In the contemporary world the concept of culture can hardly be defined because different people have different views of culture. In fact, this is probably one of the most arguable concepts of the contemporary society and many authors paid a lot of attention to the research of the problem of culture. Among the variety of works dedicated to culture, it is possible to single out the works written by Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton. It is worth mentioning that the latter is a follower of Raymond Williams who may be viewed as the predecessor of Terry Eagleton. This is actually why in their works it is possible to trace certain similarities, though each author has his own, unique and original view on culture, but what really unites both authors is the fact that they attempted to research the concept of culture in the historical context. In such a situation, it is quite natural that they have revealed the fact that culture and the surrounding world, socio-economic and political reality are closely intertwined and produce a mutual impact on each other.
At the same time, the analysis of the major works of Raymond Williams, “Keywords” and Terry Eagleton, “The Idea of Culture”, is very important since it helps better understand the current trends that take place in the contemporary society not only in regard to culture but also to the contemporary lifestyle, identity of people, socio-economic and political order.
Raymond Williams’ “Keywords”
Basically, the problem of culture is very important to many authors and Raymond Williams is not an exception. In his work “Keywords” he attempts to research the concept of culture and its impact on society as well as the impact of society and the material world on the development of culture and basic values and principles accepted by society. Speaking about his book, it is necessary to point out that it has a very symbolic title that give a sharp insight into the essence of the entire work: “Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society”. The title reveals the intention of the author to interlink the concept of culture and society which are apparently inseparable for the author and should be viewed as two essential elements of the life of people.
At the same time, it should be said that the book basically represents a kind of vocabulary where the author provides the interpretation of different words. However, it is not an ordinary etymological research. In fact, the author does not want to give just the definition of the keywords he described in his book. Instead, he attempts to interpret them into the cultural context, taking into consideration primarily their cultural meaning and origin than their etymology. This is a very important fact that reveals the extent to which culture is significant to the author since Raymond Williams underlines that words reflect the society and its essence.
In fact, through the interpretation of different keywords, the author attempts to conduct a research of the sociology of the language. He argues that the language reflects the major cultural changes, which, in their turn, are determined by the impact of the surrounding reality, including socio-economic and political impact. In such a situation, the development of culture is substantially influenced by the external, material changes that take place in society, while internal evolution and cultural changes are basically the effects of the change in the conditions of the life of people, their socio-economic and political reality.
At the same time, it should be said that the language is viewed by the author as the mirror reflecting the society and its basic characteristics. Raymond Williams lays emphasis only on the key words which actually help him to interpret not only the culture but rather the entire epoch since these words are the unique characteristic of each epoch. To put it more precisely, the author argues that the same words may acquire different shades of meaning in different epochs to the extent that the original meaning of a word may be absolutely different or even irrelevant to the contemporary interpretation of this word. In such a way, words and their meaning evolve throughout different epochs and reflect changes in culture. These changes take place under the impact of the socio-economic and political development which, to a significant extent, defines the development of the dominant ideology and lifestyle of people.
In such a way, the author traces the evolution of political and moral values of society which found their reflection in the language. Obviously, the language becomes a major medium conveying a profound socio-cultural change in society and Raymond Williams emphasizes that this change affects the key concepts of people affecting their traditional views of various concepts hidden in keywords.
On analyzing some of the key concepts interpreted and discussed in details by the author in his book, it is possible to dwell upon the definition of the word “materiality” and its derivatives, which characterize the evolution of the 20th century society when materialist values and materialist attitude to life and the surrounding world became dominant in human society under the rapid development of economy, new technologies and science. It should be pointed out that the concept of materiality has evolved throughout the modern era acquiring certain multitude of shades of meaning under the impact of dramatic changes in the life of people. To put it more precisely, the modern era is heavily charged with philosophical and aesthetical implications which are often accompanied by the word “materiality”. Raymond Williams underlines that there was a tendency to associate material with “worldly” affairs and an attendant distinction, of class kind, between people occupied with material activities and others given to spiritual pursuits (164). In such a way, the word “materiality” may be viewed as a marker distinguishing people belonging to different classes and therefore having different cultural preferences, tastes, values, etc. At the same time, Raymond Williams is also conscious of the fact that in the course of time the role of materiality increases in the modern epoch. Gradually, it replaces the traditional view of the materiality and makes it a dominant trend that affects the life of practically all people who are pursuing the achievement of material prosperity and for whom materiality is practically the synonym of the concept of the respect and wealth. As the matter of fact, materiality became a concept that defines the social status of an individual, defining his/her place in the social hierarchy of the contemporary society because material prosperity plays the key role in the social ranking of an individual.
