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Reisverslag Cultural Chaos
16 januari 2012
Cultural Studies in England.
The first World War, a war that not only changed English society but also pushed Europe to the brink of destruction, is still one of the most decisive moments in the history of the European continent and one of the most gruesome and horrifying events in world history. The war created many problems, which were all supposed to be solved by politics, economics and bookish people, also in England, a land whose population fought a war overseas. The European politics of that time were capable of developing, creating and maintaining a dreadful European situation, legitimized by paranoid forms of nationalism, which was able to send an entire generation of young men to the slaughter.
During this War, English society was slowly falling apart. The lower class, which had the fight for their country due to conscription, was growing in size and the political higher classes were obviously failing to maintain a decent international and national order. Even after the war, victorious soldiers were abandoned when they returned to a fatherland which was deprived of economic chances and pride. English society, in the beginning of the twentieth century, needed a mysterious kind of cement which would prevent society from collapsing. The answer was found in the English culture and they used the study of the English language, the common language of the British people, to re-educate the people. The English language had to boost morale so that the British people would be able to rebuild their country and make their homeland fit again for heroes to live in. There was a need for a new answer: a readable teachable way to hold off horror and despair and to quicken the always amazing human capacity to rebuild even the most destructed world. Politics was not able to create the boost in morale, so the wartime national government gave culture a chance to show its worth.
A commission, made out of highly intelligent cultural researchers, was tasked to create a new way to teach the people about the British culture and its worth. There were many optimistic goals set, subjects which the new degree had to teach, like rational respect for human creativity, a horror for cruelty and oppression, a keen sensitivity to the variety of cultural pleasures and morality. The new study, or way of teaching which was to be created, needed luck, opportunity and emergency to be able to influence society. Time was ripe and the study of the English language was transformed to show a thrilling and brilliant potency. The subject did what it had to do and gave students ideals to live by.
With a similar narrative, Inglis tries create an image of English society in the beginning of the twentieth century, a period in which ‘cultural studies’ was created. The intellectuals came together to write the new degree and they were all scarred by the same experience: war. They all rejected the English ruling class which made able the revolting situation which was called war. They all came back wanting opportunities, but were disappointed instead. One of the most influential intellectuals influencing the group which was trying to write the new degree was F.R. Leavis. His contributions to what is now called Cultural studies are, According to Inglis, significant.
Leavis’ mind which captured the odd looking amalgamation of interests and subject matter, idealism and contingency in the Cambridge English degree, turned it into an intellectual instrument with which to confront and make sense of time. He transformed the study of English literature into a discipline of thought capable of confronting the world and naming its good and evil for what they are. English literature thus became, in the hands of Leavis, a moral code. Also, he did not analyzed societies as political-historical unities to understanding them as cultural organisms. He seeked instead a way of indentifying oneself as one member among many of a vast body politic. Each individual had the inevitable project to create a self which was self possessed. An individual was, according to Leavis, supposed to make their own mind up and become themselves. Leavis broke with the tradition in which the terms of a cultivated life were self explanatory and invented by the upper class in English society. A cultivated life consisted, according to the older higher ruling classes, out of private probity, public philanthropy and knowledge of cultural highlights coming from different European cultures. Leavis broke with this way of thinking and gave a voice to a new social class, which was unfamiliar within the walls of Cambridge and other British universities. People had to decide on their own what made a cultivated life and the terms of such a life were not self explanatory.
Leavis created a path for a ‘petit bourgeoisie’ class to walk on, a class which was pitted against the old ruling class. This class revaluated the study of English literature and combined the study with a new set of values. Leavis focused on the novel in general, because the novel was a mirror of the cultural and moral values in that given period of time. Cultural and moral values were always shifting and the novel in general created an image of this changes by showing what was good, bad and prominent in that given society. In a novel, the prosaic language of science and the poetic language of religion came together. Next to that, novels are always filled with question revolving moral puzzlement and self-examination. Thus the novel became the canonical form of both moral reflection and metaphysical formulation. Leavis was searching for moral values and the novel helped him in that quest because the novel created an image of the ‘ inevitable creativeness of ordinary every life’.
