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Raymond Williams’ intellectual history of ‘culture’

A Graphic Essay

Jared Spears, with art by Julie Saumagne

Raymond Williams (1921-1988) was a pioneering scholar in the field of culture studies in Britain. For Williams, it was ‘impossible to carry through any serious cultural analysis without reaching towards a consciousness of the concept itself: a consciousness that must be...historical.’ Works including ‘The Idea of Culture’ traced the evolution of the modern concept in Britain. Understanding the ways in which ‘culture’ evolved as a response to industrialization and democratization ultimately led Williams to deploy the term in an inclusive sense, to include ‘whole ways of life’. Denying the neat compartmentalization of human activity into politics, economics, and culture, this understanding encompasses the whole array of human activity, including representative as well as ‘lived’ processes by which people construct social reality and invest it with meaning.

His work continues to be drawn upon, debated and amended in scholarship around the world and across fields including sociology, philosophy, and cultural studies. 

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