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Raymond Williams And Post Colonial Studies Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 5438 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Twentieth century literary critic Raymond Williams was one of the most reputable, yet contested scholars from the British New Left. Once dubbed "our best man" in the New Left by his contemporaries, Williams's reputation in a post colonial context is less secure. [1] Patrick Brantlinger said it best: "Williams was thoroughly the representative man. He was the voice of the ordinary, the voice of the working-class, the voice of Wales, the voice of British socialism, the conscience of Britain and of Europe. He understood that his life mattered because it was ordinary, and representative." [2] However, the early 1980s signified the shift in political and economic relations between western and non-western countries through post-colonialism, including former British colonies. [3] Moreover, post-colonialism served as an avenue to "recover alternative ways of knowing and understanding or simply those 'other voices' as alternatives to dominant western constructs." [4] While Raymond Williams provides British colonial commentary, primarily in his seminal work, The Country and the City, it was in the periphery of his grander cultural theory. Scholars within the Birmingham School and post colonial studies have debated the implications of this, including Williams himself. Consequently, this essay will outline the scholarly debate regarding Raymond Williams's alleged ambivalence towards British colonialism and race within his conception of culture. This will allow for an examination of Williams's work within the context of postcolonial studies, particularly the legacy of his cultural theory in a modern context.

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Raymond Williams's analysis in The Country and City certainly coincides with postcolonial theories emphasis on geography, whether in conversations around spaces, centers, peripheries or borders. [5] This analysis is especially significant because as argued by Anthony Alessandrini, "postcolonial theory has benefited from the Marxist and Marxist-influenced analyses undertaken by figures involved in the post-Second World war movements against imperialism and for national liberation." [6] Alessandrini attributed "the 1970s and 1980s political work and cultural analysis of writers like Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy" for influencing major figures in postcolonial studies such as Franz Fanon and Edwards Said. [7] Therefore, as Alessandrini continued, "We would need to look more closely at the historical circumstances under which the field of postcolonial studies has arisen, and especially at the sorts of strategic decisions involved in the adoption or rejection of particular theoretical paradigms. [8] Paul Giles would certainly agree as he adds, "It would be disingenuous to ignore the fact that postcolonial scholarship in its contemporary guise has as one of its enabling conditions of possibility…the increasing attention paid to issues of subalternity and hegemony by forms of cultural Marxism such as those of Antonio Gramsci and Raymond Williams." [9] Consequently, this paper is framed around this very approach in regards to the work of Raymond Williams.

While few would question the merit or significance of Raymond Williams and his nuanced study of the nineteenth century British rural working class in both Culture and Society and the Long Revolution, there has been significant criticism of Williams due in part to his silence regarding British colonialism. This has proved to be disturbing for some, and certainly problematic for a number of Williams's contemporaries and successors even within the British New Left. Gauri Viswanathan provides an exceptional layout of the criticisms against Raymond Williams and the British New Left in general to conceptualize culture and imperialism. He outlines that within British cultural Marxist tradition since Williams, the conception of British nationalism has been used interchangeably with issues of race, colonialism, or imperialism. [10] This is quite evident in Raymond Williams's Keywords (1976), in which the definition of race is not a separate entry of its own, but is distinctively tied to ideas of nationalism. Williams writes:

Nation…originally with a primary sense of a racial group rather than a politically organized grouping. Since there is obvious overlap between these senses, it is not easy to date the emergence of the predominant modern sense of a political formation.... The persistent overlap between racial grouping and political formation has been important, since claims to be a nation, and to have national rights, often envisaged the formation of a nation in the political sense, even against the will of an existing political nation which included and claimed the loyalty of this [racial] grouping. It could be and is still often said, by opponents of nationalism, that the basis of the group's claim is racial. (Race, of uncertain origin, had been used in the sense of a common stock from C16 [sixteenth century]. Racial is a C19 [nineteenth-century] formation. In most C19 uses racial was positive and favourable, but discriminating and arbitrary theories of race were becoming more explicit in the same period, generalizing national distinctions in supposedly radical scientific differences. In practice, given the extent of conquest and domination, nationalist movements have been as often based on an existing but subordinate political grouping as upon a group distinguished by a specific language or by a supposed racial community. [11] 

