In his essay, Raymond Williams presents us with the notion that a society is forged from its members’ formation of common meanings and directions, its growth actively debated under the pressures of experience, contact, and discovery. This definition serves as segue into the main idea, that culture is ordinary, composed of two distinct parts: “the known meanings and directions, which its members are trained to; the new observations and meanings, which are offered and tested”. This paper aims to examine Raymond William’s notion of culture and his interpretation of culture in the scope of cultural studies.
Williams begins his discussion on Culture as Ordinary with a short description of his experience of childhood home in Wales. Then, Williams presents us with the notion that a society is formed based on how its members find common meaning and directions. Its growth actively is ensured under the pressures of experience, contact, and discovery. Based on this understanding William says that culture is ordinary, and composed of two distinct parts: “the known meanings and directions, which its members are trained to and the new observations and meanings, which are offered and tested.”
He also speaks two conceptions of culture he has encountered and rejects them. He calls them as “down-the-nose,” and “bad-mouthing.” Those who stand for the type of culture are committed to the notion that the only culture is high culture—art, music, literature, etc. Williams rejects this notion and sys it is only a means of maintaining a power division between cultivated and common folk, and adds that he has encountered fine examples of art in the company common people. He also rejects the second rejected notion of culture saying that it is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The bad-mouthers perceive culture as solely high culture, and label such work that of do-gooders and highbrows.
Williams also offers a brief discussion of some of the ideas of Marx and Leavis that have come to shape his own thinking. Williams discusses the three Marxist ideas that “matter” in the discussion of culture:
1. That culture must be interpreted by its underlying system of production,
2. That the masses are considered “ignorant,”
3. And that for socialism to succeed, a person must write, think and learn in “certain prescribed ways.”
He refutes the second notion by stating that the working class are not restricted, but are instead gaining access to institutions of learning and developing their own culture.
Williams then moves on to Leavis’s idea that as England has became industrialized and vulgar, art and thinking have suffered, Williams also rejects this view too. It based on his own working class root. He and his family view the technological advances and easing of labor from industrialization as an advantage, a newly acquired from of power. This leads Williams to his suggestion of how we can move into an age of economic abundance and productive common culture: by disproving two false equations, one false analogy, and one false proposition.
The proposition is that ugliness and pollution are a price all cultures must pay for the economic power that comes from industrialization. Williams posits cleaner, less-abrasive technology and responsible industry as a solution.
The equations are that popular education gives rise to commercial culture. The over-crowding of industrialization, coupled with mass communication, led to the construction of the masses. According to Williams there are no masses, only ways of constructing people as such. Along with this comes the discussion of the false analogy, which is that bad culture will drive out good culture. Williams cites rising instances of literature, quality periodicals, and literacy to debunk this idea. The author ends the piece with the idea that culture and its inherent elements are expanding, and that this phenomenon must be studied.