Culture, Affect, and Politics: an Introduction to Raymond Williams
Activist, critic, and key figure in the development of cultural studies, Raymond Williams was among the most influential radical intellectuals of the 20th century. The concepts and approaches he developed or helped to popularize—“structures of feeling,” “cultural materialism,” “keywords,” “dominant, residual, and emergent”—continue to shape new work in cultural studies, history, and literary theory. His study of the relationship between urban and rural landscapes, The Country and the City, has since become a foundational text of ecocriticism. And, his work continues to be a source of engagement for a new generation of feminists, Marxists, and critical race and postcolonial theorists—many of whom critically utilize the tools he helped develop to ask, with and against Williams: What is the relationship between culture, politics, and the economy? What would a materialist approach to culture—both “elite” and “popular”—look like? How might a truly radical system of popular education work? And, as Williams himself continuously asked, what is the role of writers, critics, artists, and teachers in creating and sustaining a democractic socialist culture?
In this course, we will read selections from Williams’ major works spanning several decades, including Culture and Society, The Country and the City, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, and Marxism and Literature. We will also read a number of essays that he wrote as part of his work in community education and selections from his autobiographical novel Border Country. Following Williams’ own approach, we will focus on a set of keywords that recur throughout his work, including “culture,” “community,” “education,” and “hegemony.” We will also read from works by some of Williams’ main influences, interlocutors, and critics, including E. P. Thompson, Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Catherine Gallagher, Terry Eagleton, and Lydia Liu. We’ll conclude by discussing Williams’ “resources of hope,” his attempt, in his words, at “making hope practical, rather than despair convincing.” How can we understand, hopefully but realistically, the resurgence of socialism as a cultural and political force today?
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
May 08 — May 29, 2023