Gauri Viswanathan attributes Raymond Williams's understanding of British nationalism as "less of a theoretical oversight or blindness than an internal restraint with complex methodological and historical origins." [12] Citing Raymond Williams's conception of base and superstructure, Viswanathan dissects Williams's methodology and level of comfort with Marxist framework. While Viswanathan highlights the dynamic nature of Williams's work as seemingly "accommodating a broadened analysis of culture" to include colonial relations, he ultimately concedes that Williams continually resisted that kind of refinement of his work. [13] Moreover, Viswanathan continued that this "base and superstructure" framework "restricted him [Williams] to solely economic determinist outcomes" and pointed to the "inefficacy of Williams's cultural materialism." [14] Hence Viswanathan concluded that Williams's model was inherently unable to accommodate British imperialism as a function of metropolitan culture due to the internal restraints of his "troubled self-conscious" with Marxian [15] frameworks.

Forest Pyle presented a similar commentary in his essay, "Raymond Williams and the Inhuman Limits of Culture." Pyle argues that since "language is a human instrument" it is consequently "inhuman" for Williams to consider culture as "the mapping of a particular historical configuration and of social, economic, and political life." [16] Moreover, Williams's cultural theory is beyond repair and cannot simply be "corrected" [17] due to the intertwined nature of culture and community within Williams's work. Therefore Pyle concludes that Raymond Williams's sense of culture "cannot account for the historical and structural forms of colonialism and its aftermath." Pyle then goes a set further than Viswanathan in asserting that this points to not "merely a personal limitation but a structural limitation" that is explicitly exhibited by Williams's unapologetic understanding of empire. [18] 

Both Pyle and Viswanathan provide interesting critiques in light of Raymond Williams's 1973 essay, "Base and Superstructure." Within this essay Williams stated that he had "no use or static or highly determined… model(s) in which the rules of society are highlighted to the exclusion of the processional and historical." [19] Yet as both Pyle and Viswanathan conclude, Raymond Williams's analysis does not apply this cultural materialism model within an imperial or colonial context. Viswanathan indentified Raymond Williams as having an "internal restraint" due to his understanding of British culture and national identity. [20] Therefore Williams's conception of "national culture" remained "hermetically sealed from the continually changing political imperatives of empire." [21] For example in The Country and the City, Raymond Williams classifies imperialism as "the last mode of the city and country…within the larger context of colonial expansion in which every idea and every image was consciously and unconsciously affected." [22] Ultimately, however, "British influence extended outward rather than that the periphery had a functional role in determining internal developments." [23] Consequently, Williams could only conclude that "Britain achieved dominance through the power of a fully formed cultural and institutional system which was transplanted and internalized within British colonies." [24] 

Unsurprisingly, Raymond Williams's cohorts within the Birmingham have attributed this kind of colonial analysis to racism or an egregious form of Eurocentrism on Williams's part. This is especially the case for those involved in black cultural studies, namely Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy. Stuart Hall openly critiqued the limitations of the Birmingham cultural theory in dealing with the "other" during his tenure as program director in the late 1960s. Hall found that the issues race and cultural relations as advocated by his predecessors were particularly oppressive to minority groups, therefore highlighting a departure of the School itself from Raymond Williams. [25] In "Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies," Hall discusses the question of race in cultural studies as a major break in the Birmingham School. He emphasizes:

Actually getting cultural studies to put on its own agenda the critical questions of race, the politics of race, the resistance to racism, the critical questions of cultural politics, was itself a profound theoretical….and sometimes bitterly contested internal struggle against a resounding but unconscious silence. A struggle which continued in what has since come to be known only in the rewritten history….of the Centre for Cultural Studies. [26] 

