Wolfgang Karrer

Raymond Williams

Williams, Raymond. Culture. London: Fontana, 1981.

 is a major contribution to cultural history and theory. Here is a short outline containing the major concepts.


Definition of culture = "a realized signifying system" 207

1. Toward a sociology of culture 9-32
   term, convergence of a "whole way of life" with "a whole social order";
   pre-history: Vico, Herder, Dilthey
   sociology: observational (institutions, content, effects)
   alternative: conditions, social relations in art, social material in art
   surveys of approaches: observational 17, alternative 21 recent convergences

2. institutions 33-56
= "Relations between cultural producers ...  and recognizable social institutions" 35: historic phases:

   part of a central social organization itself (e.g. celtic bard): honorable role in the
   official organization ranking below the priests and seers, forming a caste with them
   36 f, later specialized and stratified acc. to occasions (collective)

    (1) transition from inst. to patronage transitional (conscious exchange of services),
        travelling between households
    (2) retainer and commission (courts) individual artist retained by a court, or
        powerful household; creating commissioned work
    (3) protection and support (social protection), reputation and honor exchanged
    (4) sponsorship (subscription) sale of works aimed at the public,
       early support before market position was taken
    (5) the public as "patron" (tax supported) from revenues

    (1) artisanal (direct sale from producer)
    (2) post-artisanal (distr./prod intermediaries)
        a) sale through a distributive intermediary
        b) sale through a productive intermediary (classical capitalist way):
           booksellers > publishers
    (3) market professionals (copyright, royalties) + agents (changing perception
          of the  market)
    (4) corporate professional (new media) advertising

    (1) modern patronal (foundations, private subscribers)
    (2) intermediate (public revenue inst. Arts Council; governmental institutions)
    (3) governmental (departments of state, state employment, grants)·
3. Formations 57-86
"the variable relations in which'cultural producers' have been organized or have organized themselves" 35
= internal organizations of cultural produces from guilds to fractions, phases:

    bardic rules
    professional societies

    break away groups
    specializing groups

    (1) internal organization:
        - formal membership
        - collective public manifestation
        - conscious association or group identification
    (2) external relations
        - specializing
        - alternative
        - oppositional class fractions
    (3) simple complex formations 81
        - simple (e.g. writing)
        - complex (writing + painting + publishing)
        - international (avant garde)
      limits of formation analysis: general history / differences withing the formation

4. means of production  87-18
"the relations between the material means and the social forms within which they are used" 87

1) development of inherent resources: dance song speech 189

2) uses of non-human means 190: mask > instruments > writing systems > communication systems (coining, casting, graphic reproduction: hand copying, wood cut, printing)

3) social effects of reproduction systems 97, "variable degrees of symmetry between cultural production [ e.g. market] and general social and cultural production [e.g. state, church]" 98
    (1) controls and their limits  (censor)
    (2) State and market:
        - liberalizing market vs. state and church
        - cultural selection and cultural control through market lead to [
          market] cultural modes
        - complication:  new patronal or public funding [vs. market]
    (3) reproduced and popular culture
        - techniques and technology
        - technology and possible social relations (e.g. access)

4) new forms of cultural production 112
    (1) group production (professional division of labour)
    (2) group coordination (+ conscious management)
    (3) new divisions of labour ( + class division in cultural production: craft support:
    (4) ownership:
        - individual artist
        - professional company
        - capitalist owner / family
        combine arrangement
        - conglomerate
    (5) alternative forms; cable etc. direct access

5. identifications 119-147
"the ways in which, within social life, 'culture' and 'cultural producers' are socially identified and distinguished" 31 = def of art,

1) "aesthetic" purpose 122, definition by purpose raises problems:
    (1) diiferences between arts
    (2) differenes between works in value

2) the social processes of "art" 126 def as above = disguised social processes of
    setting apart certain practices,

3) The arts as social forms 130, social perception of art guided by [external] signals:
    (1) occasion
    (2) place
    (3) alternative  signals

4) the sociology of signal systems 138:
    (1) primary signal systems (e.g. quem quaeritis?)
    (2) intermediate stages (e.g. ritual > drama in Greece)
    (3) integrated systems (modern theater, art gallery ...)

