Study Guide

Raymond Williams Introduction

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Raymond Williams Introduction

You have Raymond Williams to thank for that stew of academic disciplines known as Cultural Studies. (Don't everybody thank him at once, now.) Before Williams came along, you'd have to study just English or just history or just anthropology. With Cultural Studies, Williams made it cool to study everything at once—communications, feminist theory, political science... the possibilities are endless.

Williams was also one of those vocal Marxist types who founded a school of theory known as Cultural Materialism. Sure, wealth disparity ticked him off, but his personal beef was with how the privileged use the great books of Western thought to justify their own values and ignore the glaring (sort of) cultural and political messages in books.

Williams urged people to dig deeper. Wuthering Heights isn't about a romance, silly; it's about class origins, and it's about how industrialization's impact on English culture found its way to the far reaches of the heath—the wild English countryside, that is. That Heathcliff wasn't a Romeo—he was a dark-skinned outsider and a reminder of dramatic social change.

Williams is best known for his work Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, which meticulously picks apart words like "democracy," "class," "art," and "culture," and digs out their ideological, political, and social meanings. In Raymond's book, "civilization" isn't just about manners; it's about everything that isn't savage and barbaric—but that's because civilization has some fears about whether it's really so far away from savages and barbarians.

This is one of the few "theory" books that never seems to go out of style.

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