he says that culture does not include only the organisation of production but also the various structures of the family and the institutions which govern social relationships etc.
By stating that culture is ordinary in every society and in every mind, culture is ordinary and this is a basic fact according to Williams which showcases his preoccupation with lived culture. So culture for him is not something which has to be viewed from a pedestal as being something very remote from our everyday existence but it is a lived culture, it is both the way of life in an anthropological sense.
And also in the forms of signification and we can look at it in the novels, in advertisements, in television and films also. And the separation of the two is not possible in a society, which is already saturated by mass circulated text. So, Raymond Williams describes culture spatially and socially. Particularity of time and space in different cultures, set of values and meanings which are particular to a set of people are a project of his study within this domain.
Williams also suggests that culture is never static, it constantly evolves and therefore, it also constantly changes. He also looks at culture as having two different aspects- one he defines as being traditional and another he defines as being creative. So the known meanings and directions which all members can participate in and the unknown meanings and observations which are offered and tested are a part of our culture.
He has developed his idea of culture and he has presented an analysis of culture in order to answer the basic question of what culture is. So his attempts to define culture are also attempts to understand it by analysing various expressive cultural form involving interpretation and reconstruction of ways of life and outlining three general categories in the definition of culture.
Williams has incorporated 3 different aspects of culture and according to him, 2 out of these 3 should be simultaneously present in any culture and they are listed as being ideal, documentary and social. Ideal is a state of process of human perfection in terms of certain absolute or universal values, documentary as the title itself suggests is a surviving text or practices of a certain culture which are recorded somehow.
And social is a description of a particular way of life. So there are 3 ways of thinking as far as culture is concerned. These 3 elements are helpful in analysing culture. As a particular way of life, as an expression of a particular way of life and also as a way of reconstructing a particular way of life. In the works of Raymond Williams, we find that he is continuously looking at the interrelationships of these 3 forms.
However, he also suggests that cultural history is always more than sum of these 3 elements. Culture according to him, articulates meanings, attitudes and values and taken together these have been termed as a structure of feeling by Raymond Williams. One can understand how society has developed and evolved as a structure of feeling. The young generation would respond to the existing structure of feeling.
And in this process would end up creating new values, meanings and identities and it is in the sense that the culture is concatenuously evolving and also it is in this sense that culture is changing because every coming generation, every new set of people would inherit a structure of feeling but in order to understand their responses and in order to develop their own responses, they would also end up changing it somehow.
And these changes can be understood by looking at the documentary aspects of a culture. In his book Culture and Society which was published in 1958.
Raymond Williams has tried to trace the evolution of culture from preindustrial age to the bourgeois capitalism. He looks at culture, democracy and industry and I quote him, “the history of the idea of culture is a record of our reactions in thought and feeling, to the changed conditions of our common life, our meaning of culture is a response to the events which our meanings of industry and democracy most evidently defined”.
As the definition clearly suggests Williams has outlined 3 phases of development and the major issues in the realm of art, industry and democracy which according to him cannot be very much separated from each other.
If you look at the way he has listed these phases, we find that 1790 to 1870 has been defined as the phase in which new attitudes to industrialism and democracy were being worked out. In the second phase between 1870 to 1914, we find that this is the era according to Williams of narrower fronts, where specialism was being promoted in arts, politics etc., between 1914 and 1945, the war years were designated as a phase of large scale organisations and the mass media.
In the first phase between 1790 to 1870 we find that in industry there is a rejection of production and the social relations of the factory system are being worked at. At the level of democracy according to Williams, there is a concern at the threat of minority values by popular supremacy of the new masses. In the context of art, we find that this is a period where the intrinsic value of art and its importance to the common life was being questioned.
During the second phase between 1870 to 1914, we find that the debates between sentiment and machines were being talked about by the people, there was also an emphasis on community and people were questioning society versus the individual ethical issues. In the context of art we find that there was a defiance and people were looking at art for art's sake. So now from this age in which the focus is on narrower fronts, there is a focus on growing specialism.
We move according to Raymond Williams to the third phase between 1914 to 1945 which is a phase of larger scale organisations and mass media. So, during this time we find that at the industrial front, machine production had been an accepted fact, it already had become a part of our culture. At the democratic front, we find that the fears of the first phase were renewed in the context of mass democracy and mass communications and people were apprehensive.
