Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 22

Social Scientist

Culture and Society: An Introduction to Raymond Williams Author(s): R. Shashidhar Source: Social Scientist, Vol. 25, No. 5/6 (May - Jun., 1997), pp. 33-53 Published by: Social Scientist

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3517827 .

Accessed: 17/06/2013 05:40

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp


JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.


information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . Social Scientist is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,

Social Scientist is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Social Scientist.


This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


Cultureand Society:An Introduction to Raymond Williams

Raymond Williams'

climate of the cold war and bears all the makes of it. Given the

remotenessof that ideological climate-accentuated

fall of Soviet Russia-and giventhe presentpost-Saussureanclimate of poststructuralism,it mightappear that this text of Williams is rather dated and can have only an academic interestto the studentsof the leftistwritingsof Raymond Williams. There are, however,two reasons why I am going back to this text. First,Williams is a thinkerwhose significanceis not sufficientlyappreciated in this country.It is rather sad that his seminal contributions were relegated by Althusserian argumentsin the Seventies and then by the spate of poststructuralist and Derridean deconstruction.It is often not sufficientlyappreciated that Williams addresses these intellectual formations in his later writings,albeit obliquely. My second reason is that where Williams is heard, it is more oftenas the author of Culture and Society,as if his later writingswere just an old-styleMarxist justificationof all that he said in this book. These remarksshould not lead one to expect that this article is an overall introductionto the ouvre of Williams. It, rather, a critical presentation of Williams, book mentioned above, which I hope introducesthe newcomer to the problems that haunted Williams all his writing life. I have deliberately kept clear of

poststructuralistand postcolonial arguments,although the analysis in this essay, I hope, shows where such openings are possible. In the beginning of the essay there are referencesto certain intellectual formationveryspecificto the literary-criticalworld-referencesto F.R. Leavis and T.S. Eliot. But I have not taken the trouble of explaining them as I thought that might distract the reader from the general argument.In any case such referencesare marginal. Because Williams learnt his bitter lesson from the defeat of the reductive Marxism of the Thirties in the battle for cultural interpretation,his political thinkingtook a longer time in traversing from its initial ethical preoccupation to its subsequent redefinition

Culture and Society appeared in the ideological

ironically by the

*Reader, Department of Postgraduate Studies and Research in English, Mangalore UniversityMangalagangothri,Karnataka State.

Social Scientist,Vol.

25, Nos. 5-6, May-June 1997

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


tlhrough-iMarxism which is characteristic of an intellectual's radicalisation.But politics,as we remember,was one of the twinpoles

of his Romantic ainti-capitalistpreoccupation.In

sooIn afterthe WW I-Politics and Letters-the other was 'literature'. As a Cambridge School product,literaturewas importantto Williams in two senses: as the receivedhistorical'tradition'it was the significant record of a kind and quality of lived culturewhich, in its feltlack in the moderntimes,demanded to be studied,taughtand passed on as a

guide for any valid social

altogether different.In its encounter with the lived details of life,

literaturesignified in the present a creative exploration by

consciousness. In this its mode of cognition was held to be qualitatively differentand higher than the epistemologyof systemic social sciences. By extension literaturethen stood for 'subjectivity'in all its malleabilityas i.tcontinuouslydiscovereditself,surpriseditself, found itself,through;livingin the objectiveworld. the objectiveworld itselfwas not the-givenmaterialentityof the Descartean schism:it was, oIn the other hand, verymuch an active social world. From Politics anid Lettersup to the discoveryof Gramsci and Goldmann, Williams' problem was how to socially explain this creative consciousness so that it would not be positivisticallyreduced as the epiphenomenonof

some other, usually economic, elementof society. Eliot's conservative way out of this problem was through the schism between the anithropologicalculture as 'a whole way of life' and the redefined

Arnoldian culture as

discriminatingconsciousness.ReductiveMarxists in the thirtiossaw nio

problem here at all in that the great explanatory formula of base- superstructurehad already explained everythingand it was only a

question of its next 'application'.1 Most of Williams' holisticwriting with referenceto literatureand other discursive writingsup to his confrontationwith continentalMarxism is taken up with the problem of findingan alternativeapproach to Eliot and the reductiveMarxists. For a long timehe tried'systemicorganicism'as a solution-a position by which he came to view society as organically related to familial, communicational,economic, and political systems.2It must be added here at once that Williams was not subscribing to the fallacy of 'expressivetotality'in this exercise.In the dual attemptto counterthe positivistic and mechanistic crudities of English Marxism about creative consciousness and the conservative consecration of elitism, Williams' 'systemicorganicism'took on the colours of ethicalism.The

politics and cultural criticism of this

concerns and positions require a separate analysis which falls outside

the journal he started

thinking. In the present its value was

and of

the quality





period following from these

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



the scope of this article.In this articleI want to analyse how Williams constructedcreative consciousness in his pre-semioticperiod-that is, beforehis encounterwith the continentalMarxism and the linguistics of Vygotsky. We can begin with the importanttext Culture and Society. The gestation of eight years between the publications of 'The Idea of

