Williams’s theory of culture is complex

Raymond William tells us that ‘culture ‘ is ‘one of the two or three most

complicated words in the English Language ‘ . Why did he see it as such a complex


This complicated history of the word is suiting of the term itself, which has evolved over clip from state to state to settle into its current use. Williams’s theory of civilization is every bit complex as the word itself as he explains in his bookKeywords( 1983 ) . It derives from the LatinCulerewhich could intend either, inhabit, cultivate, protect or honour with worship. From here there are many derivative words depicting groups of people such as cult and settlement. The English version developed in the early 15Thursdaycentaury was closest to cultivate and the care of natural growing. However it was in 19Thursdaycentaury Germany that the word began to take signifier into it’s modern significance. The wordkulturereferred non merely to a civilisation but besides the procedure of going civilized. It is this procedure with which Raymond Williams is concerned.

In his Hagiographas onThe analysis of civilization( Storey, 1994, pp 48-56 ) Raymond Williams suggest three general classs in the definition of civilization. First he discusses civilization as a procedure, which he dubs the ‘ideal.’ In these footings civilization is the development of the values of a society towards a province of human flawlessness. Culture can be analysed in footings of how developed it is from crude attitudes to send on believing 1s. This use can be the cause of much contention when used to compare modern-day civilizations. For illustration cardinal Islamic civilization is frequently perceived as misogynous by westernised states.

In the ‘documentary’ definition, civilization refers to rational and artistic texts that record the idea and experience of a group of people. The term is by and large applied to what is considered ‘fine art’ in all mediums. The phrase ‘culture vulture’ is applied to those with a gorging gustatory sensation for the humanistic disciplines.

Finally Williams offers a ‘social’ definition of the word, which refers to ‘a manner of life’ , which is expressed through behavioral forms, ritual and tradition, and besides the establishments that are put in topographic point to back up society. This manner of thought is really utile when sing the construct of sub-culture, in which the members intentionally affiliate or disassociate with tradition or establishment.

While at first glimpse these definitions seem simple and straightforward, the deductions and relationships between them are far from it. These definitions are non separate but dynamic and entropic. As Williams himself tells us, an apprehension of civilization must take into history all three definitions and analyze the relationship between them.

“However hard it may be in pattern, we have to seek and see the procedure as a whole, and to associate our peculiar surveies, if non explicitly at least by ultimate mention, to the existent and complex organization.” ( Storey, 1994, p50 )

The ‘ideals’ of a civilization may be analysed through the unfavorable judgment of its art and texts ; the documental grounds. It is the hunt for cosmopolitan truths and shared experience that inspires many of the great creative persons. However art non merely has the power to reflect the ideals of a culture’s society, but besides inform and contribute towards it and inquiry it. Music is often making this ; from flower peoples to punks ; popular music provides a voice for those who wish to arise against the ailments of society. For the flower peoples it was force, for the punks’ societal inequality. From this point sub-cultures of like-minded people are formed, defined by music, frock, dress, literature, activity and, one time once more, shared ideals.

When analyzing the documental grounds of a peculiar civilization, context is of cardinal importance. Background historical grounds will supply the context for the grounds being evaluated. After all if civilization is the development towards a province of human flawlessness, so it follows that any given civilization is informed by those which preceded it. For illustration, to understand the success of new labor in the late 1890ss, it is of import to understand the weaknesss of the conservative party throughout the 1880ss. So ‘documentary’ analysis is basically the comparing of historical texts and grounds to supply an apprehension from where ‘Social’ analysis can be derived

The development of ‘social’ tradition is frequently born out of dissension with the position quo or the ‘ideal.’ The development of British regulation from the monarchy to democratic province finally gave every individual in Britain the right to vote. Through this procedure the ‘ideal’ of regulation changed from the feudal system to self-government.

We can see through merely a few illustrations of analysis the dynamic relationships between the three definitions. While there are intimations of cyclical forms, to propose any at this point would be guess. A full account of the complexness of ‘culture’ and the assorted readings on the topic, would take well more than the 1000s words in this papers. As Tony Bennet points out, ‘as it stands, the construct of popular civilization is virtually useless, a runing pot of baffled and contradictory significances capable of corrupting enquiry up any figure of theoretical blind alleys.’” ( Storey, 2001, P1 )

The procedure of development seems to be the most utile manner of understanding the term civilization and the assorted definitions of the word that Williams gives to us. The dynamic relationships between civilization as, ‘ideal’ ‘documentary’ and ‘society’ are deep rooted and cardinal in the apprehension of each construct separately. An apprehension of civilization in an ideological, documental or societal context merely emphasizes one construct over the others, they can ne’er be genuinely detached. In the words of Williams ;

“The fluctuations of significances and mention, in the usage of civilization as a term, must be seen, I am reasoning, non merely as a disadvantage, which prevents any sort of neat and sole definition, but as a echt complexness, matching to existent elements in experience.” ( Storey, 1994, p49 )


Storey, John ( 2001 )An Introductory Guide to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, Third Edition,London: Harvester Wheatsheaf

Williams, Raymond ‘The analysis of culture’ in ( 1994 )Cultural theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, John Storey ( erectile dysfunction ) London, Harvester Wheatsheaf

Williams, Raymond ( 1983 )Keywords: A vocabulary of civilization and society ( revised erectile dysfunction ), New York, Oxford UP