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Thursday, February 24, 2011

A perspective on Raymond Williams’ “Culture Is Ordinary”

the following is a write up on 'Culture is Ordinary' by Panom Kaewphadee

Raymond Williams, in Culture Is Ordinary, looks at culture through his and others’ perspectives. The stance which Williams has made is prominent throughout the essay: Culture for him is not the culture constructed by the elite groups but that which has grown out of the working class and the masses. Culture can be found in the homes of people and the various ways they entertain themself. For example, a mother sings a lullaby to a baby or a grandmother tells her grandchildren tales about terrifying monsters and charming princes who fight the monsters to rescue the beautiful princesses.
A culture has two aspects: First, it is the whole way of life, and, second, it is the arts and learning. In the first aspect, culture can be viewed through “the common meanings.” It is the common meanings that a society is found. Every society has its own characteristics, its own shapes, its own purposes. When a society is formed, the people in that society has some common characteristics, be it the same nationality, the same medium of communication, the same opinions about something, etc. The second aspect of culture is the “special process of discovery and creative effort,” that is, the arts and literature. Williams has given an example of a ‘teashop” at Cambridge. The people who go to the teashop are most of them not particularly learned but have indulged themselves in and practiced few arts. It means that they have some knowledge of some things or others in them, and they show that they have. This trend of going to a teashop is criticized by those people who are not part of the group. From this example we see that the people who go to the teashop must more or less share some sameness, be it the “trivial differences of behavior” or the “trivial variations of speech habit,” and this is a culture for them. This culture excludes people who are outside their circles. It suggests that those who want to be part of this culture must have practiced in one or other arts. Williams has something to say to this concept of culture. His question is: “What kind of a life can it be to produce this extraordinary fussiness, this extraordinary decision to call certain things culture and then separate them, as with a park wall, from ordinary people and ordinary work? This question he posted agrees with his view on the concept of culture that culture is ordinary.
In Culture Is Ordinary, Williams also raises an issue of the “English culture.” There are different English cultures. There is an English bourgeois culture with its educational, literary, and social institutions which are related to the center of power. There is also a growing institution of the working class which is also an English culture. Though both the bourgeois and the working class cultures are not the same but they belong to the category of English culture. There is also a question of people belonging to one culture wanting to be part of another culture. The working class, for that matter, does not want to get into the closely restricted bourgeois culture. The working class has its distinct way of life: “its emphases on neighborhood, mutual obligation, and common betterment, as expressed in the great working-class political and industrial institutions.” This culture of the working class can be the best basis for any future English society.

Williams, Raymond. “Culture Is Ordinary.” Cultural Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Imre Szeman and Timothy Kaposy. Pondicherry: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 53-59. Print.

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