Culture' in 1950 and 'T.S. Eliot on

Society in 1958 confirms Williams' recollection in Politics and Letters-Interviews with the New Left that the 'whole process of writingCulture and Society was one of almost constant redefinition


emphasis on 'a whole way of life' in the latter'sbook Notes Towards

the Definition of Culture,he

in it as a whole was 'almost calculated to infuriate.'4 He rightly identifiedEliot's work as the paragon of cold-war ideology. In writing Cultureand Societythe question,thus,was whetherhe 'should writea critiqueof that ideology in a wholly negativeway, which at one time [he] consideredor whetherthe rightcourse was not to recoverthe true complexity of the tradition it had confiscated-so that the

appropriationcould be seen forwhat it was.'5 The 'initial impetus' of the 'origin' of Cultureand Societythusgoes back to the publicationof Eliot's Notes towards the Definition of Culture in 1948, which confirmedfor Williams that therewas a 'concentrationof a kind of social thought around this term which hadn't before appeared particularly important.'6 He settled for the second option as 'it allowed [him] to refutethe increasingcontemporaryuse of the concept of cultureagainst democracy,socialism, the workingclass or popular education, in the traditionitself.'7 Hence the 'primarymotivation' of Culture and Society was not 'to found a new position;' as 'an oppositional work' it intended'to counterthe appropriationof a long line of thinking about culture to what were by now decisively


As a socialist attemptfor the counterappropriationof 'a long line' of thinkersCultureand Society has occasioned fertilecontroversy.The historical nature of the book, its polemical conclusion forced by the circumstancesof the cold war, and the socialist colour of the whole enterprisehave generallyblinded the reviewersand criticsalike to the semantic fulcrum of Culture and Society. In the Interviews, for example, which is the most comprehensivediscussion of the book to date, no question is asked about Williams,general preoccupationwith historicalsemanticsduringthis time.9The Interviewsdo not correctly correlateCultureand Societywith Keywords,except fornotingthat in

comneshome nmuchmnore

comparisoni 'onie absolutely central point

forciblyin the later book, because of the wider r.anigeof the term-ls

Culture' in 1953, and Culture and

reformulation'.3 Although Williams had welcomed Eliot's

had feltthat his neo-conservativestance

' 0 ThouLghsubstanitialwork was done 'later', Keywordis

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



was essentiallya part of Cultureand

his 1983 introductionin which the original literary-criticalemphasis on language as the expression of meaning is now redefined with referenceto 'conflict':

Society.Williams confirmsthis in


one of the tendencies

language must,that thereis indeed communitybetweenpast and present,but also that community-that difficultword-is not the only possible descriptionof these relationsbetweenpast and the

[which] recognizes, as any study of

kind of semanticsto which these notes and essays belong is

present; that there are also radical change, discontinuityand



Because of thisgeneralinattentionthe Leavisiteshave generallyhurried to point at the socialist 'propaganda' behind the book, while the Marxist criticshave, rightly,busied themselveswith its idealism. But now a closer look at this idealism is necessitatedby Williams' claim, followinghis reentryinto the linguisticrealm, that all previous use of the concept of 'sign' has been essentiallyobjectivistidealism. Beforesettlingdown to analyse its semanticfoundations,we should firstfamiliariseourselveswith the groundplanof Cultureand Society. Thematically,it consists of three distinctlevels. The firstpart of the book consistsof a historicalsurveyof significantstatementon culture. Williams' guidingprinciplehere is that these statementswere made as active responses to the pressuresof the day. Aftertaking culture as meanings distinguished in response to involving social situations, Williams traces it throughthe nineteenthcenturyin terms of major issues like Industry,Democracy and Art. This yields three phases-



and 1914-1945.12

Williams makes this

demarcation as preparatoryto saying that although 'certain d-ecisive

statementstand' prominentlyfromall these periods and phases, 'the world we see through such eyes is not, although it resembles, our world.'13 Hence whatever holds 'significance' from the 'set of meanings'receivedfrom'the tradition'has to be valued in termsof the

present experience.14 For this we


experience' for testing their significanceforms the second level of

Culture and Society. The termsof referenceforthis testingreturnare the 'new problems arising from the development of mass media of


which we have studiedin the last chapter.16

have to 'returnthemto immediate

This returning of meanings to the 'immediate

the general growthof large-scaleorganizations'-

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



The thirdlevel of Culture and Society is that part of the book in which Williams offersholistic propositions as the ethical imperative issuing from the significance of past meanings tested under the pressures of the present experience. These propositions emerge as 'variationsand new definitions'of the idea of culture.They are the by- product of the 'return' made in order to ascertain the present relevanceof the receivedmeanings. Two of the 'questions and objections' raised about the book can be isolated fromthe Interviews for a closer examination of its semantic foundation.17 I am isolating two of these 'questions and objections' because they bear on the historical-semanticundertakingin Culture and Society which correspondsto his political preoccupationwith the organicistic 'naive community' of the period. The first of these 'questions and objections' of the interviewers is regarding the distinctionWilliams maintainsbetween 'politics' and 'social thinking'. The interviewers point to a series of interconnected limitations following from this literary-criticaldistinction. They relate to the general strategyof Culture and Society and its effecton the final outcome at threelevels: (a) Despite their'veryexplicitand definiteand oftencentralview on the politicsof the day,' the themeof Culture and Society 'appears to be a direct counterpositionof the social core of successive thinkers against a mere political surface which can be somehow detached and dismissed.'18 The distinctionposits a contrast 'between truth which is necessarily social, and politics which is a brittleand ephemeraladjunct separable fromit;'19 (b) The settingup of suc-ha contrastcomes to have a direct bearing on Williams' own politics in that-the 'general depreciation of politics' betrays an 'inadvertent', 'conservative' bias in the balance of 'judgment of particularpersonsas the centralstructureof the work, the overall way it is organized,'20 (c) the separationof social thoughtfrompolitics of the day excludes 'the middle term of politics,' thereby failing to appreciate that 'the politics of the period cannot be treatedas a series of transientjudgmentsof particularepisodes that are separable froma deeper social thought.'21 The second question relates to the specificepistemologywhich 'in' forms Williams' distinction between politics and social thinkingin which the latteris value-loaded against the former.While the question on epistemologyis strategicin so far as it concerns the verystructure of the book, the one on the separation of politics and social thinking can be seen as the outcome. The question regarding the 'epistemology', prefiguredin the distinctionbetween social thinking and politics,is what I am going to concentrateon below. However, I shall not be dealing with 'epistemology' proper. By observingthe threelevels in the constructionof Culture and Society we can conclude that in drawing the historical lineage of culture-