In the context of art, we find that there was a reintegration of art with the common life as society centred on the word communication and this aspect Raymond Williams try to develop by looking at the theories of Marshall McLuhan and others.
So to sum up, we can say that Williams has maintained that culture in the English society has developed and evolved in response to industrial revolution and the socio-political changes which were taking place as a result of this industrialisation. This strain is discernible in his literary criticism also particularly, in his criticism of Wuthering Heights. He has outlined these changes through a survey of contributions and ideas of major English writers, philosophers and theorists including Edmund Burke, Cobbett, Blake, Wordsworth, Eliot, Leavis, Orwell, and Caudwell.
Another major contribution of Raymond Williams is Marxism and Literature which was published in 1977; it is a revaluation and critique of assumptions and theoretical concepts of both Marxist theory and the literary theories. He advances a new theory called cultural materialism though it was outlined in his previous publications also, we find that it has been given a more definitive shape in this particular book and later on it was popularised by other critics.
So, cultural materialism can be seen as we have earlier talked also about it, a theory of the specificities of material, cultural and literary production within historical materialism. It views changes in the concepts of society, culture and economy as attempts to conform to a bourgeois model. In this book we also find that Williams has looked at the possibilities of revision of the key Marxist concepts.
For example, ideology determination, his concept of base and superstructure as being interacting entities also his opinion about the productive forces. He also changes the way in which we conventionally responded to literature and literary criticism. He has reconfigured the idea of hegemony as it is to be continually recreated and defending by including ideas of alternative and counter hegemony which he terms as real and persistent elements of practice.
He has incorporated hegemony through traditions, institutions and formations and this idea is a significant contribution of Raymond Williams. By tradition, he means active selection of past events practices and meanings to maintain dominance as well as construction of a tradition through the selection and procedure of exclusion, so that certain meanings and values are emphasised which conform to the Bourgeois standards and others are devalued and marginalised.
In the socialisation process, we find that certain institutions are developed and established for example, the institutions of schools, church, military etc. So Williams considers them as sites where counter hegemonies can also develop. By formation he means is set of a specialised practices which often exist outside of institutions. They are conscious movements and tendencies may be in the field of literary criticism, art, philosophical or scientific innovations which can usually be readily discerned after the informative productions.
So, these are also the site where hegemonic processes and traditions get transformed. So we see that according to him, culture is dominant, it is residual and emergent also.
He refers to heterogeneous movements, tendencies and practices within culture which add to the complexities of these phenomena. He has also rejected a systems based approach to culture, rejected that the idea of culture can be defined according to a singular tendency. He moves rather towards a dynamic and continuously developing concept of cultural formations and emphasises the internal dynamic relations of any actual processes.
And he defines these internal relations as dominant residual and emergent. Residual according to Williams is neither dead nor archaic, it is formed in the past definitely but it is still active in the cultural process and as an effective element of the present. He also says that in this category, the values, experiences and meanings which do not belong to the dominant culture are also present.
They are the residues of earlier socio-cultural institutions or formations which can be either oppositional to the dominant culture.
Or may also be incorporated within the dominant culture and once these oppositional tendencies are incorporated within the dominant cultural tendencies, we find that the possibilities of threat are also minimised by the hierarchy.
By emergent he means, new meanings and values, new practices and new kinds of relationships that exist in an emergent relationship with the dominant culture. They are often substantially alternative or oppositional to it and they are emergent in the strict sense, they are not simply new tendencies rather they are emergent new experiences, attitudes and values and which lead to the creation of new cultural and expressive formations.
So, emergent forms are actively sought for incorporation within dominant tendencies because they also have the possibility of developing into a threat to the hegemonic ideologies.
So, his main argument is that no mode of production and therefore, no dominant social order and therefore no dominant culture ever in reality includes or exhausts all human practices, human energy and human interaction. Dominant culture formations are normally hegemonic formations because they define the existing social reality of any culture, so culture at any point is therefore very complex and also quite contradictory.
It is a dynamic realm of contesting ideas, meanings and values and therefore it defies any uniformity as far as its exploration or understanding is concerned. So we will stop at this point and in our next one, we would discuss another cultural theorist, thank you.
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