Why are Raymond Williams’ discussions around culture relevant to the area of media theory? Raymond Williams (1921-1988) was a Marxist theorist who concentrated on setting up cultural frameworks in order to investigate his theories. His discussions broke away from the Marxist’s focus on economics, believing that it inadequately accounted for contemporary culture, which he said was categorised by cultural exchanges. Williams developed the idea of ‘cultural materialism’ in a series of books including – “Culture and Society” (1958), “The Long Revolution” (1961), and “Marxism and Literature” (1977).
Cultural Materialism relates to the ‘Infrastructure’, also known as the ‘base structure’, which according to Williams contained figures of authority such as the government and people at the heart of the economy, and the ‘Superstructure’, containing the more cultural aspects of life such as the arts, entertainment, and education. According to Williams the superstructure was determined by the infrastructure, or in other words the things that people do outside of work are determined by the base structure. This causes conflict and according to Williams this is what drives society on.
Communication is fundamental and everybody is born with the desire to communicate, Williams believed. He placed more emphasis on the way that the infrastructure determines the way that we communicate, rather than the traditional views of Marxist writers who concentrated on economic factors. Williams also developed a ‘dual approach’, which claims that culture is either anthropological or artistic. The anthropological approach stated that culture is located in specific places, and that culture is different in different places.
An example of anthropological culture would be the things that we do in our spare time and the way that people speak will vary in different areas. To a certain extent, the things we do in our spare time are also affected by geography. For example in Cornwall many people spend spare time surfing, but it is not as easy to do this in London because the sea is some distance away. But Williams claims that the restraints placed on people in certain areas, from certain classes, and from different backgrounds prevent them from doing certain things.
An example of this would be the government in England, who are essentially planning to price members of the ‘lower’ classes out of going to university – therefore restricting their progression in life. By introducing top-up-fees, the labour party in the United Kingdom are planning to restrict the level of education that individuals can achieve. This will guarantee that the ‘top brass’ positions in all major corporations and political groups will always be filled by the bourgeoisie. Aspects of ‘high culture’, such as art, opera, literature etc.
are usually connected with ‘educated’ people – the people that can truly understand and appreciate it because of their level of intelligence. This has created a certain level of acceptance whereby only people with a certain level of education will be accepted. Therefore, the base structure is dictating the entertainment that people seek in their spare time. He also called these people ‘cultural elites’. The second approach is artistic culture. This is based on the aesthetic values of life, such as the search for human affection through high culture.
He believed that people were forever in search of the ‘perfect moment’, something that can be achieved by being able to appreciate these forms of entertainment. The perfect moment is the essence of culture. “culture is a state or process of human perfection….. “1 Based on the above theories, Williams suggested a programme designed at getting more people involved in high culture, by bringing them up to level of intelligence whereby they can understand and appreciate it. He revealed this in the book ‘The Long Revolution’.
In this book he attempts to “reinterpret and extend”2 the ideas put forward in his previous work, “Culture and Society”, from his own experience in a society that was still changing. In “The long Revolution” Williams explains the world as he sees it, essentially suggesting a series of mechanical changes in peoples views, by proposing a programme of specific recommendations: Access to education “There are clear and obvious connections between the quality of a culture and the quality of a culture and the quality of it’s system of education.
In our own time we have settled to saying that the improvement of our culture is a matter of improving and extending our national education…… “3 Dedicated programme concentrating on reading. “It is only in our own century that the regular reading even of newspapers has reached a majority of our people, and only in our own generation that the regular reading of books has reached a bare majority”4 Promote the use of standard English. Williams was irritated at the fact that as groups expand across islands, countries, continents, they develop different forms of language.
For Williams believed that communication is fundamental and that everybody is born with the desire to communicate. “The very factor which gives the group its social cohesion can become the factor cutting it off, to an important extent from similar groups elsewhere”5. Williams said that if people were follow these three practices, the world would change. For example, people who didn’t normally go to university would, and would get involved in organisations such as political groups and the media, areas that are traditionally dominated by the ‘cultural elites’.