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


society thinkersWilliams employs a kind of 'epistemology' of the human-social reality which is to be properly called 'historical hermeneutics'.That is, instead of an 'epistemology'which he would have seen as an a prioriprivilegingof the categoricalover the realityof the human-social 'experience' as it emerges from the pores and pressuresof 'immediate' living as the ground for his distinctions.In other words he employs the notion of the literary-criticalorganic communityand its categoryof 'experience'as the distinguishingguide. This thenwas 'discovered' by Williams in the 'texts' of the nineteenth- centuryculturalists on the literary-criticalbasis of language as the solution of the idealist community.Williams tries to convince us all through the book that such a reality is not available to rational 'abstraction' and that any hope of understandingit lies in 'returning' the significantstatementsreceived from the past instances of that 'lived' reality to the 'immediate' living of our own times. Such a concept of realityas the hermeneuticdialectic between the past and the presentexplains Williams' statement,'Somewhere,in the world of h-uman thinking coming down to us from our predecessors, the necessaryinsights,the fruitfulbearings,exist. But to keep themwhere they belong, in direct touch with our experience, is a constant struggle.'22 Though its connectionswith literarycriticismare obvious, the familiarityof some of the phrases should not blind us to the development Culture anzd Society achieves in this argument. The substitution of the literary-criticaltext by history itself as an anthropological text is a continuationof latencies presentin some of his earlier dramatic criticism, where the preoccupation with the productional conventionswas dragginghim more and more out into historical and ideological criticism. What happens in such a substitutionis obvious. If the lack of the concept of civil societyforces WXJilliamsto conceptualise it as systemicorganicism,the resultantlack of the concept of class strugglein the field of culture forces him to conceptualise writingas the hermeneuticrecord of 'immediate' living. We will now see how Williams does this. The firstand the major part of Cultureand Society is the 'study of actual individual statements an contributions' which records and analyses the major statementsabout culture.23 Although Williams expresses his commitmentin broad terms 'to the study of actual language: that is to say, to the words and sequences of words which particular men and women have used in tryingto give meaning to their experience,' the literary-criticalbackground leads to him to a particular 'tradition' of thinkers.24 More than the criterion that informsthe selection of thinkers,what is noticeable is the distinction

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



of 'abstracted problems' and 'statementsby individuals.'25 Williams

distinguishes between abstraction and concreteness in his

individual statementson the basis of 'response'-that is, by taking an

extracted semantic pattern of key words as the existential-seismic

record of

cultureis a responseto the eventswhich our meaningsof industryand democracy most evidentlydefine.'26 I shall discuss below the method used by Williams 'to distinguishthe [cultural]meanings'and 'to relate themto theirsources and effects.'27I have called this method,forthe sake of covenience,the 'context-content'method. Historical hermeneuticsappears in Williams' attemptto construct realityhistoricallyon the basis of language. It is signalled in the very beginningof Culture and Societywhere he states the familiarliterary- critical necessity to distinguish between experiential and political statements.Thus, if a representativepassage is to be selected from Culture and Society, it would certainly be the one used in the Interviews in which Williams defends Burke's anti-democratic sentiments:

study of

responses to involving social situations: 'Our meaning of

The correctnessof these ideas is not at firstin question; and their truthis not, at first,to be assessed by theirusefulnessin historical understanding or in political insight. Burke's writing is an articulatedexperience,and as such has a validitywhich can survive even the demolitionof its generalconclusions.28

The interviewerspoint our that in the passage 'there seems to be an opposition between the truthof ideas as usually understood-the sort that help us to understandhistoryor politics-and a deeper or more durable experience that does not necessarilycorrespond to any kind of ordinarydiscursivetruth.'29 This opposition noted by the editors between the experientialconsciousness as the guarantee of the social realityand its subsequent rational and analytical abstraction is quite familiarto us by now fromthe analysis of Politics and Letters and 'The Idea of Culture.' In fact the experientialimmunityto ideology that Williams is claiming here for Burke is a formof the continued expression of the Romantic anti-capitalistcategories which Williams was yet to resolve into what he had then called a 'synthesis'. The dichotomy between the so called experiential concreteness of the personal statementand its analytical or rational abstractionin social sciences was what Williams had in mind when he wrote in Politics and Letters that various facets of 'politics' and 'letters' need to be urgentlyresolved into a synthesisof 'human and material richness.' The distinctionbetween 'politics' in the historical'contexts' and the supposed 'deeper' contenitsof social thinking,and the semantic basis tlhroughlwhich a specific reality is constructedto accommiiodateboth can be brotughtunlderanialyticalfocus by reconstructing the mnethod

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



employedby Williams in the descriptionand analysis of the historical formationof the concept 'culture'.

