Analysis of culture in Raymond Williams’s “The Analysis of Culture”

Raymond Williams is a renowned British critic. He is also widely known as an academician and a novelist. His “The Analysis of Culture” is a very remarkable contribution to the field of cultural studies. In his essay, he has analyzed culture from different perspectives. He opines that there “are three general categories in the definition of culture” (48) including the ideal, the documentary, and the social. Culture can be analyzed by positing it in these three phases. The analysis of these three categories clarifies how we can understand the culture.

The Ideal and Culture

Culture as the ideal deals mainly with two themes. First of all, it discovers culture and secondly, it describes it. It examines how there are some inevitable aspects in society that determine the perfection of human beings and thus, it is a way of exploring the universal norms or values that confirm human perfection. To Raymond Williams, the ideal is a condition in which “culture is a state or process of human perfection, in terms of certain absolute or universal values” (48). He further argues that society occupies certain principles and systems which are considered to be universal or absolute. If these values are the determining factors in a culture, the practice of them aims to explore some unquestionable and rigid values. For this reason, Williams writes, “the analysis of culture, if such a definition is accepted, is essentially the discovery and description, in lives and works, of those values which can be seen to compose a timeless order or to have permanent reference to the universal human condition” (48).

Williams further argues that the ideal as a category of culture identifies the “process of human perfection with the discovery of absolute values” (49) but all of these values are “ordinarily defined” (49). He narrates the values as the extension of the existing values that form a society. The individual discovers them and the social inheritance keeps them alive. They become universal when they are able to empower the individual “to enrich his life, to regulate his society, and to control his environment” (49). This technique is available in all fields of knowledge such as medicine, production, communication etc. What is very remarkable to discover is that this process completely depends on intellectuality and “creative handling of experience” (49) confirms its longevity. To exemplify, Sophocles’s Antigone shows how the whole play is based on the socially and religiously established absolute value which tells that there should be reverence for the dead. Antigone got her empowerment because of this absolute value that society possessed.

The Documentary and Culture

Williams defines the documentary as a category of culture by stating that it is a way of assessing a culture critically. He argues that culture is “the body of intellectual and imaginative work” (48) and this phase records the human thoughts and experiences in multiple ways. Moreover, its main objective is to evaluate “the nature of thought and experience, the details of the language, form and convention” (48) through proper application of and evaluation of the activity of criticism. The process of documentation is done with the exploration of the best thought and written in the globe. It attempts to clarify and evaluate the traditions and social phenomena in which the documents are found. In a word, it can be said that this process follows the historical criticism to posit a social practice in its intellectual paradigm to justify it.

The culture as a documentary always takes value “only in the written and painted records” (49). Sophocles’s Antigone can be exemplified in which the dramatist tries to establish “the communication of certain values by certain artistic means” (50). Certain basic tensions are highlighted in this play through the chorus and their lamentation that Antigone would not fight for her dead husband as she did for her dead brother. Criticism enables the readers to find out the inner conflict that the society was not so benevolent to the husbands as it was to the brothers. Williams responds to this kind of argument as he believes that values or art-works should be analyzed in the light of its social context. On the contrary, he supposes that “the social explanation” (50) should not be determining. Thus, he sums up stating that culture in the documentary sense “is of great importance because it can yield specific evidence about the whole organization with which it was expressed” (51).

The Social and Culture

Culture, as the social, attempts to clarify the meanings and values existing in a society. In this category, culture, as observed by Williams, is taken as a “description of a particular way of life, which expresses certain meanings and values not only in art and learning but also in institutions and ordinary behaviour” (48). Every society has some implicit and explicit meaning system that guide it to go forward. This category of culture defines and clarifies these meanings to identify them as parts of culture. It significantly elaborates how society is guided by different types of entities such as “the organisation of production, the structure of the family, the structure of institutions which express or govern social relationships, the characteristic forms through which members of the society communicate” (48).

Work Cited

Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader. Pearson Education Limited, 1998

Abdur Rahim
Abdur Rahim

Assistant Professor, and Member of the Proctorial Body
Department of English Language and Literature (DELL), Premier University, Chattogram,
& Doctoral Fellow, English Department, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka.

Phone: +8801715638298


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