At the time, Raymond Williams also pays a lot of attention to the concept of medium which affects consistently the contemporary culture and society. In this respect, it should be said that the author is conscious of the significant impact of media on the contemporary society and attempts to trace the change that this key word of the present epoch has undergone in the course of the development of the contemporary culture. In fact, Raymond Williams emphasizes medium as “the objectified properties of the working process itself” (161). Basically, the author focuses on the relations embodied in media that are constructed by subsequent material processes, namely by printing and distribution. In such a way, he closely interlinks the material processes and its impact on media, which, in their turn, convey the message to the public affecting the public perception of the events that take place in the surrounding world, formation of the basic values and principles.
Raymond Williams urges the reconsideration of the modern media as social practices where any medium functions as a habitat rather than just a specific material means of communication. In other words, the author draws the attention of the audience to the fact that the modern media should be viewed not only as the means of communication, but, what is even more important, as the means of the formation of certain cultural values, norms, traditions, and rules. This is very important finding, taking into consideration the constantly increasing role of media in the contemporary society. On the other hand, such an interpretation of media is the unique characteristic of modern epoch and, apparently, media were interpreted in a different way in past epochs when they were predominantly means of communication.
In general, the book written by Raymond Williams is a very valuable source of information about the key changes in the basic concepts of the words that perfectly characterize the modern epoch. It should be said that the author used cultural analysis of the language sociology and the impact of political and socio-economic changes on the vocabulary and language used by people. He revealed the fact that some words tend to change their original meaning consistently under the impact of the changes in the surrounding world, socio-economic and political situation.
Terry Eagleton’s “The Idea of Culture”
Terry Eagleton in his book “The Idea of Culture” also attempted to research the concept of culture. Similarly to Raymond Williams the author stands on the ground that culture is closely interlinked with the material world and it is highly dependent on the socio-economic and political environment of individuals. At the same time, it should be said that the book created by Terry Eagleton goes further than the work of his predecessor and a teacher, in a way, Raymond Williams. To put it more precisely, Terry Eagleton does not only attempt to understand and interpret the modern concept of culture but he also juxtaposes it to the surrounding material world. In such a way, the author develops his dialectic view of the culture as opposed to nature and material world. As the matter of fact, the entire book is based on such dialectics but, nevertheless, he manages to avoid the condemnation of the popular culture which has been criticized by his predecessor, Raymond Williams. In actuality, this fact is very important because it indicates to the strong trend in the work created by Terry Eagleton to avoid rigidity.
Basically, the author attempts to evaluate the concept of culture in its contemporary meaning objectively avoiding biased attitudes to culture and factors that influence its development in the contemporary society. At the same time, it should be said that dialectics and dualism of his book often leads to some paradoxical ideas that the author develops in “The Idea of Culture”. For instance, he underlines that “it is hard to resist the conclusion that the word “culture” is both too broad and too narrow to be greatly useful” (Eagleton, 48).
The author pays a lot of attention to the interpretation of culture in the contemporary society. He underlines that the concept of culture is a very complicated concept that can be interpreted in different ways. He argues that culture may be perceived and interpreted in different ways under different circumstances and in different environment. It should be pointed out that Terry Eagleton dedicated the first two chapters of his book to the description of the complexity of the interpretation of the concept of culture and, in such a way, he proves the fact that it is really difficult to arrive to a common, homogeneous view of the concept of culture. In such a context, it seems to be quite natural that he views culture as too broad and too narrow simultaneously. Making such a paradoxical, at first glance, conclusion the author emphasizes the possibility of the extremely diverse interpretations of the culture.
In this respect, it should be said that Terry Eagleton is quite different from Raymond Williams who was more rigid and strict in his interpretations. In fact, unlike Terry Eagleton, Raymond Williams does not really admit the possibility of such a wide variation of interpretations of a concept in one and the same epoch. What is meant here is the fact that Raymond Williams admits the possibility of the consistent variation of the interpretation of the concept of culture as well as other concepts in terms of different epochs since the interpretation of concepts may evolve and change under the impact of the changes in the environment, evolution of socio-economic and political relations, but he does not really admit that the concept of culture, for instance, may have a multitude of shades of meaning in terms of one and the same epoch and society. In contrast, Terry Eagleton argues that such a variation in the interpretation of such crucial concepts as culture may vary within the society even in terms of one and the same epoch.