A polemical work which seeks to 'recover' or reappropriate the

social referenceof a categoryby takingit back to a criticalpoint in its

temporal journey may be expected to have a 'method', a

principlewherebynot only 'the social' is understoodin a specificway, but also 'related' as the referenceof the categoryin question. But to speak of a 'methodology'of Cultureand Societywould be anomalous to the originalspiritin which it was conceived by Williams. Instead he speaks of 'termsof reference':


My termsof referencethenare not only to distinguishthe meanings but to relate themto theirsources and effects.I shall tryto do this by examining,not a series of abstracted problems, but a series of statementsby individuals. It is not only that, by temperamentand training,I find more meaning in this kind of personally verified

statementthan in a systemof significantabstractions.It is also that,

in a theme of this kind, I feel myselfcommittedto the study of

actual language: that is to

wlhich particular men and women have used in trying to give

meaning to theirexperience.30

'Significant abstractions' was also the diagnostic phrase in literary

criticismfor the chronic 'logical rigidity'and 'abstract rationalism'

say, to the words and sequences of words

fromwhich the methodologies of the social-sciences were

seen to be

suffering.The 'terms of reference'for Williams, then, are

a series of

personal statements-the contextin which theywere offeredand

subsequent 'effects'-true to the 'private meaning' and 'public fact' concern of the editors of Politics and Letters. In practice this meant running the conceptual diversityof a semantic unit along with the social context-seen as its 'source' of evolution-as interrelated

sequences. Given Williams' literary-critical'temperamentand training' at this time, any other conceptual or analytical mode of enquiry should naturally have appeared 'metlhodological'in its worst sense. Hence the introductorydistancing:'But, as a methodof inquiry,I have not chosen to list certain topics, and to assemble summaries of particular statementson them.'31 This is entirelyin keepingwith the spirit of the 'sociological' interestsof Scrutineerswho were one in hostility towards sociology as the 'quotation-lifting' 'background' study. Williams' 'terms of reference'involves a tactics of distinguishing

meanings and relatingthem to terms the tactics can be seen


their'sources' and 'effects'.In general as one of relating the 'content' of a

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




personal statementto its historical'context'. The problemwas how to

constructthe facticityof history,of 'a whole way of life', as 'internal' to 'value'; to reconcile the analytical realm of facts with the active world of the subject. Here the idealism of organic 'experience' provided a solution by enabling an extensionof 'experience' to cover the social factsthemselves.Having done this,Williams then added the

dialectics of

process and relations to it, although the word itselfwas

anathema at

that timeas it suggestedthe natural-scientificovertonesof

Engles' Dialectics of Nature. We can see how Williams works out his solution. An initial

sequence of events, subsequently recognizable as a context in a historical distance, is shown to beget a sequence of responses which can also be historically objectified as the responsive content, an argumentor a position. The content,which was 'then' a process of meaning-in-the-makingbut 'now' a recognizablebody of arguments,is inherited in a subsequently changed context. Now, the effort to understand this received content in response to the changed initial context necessitates a furtherchange in the inheritedcontent. The process can thus continue ad infinitum, such that the received- changed meaning always undergoes furthermutations in response to the changed and changing context in which it is received and continuedas responsiveunderstanding.But Williams, to be sure, does not offerchanges in contexts and contentsas separate and separable temporal instances. The dynamic relation between them is not only processual, but also mutuallyinteractiveand involving. This can be illustrated by examples from Culture and Society. Burke's response was contextual. But the historical context was not static; it was a situation on the move-an industrialising and democratisingcountrywhere these 'forces' were accelerating even as Burke was articulating his response: 'And even while Burke was

writing, the great tide of economic change was

carryingwith it many of the political changes against which he was

concerned to argue.'32 The content of Burke was not, similarly,an instance but a continual accretion which only became a body of

writing retrospectivelyin

the now historically objectified

flowing strongly,

terms of

context.Thus the contentof Burke's experienceof an initialcontext- 'an experience of stability, containing imperfections, but not essentially threatened,' changes, not at some instance in time, but processually,in the course of responseitself.As 'the currentof change swelled,' Burke's 'affirmationbecame a desperatedefence.'33 From the initial sequence of context and content certain major 'terms' are seen to precipitate into a 'pattern' or 'structure' of key words in termsof which the subsequent social thinking,albeit with local variations, largely proceeds. In Culture and Society Williams' 'effects'referredto above largelyconsistof locatingthe relaypoints in the 'tr-adition'of the 'distinguished'meanings.Southeyand Owen, the

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


Romantic artists, Bentham, Coleridge, Carlyle

certain meanings and perspectivesthrougha set of 'key words' from which theytry to build up a discourse in response; and responsiveto

the changed and changing situations-of his own times. The working principle of Culture anid Society may thus be seen to contain an

historicalelement (the context,the 'source'), a linguisticelement (the content,the received personal statementsfromwhich the subsequent

thinkers,including Williams,

'relevantly' in the present) and, as the middle term, an existential

element, the element of consciousness; which 'responds' to the immediate context of experience through inherited keywords (the