The thoughts and the works of Levis formed a certain base which later researchers could extend. Four of those well know researchers who did worked on this base were Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall and Edward Thompson. Hoggart used Leavis’ way of thinking to provide and answer for the period after the Second World War, a war even more destructive than the first. His greatest contribution to the study on culture was his emphasize on literature and culture which would never come close to the actual syllabus. He used the language of the so called ‘ practical criticism’ on smaller, less well known cultural pieces like poems. He focused on the pieces of culture which else would never been seen and with this he creates a way for other social classes to research culture. He used working class culture for the values and meanings embodied in its patterns and arrangements as if they were certain kinds of texts. He extended the reforms of Leavis and made a path for the lower classes, so that they too could be able to study culture. Leavis opened the door to the ‘petit bourgeoisie’ and Hoggart made the gateway even wider.
According to Stuart Hall, each of these researchers had something to add to the theories of Leavis. Hoggart was renowned for his focus on ‘lower’ forms of culture, which was not peculiar since he came from a working class family himself. Williams used his ‘’culture and society’ method to create a narrative about the development of culture. He uses analyses of novels to create a image of a certain moral development within the British society. He does not take a certain period of time and describes that culture of that time, but sketches a development towards a certain point in contemporary society. Edward Thompson, in his turn, broke with a certain technological evolutionism. They did not write their book so that they were able to be as textbooks, creating a new field of study, or a new theory. They did not want to create a new discipline. Books were written as response to the changing society and were about society itself. These people were trying to understand society through the study of culture.
Stuart Hall, in his essay about paradigms in cultural studies, tried to explain the difference between structuralism, which was a product of Marxism, and culturalism. He uses culturalism to construct structuralism and vice versa. He pitches strengths and weaknesses against each other to create images of the two definitions of culture, which each belong to a different paradigm.
First, Hall describes two different ways in which the notion of culture could be conceptualized. One relates culture to the sum of the available descriptions of culture through which society makes sense of and reflect their common experiences. This definition is mainly focused on experiences and the way people experience culture. Culture changes through time and this definition tries to make sense out of those changes. By using this definition, researchers were able to see a certain democratization and socialization of culture, a movement in which Leavis played a important role. Culture is not only something that belongs to the higher classes within society and it does not consist only out of masterpieces. With this notion, development became see-able and thus this is one of the notions Williams preferred.
The other notion belongs to the structuralistic view on culture and it is the opposite of the one which Hall mentioned earlier. Culture is certainly not a description of different meanings which were able to be connected to the notion of culture. Culture shows a relationships between elements in the whole way of life. Researchers are trying to research the active and indissoluble relationship between elements or social practices normally separated, in order to see how the interactions between all these practices and patterns are lived and experienced as a whole in any particular period in time. They see cultural structures in which certain practices get related with elements.
Hall also describes the influence that the other researchers had on each other. Williams and Thompson were pitted against each other multiple times because of their different views on conflicts within society and different ideas regarding working class culture.
According to Williams, the history of the idea of culture is a record of our reactions, in thought and feeling, which change conditions of our common life. This corresponds with the first notion of culture which was described by Hall. In his book, Culture and Society, Williams describes a development of culture. He points out that, while in the past, culture was the pastime of the ‘old leisured classes’ it is now ‘the inheritance of the new rising classes’. The rise of working class culture is the key in this development. He then describes that in a culture, which is dominated by a certain class, it is evidently possible both for members of the other classes to contribute to the common stock and for such contributions to be unaffected by or on opposition to the ideas and values of the dominant class, as we see with language. In Williams’ view, there is no distinguishable class culture, like bourgeoisie culture, because these kinds of culture are mostly affected by cultural influences that are not completely theirs. He prefers to speak in terms of a common culture which gets influenced by the different classes in society. ‘The common culture is not only a body of intellectual and imaginative work; it is also and essentially a whole way of life’.