5) Internal signals [within art forms]
= techniques, devices as changing modes of social self-perception (
    e.g. soliloqy - individualism)
    (1) formalist position
    (2) structuralist position
    (3) generic position

6. forms 148-78
"certain forms of social relationship are deeply embodied in certain forms of art." 148

1) Greek drama 148,
    (1) predramatic form: dithyramb (choric song)
    (2) new general form (collective / individual)
        - dialogue protagonist - chorus
        - dialogue protagonist - antagonist
        - addition of a third actor
    (3) revival opera / neo classic drama, selection of singing, recitative, speaking

2) English Renaissance drama 154,
    (1) speech: socio-linguistic range wide
    (2) action:  interaction of social order with social disintegration
          and of public and private
    (3) Restauration:
        Heroic drama restricted range, order, temporary incongruity
        comedy of manners: temporary congruity, negotiated compromise
         with disintegrating  bourgeois class, colloquial speech

3) bourgeois drama 163,
      (1) speech: quasi-colloquial ii
      (2) action: contemporary, indigenous (of audience), social extension
          and inclusiveness, iii,  a new secularism 172 iv
     (3) Evolution of the above:
         i naturalism, secularism: milieu-determination, scene > actor,
           privatized mode > public influence
        ii symbolic abstraction: myth ritual revival = a reaction, a rejection
           of the five factors in 1,2; mystery of the individual
        iii subjective expressionism Strindberg > Beckett, middle ground of i abandoned:
           subjective consciousness, isolation and exposure of the individual
        iv social expressionism: middle ground of i shifted to social processes / conflicts
            Toller > Kaiser > Brecht
        v competing alternatives today: TV, radio, film, theatre

7. reproduction 181-205

1) meanings of "reproduction" 185:
    (1) making a copy = uniform
    (2) biological generation - genetic
    (3) metaphorical: cultural reproduction (incliudes  1 and 2, more 1)
       education, tradition

2) variable distances of practices 189
    (1) most derminate level: practicies reproduce social relations (
         e.g. work wage labour) = no distance
    (2) degrees of distance: eg. cultural and political practices ('marginal' practices)

3) autonomies and determinations 191
distance acc. to cultural institution: variable from TV to minority art (eg. poetry)

4) Internal reproductions 193 = reproduction on different levels of form
    (1) modes (dramatic lyric, narrative) survive different  social orders
    (2) genres (tragedy, novel) subject tied to specific social orders
    (3) types (e.g. bourgeois drama, realist novel) tied to specific epochs
         of a social order
    (4) forms (e.g. specific mode of composition, appropriate  selection
        of subject matter), levels of reproduction.
        replication (e.g. mass produced series)
        formal production and reproduction (Milton)
        innovations (e.g. naturalism, expressionims)
        transitions (e.g. the older form under strain, e.g. F. Holt, and the inheritance
        plot); production and reproduction go together 201
5) social processes of innovation 201
    (1) rise of new social classes or fractions of classes
    (2) redefinition by an existing social class or fraction
    (3) changes in the means of cultural production
    (4) recognition, by specifically cultural movements, of the situations indicated
         in (1) and (2), at a level preceding or not directly joined to their articulate
         social organization
6) relations between social and cultural change 203
    (1) dominant (cultural forms and institutions) = reproduction
    (2) residual (past or exotic cultural forms still available) = alternative
    (3) emergent (new forms) = innovation

8. organization 206-233
"a general concept" 206 culture = a realized signifying system 207,

1) Culture a signifying system 207 in society:
    (1) economic
    (2) political
    (3) generational (kinship and family)
    (4) general signifying
relations between culture (4)  and the other three on the level of
institutions, practices and work
dissolution of (4) into (1), (2) or (3) or vice versa (money, dwelling, communication)

2) The sociology of "intellectuals" 214, = an application of 1)
    (1) relative distance (from economic production) e.g. church, party
    (2) types of integration (into dominant class) depends on institutional factors:
        market asymmetry (temporal and sectoral variations)
        privileged institutions (e.g. universities)
        alternative and oppositional formations

3) Historical changes 227
    (1) split into cultural Minorities / popular culture
    (2) expansion of cultural and educational bureaucracies
    (3) internationalization of cultural markets: cultural improt / exports
    (4) information processes have become central
    (5) persistent and major contradiction between social cultural production
         and still dominant [private]  control