elementof 'experience'). If this workingprincipleis accepted as valid, onie can then see Cultture and Society as a series of essays; on individual thinkersin which this prinicipleis assumed as the inherent connectingterm.The historicalconnection between the figuresin the book thus has a demonstrable relation to literary criticism-the periodic generational submission of the received meanings to their experience. Leavis had developed the earlier idealist dynamics of Eliot's historyof literarytraditionto argue that literarystatementsare more than personal and literaryinsofar as theyare present heuristic activities undertaken withiin the flux of experience under the supervision of and submission to the 'Tradition'. The significant differenceis a vague sense of ideology which lurks throughCulture; and Society which Williams could not have negotiated, given his organic experientialism.For what comes out in the semanticdialectic is the gradual defensiveslide in the concept of culturefroman original holistic emphasis to the cold-war elitism. As Williams did not have M'arx's concept of civil society, he failed to see that the original holisticemphasis in the idea of culturewas as much ideological as the stubsequentconsecrationof it in an elitistshrineby its highpriestEliot. By his unwitting subscriptioi to the literary-criticalframework, Williams relayed on its organicist language-consciousness equation. He shares its idealistic position in positinlg that consciousness is the centralisingin-terpreterand the prescriberof ethical standards.He also shares its organicistpositionin reformulatingits standardthatlanguage

is the organic callous secretedin the above

At the same time the trend towards objective analysis is also apparent in Williams' historicalsemantics.By his dramaticcriticismhe had come to know what he would later call in Marxism and Literaturethe historicalprocess of the formationof the 'form'itself.34 That is, what the latergenerationwould recogniseas a 'form'or genre' is nothing but the objective establishmentof certain conventions to

each inherits

distinguish meanings by practising it

process of consciousness.

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



represent a specific social experience. This is already evident in Culture and Society, in the introductionWilliams writes about the new words that entered into the vocabulary after the industrial revolution,'There is in facta generalpatternof change in thesewords, and thiscan be used as a special kind of map by which it is possible to look again at those wider changes in life and thoughtto which the changes in language evidentlyrefer.'35He also refersto a 'structureof meanings' which has close affinitieswith his concept, 'structureof feeling,which he had already articulatedby thistime.36 Williams was instinctivelycorrectin seeing semanticsas the crucial clue for the concept of 'culture'. For all his objective concerns in Culture and Society,where exactly did then the argumentgo wrong?

A crucial hint is present in this line: 'The area of culture,

is usually

proportionateto the area of a language ratherthan to the area of a

class.'37 We can

findhim restatingthisalmost a decade later:


meanings and values are widely, not sectionally, created

(and the example that one used in the firstinstance was that of language, which is no individual's creation, although certain individuals extend and deepen its possibilities), then one had to

talk about the generalfactof a communityof

Withinthis depoliticisedand organic concept of language, the concept of dialectics between the past and the presentwas firststated in the




1953 essay 'The Idea of Culture':

The history of a word is in the series of meanings which a dictionarydefines;the relevanceof a word is in common language. The dictionary indicates a contemporaryscheme of the past; the active word, in speech or in writing,indicates all that has become

present.To distinguishthe interactionis to distinguisha tradition-

a mode of history;and then in experience we set a value on the tradition-a mode of criticism. The continuing process, and consequent decisions,are thenthe matterof action in society.39

The absence in these analyses is the central Marxist concept of class struggleand class conflict.It was E.P. Thompson who firstpointed out the tendencyof Williams' 'quantitativenarrative'to pass by 'a number of questions highly relevant to the historian of the working-class movement.'40 Williams failed to recognisethe existenceof a category of people called 'intellectuals' who exhibit their class allegiances in mattersof cultural production. Consequently he took language as a sort of organic index of an equally organic entitycalled 'society'. No doubt the cultural discourse he sketched in Culture and Society did registerchanges in society.But the importantquestion was fromwhose point of view?

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


Criticismfromthe leftis almost unanimouslyagreed that the ethical and phenomenological sublimation of the structuresof civil society and politicsis due to the lack of a radical tradition.This is an entirely acceptable description.In factthe word 'contrasts'with which Culture anld Society begins shows starklyWilliams' distance from Marxism. Marx himselfhad used this word-'significant' word, to borrow one

of Williams' favouritewords fromthis book-in a differentsense. For

his distinctionsand relationsWilliams introducesin the beginningof

the book two verydeterminingand contrastivepair of thinkers.Burke

and Cobbett;

the historyof the formulationof the idea of culture.Accordingto him thisis not only the period in which 'we findthe long effortto compose

a general attitude towards the new forces of industrialism and democracy,' but also the period in which the 'major analysis is

undertaken and the major opinions and descriptions emerge'.41 In beginningwith the period of IndustrialRevolution Williams does not give us eitheran analysis of capitalism or its relationsof production. On the otherhand, the book beginswith a phenomenologicalaccount

of the 'contrastive'mood which 'epitomises,'in his view, 'the habit of

thinkingof the early industrial generations.'42 Burke and Cobbett, Southeyand Owen epitomizeforWilliams the mood of contrastof the

period. This

his speech deliveredon the occasion of the anniversaryof the Chartist 'People's Paper' in April 1856. It is very likely that Williams had

known this through one of his sources, Klingender's Marxism and Modern Art where Marx's speech is quoted.43 Referringto the Carlylean'signs of time' Marx had remarked,

There is one great factcharacteristicof this our nineteenthcentury;

are presentedas belonging to the decisive moments in

contrastin the milieu had been noted by Marx himselfin

a fact which no party dares deny. On the one hand there have

started into life industrialand scientificforces which no epoch of the formerhuman historyhad ever suspected. On the other hand there exist symptomsof decay, far surpassing the horrors of the

lattertimes of

the Roman Empire. In our days, everything seems

pregnant with

its contrary:Machinery, giftedwith the wonderful

power of shortening and fructifyinghuman labour, we behold

starvingand overworkingit. The new fangledsources of wealth, by

some strange,weird spell, are turnedinto sources of

the same pace that mankind mastersnature,man seems to become enslaved to othermen or to his own infamy.Even the pure lightof science seems unable to shine but on the dark background of

ignorance. All our inventions and progress seem to result in


This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




endowingmaterialforceswith intellectuallife,and in stultifying humanlifeintoa materialforce.44