Williams then continues to describe working class culture as a basic collective idea, and the institutions, manners, habits of thought and intentions which proceed from this. This also corresponds with the culturalistic definition of culture. Williams also places a certain emphasizes the solidarity on which English working class society is based. This solidarity is underlying the national culture and this is one of the notions of community, the other being a notion revolving service. Williams thinks that solidarity is potentially the real basis of society, but he does acknowledged the fact that a society, which is being hold together by the notion of solidarity, should try to change the defensive aspects of solidarity. Solidarity does not mean exclusion. A common culture creates this certain feeling of common solidarity, a solidarity which affects the entire society. It ties society together. Popular cultural representations are representations of the common culture, as a whole. ‘the idea of a common culture brings together, in a particular form of social relationship, at once the idea of natural growth and that of its tending’. With natural growth, Williams refers to the will of an individual to become better. Its tending has to do with training to individual to be better.
So, Williams sees a culture which consists out of the contributions of smaller ‘cultures’ to the common stock. A national culture which is reinforced by the English language, a common languages and thus an common trait of the English people. The common culture is the popular culture. A good example of this ‘common stock’ is the fact that both higher and lower classes can contribute to the common language. Williams stated: ‘It is still thought for instance that a double negative is incorrect English, although millions of English-speaking persons use it regularly: not, indeed, as a misunderstanding of the rule, which they might be thought too ignorant to apprehend; but as a continuation of a habit which has been in the language continuously since Chaucer. The broad ‘a’, in such words as ‘class’ is now taken as the mark of an ‘educated person’, although till the eighteenth century it was mainly a rustic habit, and as such despised’.
This is actually one of the point on which Williams and Thompson clash, because Thompson does not see the common stock. He prefers to see a kind of class struggle that defines culture. Classes within society have a different relation with culture. According to Hall, Thompson’s oeuvre is mainly based on notions as class struggle, popular struggle and historical forms of class consciousness. Consciousness refers to the fact that there is a certain knowledge within an individual about to which class it belongs. This, in turn, shows us that there is a certain class solidarity which is underlying this sub-culture, the working class culture.
According to Thompson, no ‘whole way of life’ is without dimension of struggle and confrontation between opposed ways of life. There is thus no such thing as a common culture and Thompson tries to give his arguments more strength by describing class struggle in his book, The Making of the Working Class. He describes the creation of English working class culture and he also criticized Williams’ earlier made statements regarding the definition of working class culture. According to Thompson, working class culture is not a basic collective idea, and the institutions, manners, habits of thought and intentions which proceed from this, but he thinks that these ideas arose from common experiences. Working class culture is thus a product of industrial society, and not the other way around. Society creates the working class and not vice versa.
Summarizing, it can be said that Williams and Thompson have two different opinions regarding popular culture, or common culture. Thompson sees popular culture which is represented by strikes, revolution and a general struggle against the ruling class or the bourgeoisie culture, while Williams describes popular culture as the common culture. The common culture gets represented by a common language and an underlying solidarity and its consists out of higher and lower culture.
What once started as a way to teach morals changed in a way to analysis cultures within society. The teachings of Leavis were used for personal goals, like Williams, who uses cultural analysis to strengthen the new left movement, which came into being coterminous with this kinds of writing. We do not know if Leavis intended it to be used this way, but this way of analyzing English society do gives us a lot to think about.
16 januari 2012 18:11 | Door: ma
Interresant Jes ik lees het nog weleens Oke???
7 februari 2012 07:12 | Door: bernadette
hoi jes,mijn engels is niet zo goed,maar het ziet er indrukwekkend uit,voor straks een hele goede reis.(trek wel een warme trui aan-als je die nog hebt)
tot ziens in ons koude kikkerlandje
19 mei 2018 10:38 | Door: Abdur Rehman
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