Raymond Williams: ‘The analysis of culture’

Cultural Theory and Popular Culture An Introduction – John Storey

Raymond Williams’s analysis of culture focuses on the understanding of cultural theory, cultural history, TV, press, radio, and advertising.

– Cultural analysis is a method for understanding what a culture is expressing by analyzing its cultural expressions and therefore reconstructing and interpreting a particular way of life.  There are 3 types:

Culture ideal = discovery and description.

Documentary = critical assessment.

Social = Clarification of meanings and values.

The first one “ideal” which means that culture can be a state of human perfection. Meaning, there are certain universal values that can create a timeless order. Second, is “documentary” which means the surviving texts or practices of a certain culture. The focus is on human experience of intellectual and imaginative works that make up a culture. Lastly, there is “social”, where culture is just a description of a particular way of life. The last category is more so a contemporary analysis. He takes the three points and explains how each one is different with expressing culture, however they all feed off one and other.

– For Williams, culture expresses meanings and values (structure of feeling) and through cultural analysis it is possible to clarify them. He describes society’s constant change as ‘the structure of feeling’. Williams suggests that with every generation young people respond towards society, and by doing so they create their own values and own cultural identities.

– Cultural analyses want a common culture not a hierarchical culture / Distinction between commodities available by culture industries and what people make of them.

– Culture exists on three levels:

Lived culture:  Experienced by people in their day-to-day life in a specific place and at a particular time / Access through the documentary record of the culture (particular time and place).

Period culture: It is the recorded culture which includes products and daily facts from a culture.

Culture of the selective tradition: It is the one that connects the previous types of culture.  Many factors such as interests and values of the dominant class influenced the selection of the texts chosen for understanding the lived culture.

– In the analysis of culture, Williams outlines the ‘three general categories in the definition of culture. (P. 45)

  • Ideal: is a state or process of human perfection, in terms of certain absolute or universal values. (P. 45)
  • Documentary: the surviving texts or practices of a certain culture. (P. 45)
  • Social: Culture is a description of a particular way of life. (P. 46)

– Culture as an ultimate ‘court of human appeal, to be set over the processes of practical social judgment and yet to offer itself as a mitigating and rallying alternative. (P. 45 – Ideal)

– Culture is the body of intellectual and imaginative work in which, in a detailed way, human thought and experience are variously recorded (P. 45 – Documentary)

– Culture is crucial to the founding of culturalism. (P. 46 – Social)

– Three ways of thinking about culture (Social definition of culture): (P. 46)

  1. Culture as a particular way of life
  2. Culture as an expression of a particular way of life.
  3. Cultural analysis as a method of reconstituting a particular way of life.

– The analysis of Culture is the attempt to discover the nature of the organization which is the complex of these relationships. (P. 46)

– The structure of feeling: the shared values of a particular group, class or society at a particular time and place. (P. 46)

  • Describe a discursive structure that is a cross between a collective cultural unconscious and an ideology (P. 46)
  • The unconscious and conscious working out in fictional texts of the contradictions of nineteenth-century society (P. 47)

– Culture always exists on three levels: (P. 47)

  • Lived culture: Experienced by people in their day-to-day existence in a particular place and at a particular moment in time (P. 47)
  • Period culture: the recorded culture, of every kind, from art to the most everyday facts (P. 47).
  • Culture of the selective tradition: The factor connecting lived culture and period cultures (P. 47)

– About the selectivity of cultural traditions: There will always be a tendency for this process of selection to be related to and even governed be the interests of the class that is dominant (P. 48)

– The cultural tradition is not only a selection but also an interpretation (P. 48)

– Williams is insistent that we distinguish between the commodities made available by the culture industries and what people make of these commodities (P. 49).


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