But Marx had not stoppedshortat takingnoteof the anti-capitalist antinomies.Afternamingthemhe had shrewdlydistinguishedhis; own diagnosisfromthatofothers':

thisantagonismbetweentheproductiveforcesand social relations of our epoch is a fact,palpable, overwhelming,and not to be controverted.Somemaywail overit; othersmaywishto getridof

modernartsin orderto get rid of modernconflicts.Or

imaginethatso signala progressin industrywantsto be completed byas signala regressin politics.Forourpart,we do notmistakethe shape of the shrewd spirit that continues to mark all these contradictions.We knowthatto workwell thenew-fangledforces of society,theyonlywantto be masteredbynew-fangledmen-and

suchare theworkingmen



Williamsbeginshis own contrastiveaccountin a differentmanner.In contrastto Marx's antagonismbetweenproductiveforcesand social relations' he chose to provide a historical analysis of the phenomenologyof the contrastive'mood.' Williamspoints to 'the associationof Burkeand Cobbett,throughWindham.'46He claims thatthispersonalassociation'servesas an introductionto the more importantassociation' which is not adequately recognised by conventional historical accounts which pigeonhole them into conservativeand radical camps respectively.The 'more important association',based on 'experience',is said to be indicativeof a social realitythatis generallyoverlookedbythehistorians:'In theconvulsion of Englandbythestruggleforpoliticaldemocracyand theprogressof theIndustrialRevolution,manyvoiceswereraisedin condemnationof the new developments,in the terms and accents of an older


In thustakingculturaldiscourseas theorganiceffusionof a total social experienceWilliamsfailedto understandthat

The ideas of therulingclass are in everyepochtherulingideas,i.e. theclass whichis therulingmaterialforceof society,is at thesame timeits rulingintellectualforce.The class whichhas themeansof materialproductionat itsdisposal,as controlat thesametimeover the means of mental production,so that thereby,generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental productionare subjectto it.48

As a result,thematerialhistoryofconflictand strugglesis processedin the culturalisedhistoriographyof Williams.The languageparadigm which allows Williamsto see it as the existentialsolutionof the objectiveand subjective;factorscorrodesthepoliticalstructureof the

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



society. What becomes apparent in Williams' strategy of relating contentsof personal statementsto historicalcontexts is the unstated and continuously maintained argument against their positivistic reduction to a causal, necessary, and one-to-one relationship. As a maintained distance from the-then reductive-Marxist practice of r-eadingcultural statements as the direct distillation of economic

factors,thiswas perhaps a necessarygesture.But in tryingto overcome

the positivisticlimitationsof

bvpasses importantquestions regardingthe relation of two different contextsin history.The initiallimitationis the conceptof historyitself.

The Crocean historiography by which the real structure and movement of the civil society is ethically reduced to moments of 'consent' presides over Williams' reappropriation of the cultural tradition. As I remarked above, if the lack of the concept of civil society forcesWilliams to conceptualise it as systemicorganicism,the resultantlack of the concept of class strugglein the field of culture forces him to conceptualise writing as the hermeneuticrecord of 'immediate' living. This limitsWilliams' treatmentof culturalcontentsin a numberof ways. The absence of the concept of civil societyprimarilyaffectsthe

reductive Marxism, Williams, in turn,

criteriaby which the thinkersare selectedfor scrutiny.The


hermeneuticattitude to culture as the lived realitythat is


onlv in its 'realisation' in the present imposes, by necessity, the

literary-criticalselectivity.49The selectedpassages are thenofferedas representativeof an individual and his body of writing.Further,the absence of the concept of civil society deprivesWilliams of a radical

conception of class. This leads him to an Arnoldian basis as the 'best that is

in the case of Burke,the contentsare accepted phenomenologicallyat the individualand ethicallyat the social level. As a resultthe contexts are thoroughlydepoliticised. While Williams is capable of isolating historical-existential contexts by the advantage of retrospective

analysis, he does not explain how such contexts change or processually graduate into the next instance. Therefore,contexts are separated fromeach other only in termsof the successive phases of

cultural discourse on

of contexts by negotiating how change occurs in them, Williams dissolves them into a series of moral postulatesof the contentsof his figures. For example, Williams constantly refers to changed and changing'circumstances'and 'conditions' and, because of the inability to see dynamicconnections between contexts,we are never told how this happens. One realises at thisstage thatWilliams stillhas problems

accept individualstatementson said and thought'.As examined

them. Instead of providingan historicalaccount

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



with the dynamics of change, a problem which he shared as the coeditor of Politics and Letters in pigeon-holding'contemporaryfact' to 'rational change' and 'private meaning' to 'evolutionary social change.' Change is inevitablyreduced to the level of meaning: 'The forceswhich have changed and are stillchangingour world are indeed industry and democracy. Understanding of this change, this long

revolutionlies at a level of meaningwhich it is not easy to reach.'50 The choice of the word 'forces' to describe the agency of change is

significant.Democracy and Industryare denoted here as 'forces' as

they are physical entitiesacting fromoutside. This can be compared with the plural 'we' in Williams' referenceto culture.Indeed this is an

unconscious reproduction of the romantic anti-capitalist antinomy between 'culture' and 'civilisation'. The dichotomy firstgrasped in Politics and Letters between 'private meaning' and 'public fact' receivesa differentialstatementin Cultureand Societyin thatWilliams see a historical and social relationship between 'changed

