Monday, February 28, 2011

Raymond Williams "Culture is Ordinary"

Although I am going to present on this tomorrow, I'll give you a brief summary of what Williams is talking about in this reading (or at least what I understood of it).

The most important phrase in this whole reading, which is repeated several times throughout the text is when Raymond Williams states that "culture is ordinary". However, what exactly does he mean by this? Generally, it means that every human society has its own shape, meanings and expresses these in their own institutions and thus the making of a society is the finding of common meanings and directions- i.e writings themselves into the land (p. 4).  According to Williams, a culture has 2 aspects:
1) known meanings and directions
2) new observations and meanings

This seems to imply that there are things in a culture which is more or less static (traditions to a degree?) but also that the aspects within that culture are continuously changing and adapting. He also says there are two meanings of the word culture:
1) a whole way of life
2) the arts and learning

Williams uses both of these usages rather than just one or the other. I think we all use both of these meanings, depending on the context of what we are trying to say. Generally when we say someone is 'cultured' we think of 'the arts and learning', yet when we ask someone what their culture is we are referring to 'a whole way of life'. There are also two senses of culture which seem to have been born within English society (but also could be a more general sense, I'm not sure if he meant it to be global):
1) cultivated people, apart from the ordinary people
2) 'culture-vultures'- highbrows who use this argot as an attempt to influence ordinary people

Williams refuses to acknowledge these two sense of culture (actually he denies a lot in this reading). He believes that culture is not limited to a certain group of people but rather is structured and available to and by all, that is why it is 'ordinary'. It is a very democratic approach towards the definition of culture, especially when referring to a time period such as industrialization in which the distinction between the elite and the masses was quite distinctly separated.

There is more to this reading (of course, there always is), but I'll leave it at that and expand more during my presentation.

3 comments:

  1. When you mention the difference between being cultured and (simply) culture, you touch on a point that I believe is very true when it comes to this word. We ourselves create the differentiation between the 'arts and learning' and our 'way of life', just as Williams puts it. Therefore, this could lead in to his view of the cultivated people vs. the ordinary people.

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  2. "2) 'culture-vultures'- highbrows who use this argot as an attempt to influence ordinary people"

    I think, rather, that the argot is the cynical rhetoric *against* culture.

    So the other two definitions of culture he refuses are:

    1) its use as a form of exclusion by the "cultured"
    2) its condemnation by a sort of vulgar populism

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  3. That's a much better way of putting it!

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