Tired of ads?
Join today and never see them again.
This is a tricky section for me because my whole shtick was buzzwords—or "keywords," as I called them in my famous publication Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. So first I'm going to pull back the lens and define a few of the big terms associated with me and my work; then I'll get to the nitty-gritty with one of my most controversial key words. Hold tight.
It's hard to say this without sounding braggy, but I basically invented the field of Cultural Studies. I had a lifelong determination to understand and define what culture/Culture meant—that's easier said than done.
When I talked about Cultural Studies, I was inclusive. We're not just talking about fancy paintings; we're also talking about anthropology and the lives of real people. One of my big contentions in Cultural Studies is that you cannot understand artistic production (from TV to classical sculpture to everything in between) without understanding the people and society in which it's happening.
In shaping the field of Cultural Studies, I argued that culture is not just about the elite; it's just as much about the little people. Cultural Studies includes all disciplines—English, museum studies, philosophy, education, everything—and it considers how these fields are influenced by politics and economics. Don't despair—there's a definite political spin here. We're always asking questions about capitalism, privilege, and ideology.
Simply put, cultural materialism is the study of culture from a Marxist (cultural materialist) perspective. As I discuss in my definition of Cultural Studies, I'm not keen on how the elite have tried to keep culture all to themselves. As I once said, I oppose the emphasis on high culture as "this extraordinary decision to call certain things culture and then separate them, as with a park wall, from ordinary people and ordinary work" (source).
The main concern for us cultural materialists is that when you look at history and literature—pretty much any idea at all—you must always look at politics. As one example, if you were studying a novel by Jane Austen, you wouldn't be thinking about the marriage plot or about how weird Darcy is; you'd been wondering about all the oppressed people who are supporting the characters' fancy-pants way of life on the country estate. Someone's working, and it sure ain't Emma.
This is one of my favorite keywords, and it became increasingly meaningful to me over the course of my shortish life. Like any good socialist, I cared about community, and because I came from the Welsh working class, I often thought of ideas like belonging and outsiderness.
My ideas of community are both literal (miners on strike) and imagined (socialists uniting across the globe). As I point out in Keywords, community comes from the word "commons" or "common people," and many of my novels (Border Country, The Fight for Manod, The Volunteers) discuss social groups and social divides (who's in and who's out).
It's sort of awkward to list keywords as a buzzword, but it must be done. My idea of keywords was to bring together around 100 of the most contradictory and complex examples of vocabulary in the English language. This does not mean the words themselves are complicated. We're talking about terms like genius, hegemony, race, tradition, and violence—words that are very culturally loaded. They mean different things to different people.
I wrote a little essay for each key word, discussing how its meaning has changed through time according to who used the word and how. Allow me to quote from my own introduction: "Every word which I have included has at some time, in the course of some argument, virtually forced itself on my attention because the problems of its meanings seemed to me inextricably bound with the problems it was being used to discuss" (source).