social structureand changed social-feelings'in a mutually involving and interactiveway; but while he can talk of 'patternsof change' in his key words, he cannot account for the changed social structure.51 Social change in this account gets reduced a scenario of shifting phenomena which are in their process responsively arrested and articulated.Thus Williams' contextsare severelylimited.His historical contexts are elaborate restatementsof their own phenomenological accounts as theyappear in the textureof the contentsof his figures.In other words, he creates pseudo contexts by extractingphenomenal accounts of historyfromthe personal statementsof his figures.Since these accounts are already ideological versions, they corroborate in establishingthe validityof the 'social thinking'of his figuresover what might then be dubbed as superficial and evanescent 'politics'. Historical-materialcontexts become merelythe inside out versions of the 'experience' of social change as registeredphenomenally in the personal statements. This results in the evacuation of either the empirical or theoretical details of the social agency of change. The evacuated reality then presents itself as the terms of 'immediate experience' to which figuresin the book constantlysurrendertheir inherited meanings and significances to derive their contemporary relevance.As a resultone constantlyfaces two modes of social reality. On the one hand there is realityas the meaning-in-the-making-the phenomenal and the experientialin the process of gettingarticulated as staged response.This is the existentialrealitywhich accounts forthe

'complexity' of cultural response at any given moment. About Burke and Cobbettwe are told that

can now


The growthof the new societywas so confusing,even to the best minds, that positions were drawn up in terms of inherited categories, which then revealed unsuspected and even opposing implications.There was much overlapping,even in the opposite

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


positionsof a Cobbett and a Burke,and the continuingattack oIn Utilitarianism and on the driving philosophy of the new

industrialismwas to make manymore strangeaffiliations


The caution one is being given here is that it is easy to iron out the complexityof this existentialrealitythroughretrospectiveanalytical procedures.In the case of Burke,Williams persuades us that 'the flux

of historyand judgement'is easily overlookedwhen we tryto set him

'against the subsequent 'known march'.'53 On the otherhaindthereis

the second reality,the realityof the factualand the analyticalmode as given in the history of ideas, etymology and to some extent, as Williams seems to suggest, Marxism itself.The transformationand limiting of the objective criteria of social history into shifting phenomena arrested; in response, its reintroduction to validate personal statementsfromwhich theywere extractedtexturallyset up a


between the evacuated empirical details of the agency of change


the ethical emphasis; on the existentialaspects of reality.In other

words the fact/valuedichotomybeyond which Williams set out to go

in his original aspiration to find alternativesto positivismreappears.

The value in question here being the distinctionof lived quality, it goes without saying that Williams is restating a literary-critical emphasis.54 Williams himselfbest describesthis 'as the resultof [his] literarytraining':'The hard-learntprocedureof literaryjudgmentwas

a kind of suspension before experience'.55 The literary-critical distinction of culture as the heuristic response to the contingent materialfactsof social lifesets up language as the repositoryof such a cultureto be internallyrealised. Further,since such an expressiveand enculturedlanguage was seen as emaciated by the industrialmentality, receivedliteratureinevitablybecame the bastion of culture.Looked at from this angle, it can indeed be argued that Williams is not only taking literary-criticalhabits across to historical facts, but doing somethingfundamentallydifferent.He is just shiftingthe object of literary-criticalanalysis frombelles-lettresto Romantic anti-capitalist texts.In doing so Williams unconsciouslysupposes that the relationof these texts to historyis the same as the relation of literarytexts. He thus overlooks the fact that in social discourses people are mediated by definite material factors and are not pure ethical beings. It is because of this that Culture and Society becomes, in the words of Thompson, a procession of disembodied voices.56 Thus although the book is given the inclusive title Culture and Society, 'society' itself does not figurein the book in any real sense. The actual material matrixof 'society' is phenomenologicallyprocessed by Williams as an

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



ethical-culturalpreoccupationof his figures,so that societyin 'culture and society' becomes a cultural 'common field', a common preoccupation. Culture now becomes the area of ethical concern while civilisation becomes the realm of the. material forces. As Williams himselfputs it, 'the mistakefollowsfromthe originalstrategy of the book, which is the recoveryof a very specific tradition. The result was to project back the appearance of a coherent discourse, which prevented[him] fromfullyre-engagingsuccessive thinkerswith


Positivistderivationsof reductiveMarxism, foreclosingculture and the conceptionof meaningas an active historicalprocess,an activityof human agency forcedWilliams to the opposite extremeof interpreting meanings as ethical and personal responses. Thompson formulated this Williamsian hesitancy before the-then discredited Marxism as follows:

the major intellectual socialist tradition in this country was so contaminatedthatWilliams could not hope to contestwith reaction

at all unless he dissociated himselffromit:

the stridency and crude class reductionism which passed for Marxist criticism in some circles, the mixture of quantitative rhetoric and guilty causism which accompanied apolegitics for Zhdanovism-all these seemed to have corroded even the vocabulary of socialism. With a compromisedtraditionat his back, and with a broken vocabulary in his hands, he did the only thing that was leftto him: he took over the vocabularyof his opponents, followed them into the heart of theirown arguments,and fought

the follies of proletcult,

themto a standstillin theirown terms.58

According to Thompson this accounts in the main for the prominent shortcomingsof both Cultureand Societyand The Long Revolution- the 'tone' which induces in the reader a feelingof being 'offereda procession of disembodied voices,' the suppression of two cultures into one of a 'tradition' of 'genuine communication"and the offering of 'abstract social forces' through the 'collective "we" of an


Williams fought a lonely battle against 'the pressures of

against, that is, the liberal-conservativeconsensus,fromwhich he 'did not emerge unmarked'.60 Thompson fell that Williams had 'accepted to some degree his opponent's way of seeing the problem, and ha[d] followed theminto theirown areas of concern,while at the same time neglecting other problems and approaches which have been the particularconcern of the socialist tradition'.61 Nothing expresses this general lack of a radical traditionbetterthan Williams' own comment abouitCultureand Society.