Moreover, the difference between Terry Eagleton and Raymond Williams grows even more obvious when their style and the presentation of their views are analyzed. To put it more precisely, Raymond Williams provides clear and precise interpretations of basic concepts, keywords, which characterize the epoch and its culture. It is through this precise and accurate interpretation the author emphasizes the difference between the traditional interpretation or original one and the interpretation of certain concept in the modern epoch, for instance. Obviously, such a mode of the presentation of his ideas and concepts is quite rigid and it practically does not admit any arguments, at least within the book.
In stark contrast, Terry Eagleton underlines the dualistic nature of the concept of culture and he attempts to oppose it to nature and the surrounding reality which dramatically affect the formation of the concept of culture. As the matter of fact, he admits the fact that the concept of culture is influenced by the individual’s environment and, in this regard, it is possible to speak about the similarity of his views to those of Raymond Williams. But, at the same time, Terry Eagleton underlines that it is impossible to view the concept of culture as an absolute concept that is defined identically by different people. In fact, he argues that people living in one and the same society can have a different concept of culture and different cultural values because they live in a different environment. Consequently, it is obvious that, in such a context, the concept of culture should be viewed as a large concept which could have various interpretations.
Furthermore, the author also lays emphasis on the dramatic impact of the political situation on the development of culture. In this regard, Terry Eagleton basically has the views similar to Raymond Williams who also stated that the culture and the material world are closely intertwined. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that Terry Eagleton goes further in his research of the concept of culture and the impact of socio-economic and political factors. He develops the idea of the cultural wars, which, according to the author, are currently taking place in the contemporary society. In such a way, the author reveals that the culture is opposed by the natural, material processes which may contradict as well as affect the development of culture. The cultural wars are characterized by the author as the process of the spread of one culture and the assimilation or weakening of others. To put it more precisely, Terry Eagleton underlines the overwhelming impact of the American culture on other cultures of the world. Due to the dominant position of the US, the American culture and lifestyle grows more and more widely spread and popular in the world. At the same time, the author indicates to the fact that such a spread of the culture as well as the essence of American culture is defined by the policy of the US and the development of this country in global terms. In this respect, it is worth mentioning that the author draws the attention of the audience to the fact that Americans use the word “America” far more than Danes use the word “Denmark”, this, he believes, “is what happens when your view of other countries is for the most part through a camera lens or a bomber” (Eagleton, 137). In such a way, the author emphasizes the profound impact of the political dominance and aggressive foreign policy of the US on the national culture and the cultural identity of Americans who are conscious of the superiority of their country over the rest of the world and therefore their cultural views may be influenced by such a political situation. In other words, the current dominant position of the US defines the trend to the dominance of American superiority in the cultural field and the superior self-perception of Americans which is often contrasted to inferior self-perception of other people. Such a huge disparity leads to the cultural wars when the dominating and dominant cultures come into clashes. This field was merely discussed by Raymond Williams who basically focused on the concept of culture and its formation and evolution in terms of one and the same society. Moreover, Terry Eagleton also attempts to suggest the possible development of the common culture which could be universal for all people that brings in certain idealism in his book which is not a characteristic of the book written by Raymond Williams.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the views on the concept of culture may vary consistently. The analysis of works “Keywords” and “The Idea of Culture”, written by Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton respectively, reveal the fact that even the authors that have similar views and ideas can develop different approaches to the concept of culture. Nevertheless, it should be said that, in spite of significant differences discussed above, it is still possible to trace some similarities which are the characteristic of the contemporary culture. To put it more precisely, both authors agrees that the culture and its development are consistently affected by the material world, by the environment in which individuals live and under the impact of which their cultural identity is shaped. At the same time, they also agree that the modern media play a very important role in the development of culture because they evolved from the traditional means of communication into the means of the construction of cultural values and norms.
Eagleton, T. The Idea of Culture. New York: Willey-Blackwell, 2000.
Williams, R. Keywords. Oxford University Press, 1985.
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