Thompson points out that in the fifties

a decade,'

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



the originsof the book lie in ideas of eitherexplicitlyconservative or contradictory thinkers in the nineteenth century-but conservativeswho, at the point of irruptionof a qualitativelynew social orderput manyof the rightquestionsto it but of course came out with wrong answers-or people with whom [he] shared certain impulses, like Leavis, moving towards explicitly reactionary positions in the twentiethcentury.62



In Cuiltureanzd Society Caudwell representedforWilliams the vulgarityof base- superstructurereduction.Afterthe paternalisticrecognitionthat 'His theoriesand outlines;have been widelv learned' Williams had feltthat he had 'littleto say, of actual literature,that is even interesting.'Williams then expresses his practical- criticaldissatisfactionabout Caudwell's 'account of the developmentof mediaeval Into Elizabethan drama' and his 'paraphrase of the 'sleep' line fromMacbetIb positionshighlyreminiscentof L.C. Kinghts'Scrutinywork. [Cultureand Society, p.268. Hereinafter CS]. In theInterviewsWilliamscorrectshis literary-criticaland pre-semioticanimositytowards Caudwell. He said, 'I rejectedIllusion anidReality in such a peremptorywav in Cultureand Society because I took it in the termsin

which it was

You must rememberthat I was then a very sharp

practical critic and it provoked that professionalresponse in me.

I should

and Letters:

have realized that his pressure was greater than mine.' [Politics

Interviews with the New Left, p. 127.1 Williams recognized that Caudwell, however crudely,was searching for materialisticexplanations for language and consciousness.


See LonigRevolution,p. 137f (HereinafterLR).


p. 97. Hereinafterreferredto as PLINl intthenotesand as Interviewsin the text.


Raymond Williams, 'Second Thoughts: I-T.S. Eliot on Culture,' Critical Quarterly,IV, 3 (July1956), p. 307.


PLINL, p. 96-98.


Ibid, p.97.


Ibid, p. 98.


Ibid, pp. 97 and 98.



p. 175. The interviewersremark,'

in the twentyyears betweenthe

writingof the two books [Culture and Society and Keywords] your ideas obviously altered and developed. Keywords takes the principle of looking at

changes of historicalmeaningmuch furtherand more systematicallythan Culture


interestedin other kinds of linguisticstudy in the interim,which had a direct

Society.' Even though thev go on to enquire, 'Were you influencedby or

bearing on keywords?' the idealist language paradigm on which Williams constructedhis social realityin Cultureand Societyand The Long Revolutionare not considered.


PLINL, p. 176.


Keywords,p. 23 (HereafterKW)


CS, pp. 285-286




CS, p. 287.


CS, p. 287.


CS, p. 286-287.

This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:40:05 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




17. PLINL, p.98f.

18. Ibid, p.100.

19. PLINL, p. 1001.

20. PLINL, p. 107.

21. PLINL, pp. 108 and 107

22. Raymond Williams, 'The Future of Marxism,' Twentieth Century, 170 (July 1961), pp. 129-130.

23. CS, p. 18.

24. CS, p. 18.

25. CS, p. 19.

26. CS,p.285.

27. CS, p.18.

28. CS, pp. 24-25.

29. PLINL, p.120.

30. CS, p. 18.

31. CS,p. 18.

32. CS, p.30.

33. CS, p.30.

34. See Marxism and Literature (hereafter ML) p. 191: 'This whole range of conscious, half-conscious, and often apparently instinctive shaping-in an intricate complex of already materialized and materializing forms-is the activation of a social semioticand communicativeprocess, more deliberate,more

complex, and more subtle in literarycreation than in everydayexpression but in it througha major area of direct(specificallyaddressed) speech and writing.Over this whole range, fromthe most indifferentadoption of an established relational linguistic form to the most worked and reworked newly possible form, the

ultimately formativemoment is the material articulation, the generationof shared sounds and words'.

35. CS, p. 13.


37. CS, p. 307.

38. Raymond Williams, 'Culture and Revolution: a Comment', in Terry Eagleton and Brian Wickered. From Culture to Revolution (The Slant Symposium 1967),

activation and

CS, p. 13.

London, Sheed and Ward, 1968, pp. 28-29. Emphasis added.

39. Raymond William, 'The Idea of Culture', Essays in Criticism,3 (July1953), p.


40. E.P. Thompson, 'The Long Revolution', rev. of The Long Revolution,NLR, 9 (May-June1961), p.28.

41. CS,p.286.

42. CS,p.23.

43. F.D. Klingender, Marxism and Modern Art. An Approach to Social Realism (Marxism Today Series), ed. by Prof. Benjamin Farrington,London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1942, pp.29-30.

44. Karl Marx quoted in Klingender,Ibid, p.29.

45. Karl Marx, quoted in Klingender,Ibid, p. 30.

46. CS,p.23.

47. Cs, p. 23. Williams' insistenceon