Paul Gilroy, who studied with Stuart Hall at the Birmingham School in England, focused on "postcolonial modes of deracination" within transatlantic culture. [27] As Paul Giles states, Paul Gilroy took issue with what he perceived as "traditional racism and ethnocentrism of English cultural studies," [28] citing in particular the tendencies of E. P. Thompson and Raymond Williams to systematically omit blacks from their analysis on British cultural identity. [29] Therefore, Gilroy viewed America as a counterpoint to British cultural analysis, and a means of disturbing any "narrowly ethnic definition of racial authenticity" or the "purity of cultures" on either side of the Atlantic. [30] Gilroy juxtaposed black culture in Britain with American black protest movements, in order to discredit conceptions of race, people or nation as advocated by Raymond Williams. In fact, Gilroy presents one of the most extreme critiques of Raymond Williams, charging him with proposing a "new racism" in his analysis of culture. [31] 

New Left scholar Benita Perry highlights that the new racism advocated by Raymond Williams was especially problematic for Paul Gilroy, who argued that New Left efforts in the 1960s to reclaim patriotism and nationalism resulted in ethnic absolutism. [32] She continues that the concept of culture itself became a "site of struggles over the meaning of race, nation, and ethnicity" for scholars interested in minority studies such as Gilroy. [33] The main issue for Gilroy was that Raymond Williams's conception of culture, with its emphasis on "long experience," deflected the "nation" away from "race", setting the course for British Cultural Marxists in general to write irresponsibly and quite ambivalently about "race". [34] Additionally, this excluded blacks from the "significant" entities due to Williams's silence on racism, which for Gilroy "has its own historical relationship with ideologies of Britishness and national identity. [35] This is very similar to the argument presented by Gauri Viswanathan earlier on the influence of Raymond Williams on British imperial and national scholarship. [36] 

Beyond overt notions Eurocentrism, Williams's critics vehemently opposed his understanding of the "long [British] experience" deriving from "rooted settlement," which excluded colonized groups and immigrants from the "significant" entity. [37] Paul Gilroy notes that the most egregious silence in Williams's work is his "refusal to examine the concept of racism which has its own historic relationship with ideologies of Englishness, Britishness and national belonging." [38] He adds, "There can be little doubt that blacks ... are familiar with the legacy of British 'bloody mindedness' in which he takes great pride. From where they stand it is easier to see that its present day cornerstones are racism and nationalism, its foundations slavery and imperialism." [39] Therefore, Gilroy concludes that cultures are not isolated from each other as Raymond Williams seemly implied in The Country and the City, but are linked to "the persistent crisscrossing of national boundaries." [40] 

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Additionally, Paul Gilroy discussed the implications of Raymond Williams's work for peoples of color residing in or immigrating to England. In direct response to Williams's position on "lived experience" and "rooted settlement," Gilroy pointedly asked: "How long is long enough to become a genuine Brit in the context of lived and formed identities?" [41] Gilroy argues, that Williams's favored the exclusion of immigrating peoples of color and contributed to a "new racism" grounded in a discourse of "nation," focused on "the enemy within" and without "race." [42] This new racism is rooted on cultural rather than biological determination, proving them undeserving of citizenship and creating "authentic and inauthentic types of national belonging." [43] This was a position that his Birmingham School program director, Stuart Hall agreed with as well.

Raymond Williams's requirements for British citizenship had major implications for those colonial "subjects" of the Commonwealth outside of Britain, such as Jamaican scholar Stuart Hall. These groups lacked the "settled kind" of identity and would certainly not qualify under this sort of citizenship as advocated by Raymond Williams as well. [44] Raymond Williams's commentary in Towards 2000 favored "lived and formed identities," preferably those of "a settled kind," for "practical formation of social identity" has to be "lived." [45] Williams continues: "Real social identities" are formed "by working and living together, with some real place and common interest to identify with". [46] Unsurprisingly, Stuart Hall retorts: "I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea. I am the sweet tooth, the sugar plantations that rotted generations of English children's teeth. There are thousands of others beside me that are, you know, the cup of tea itself. Because they don't grow it in Lancashire, you know. Not a single tea plantation exists within the United Kingdom"? What could Williams say to this-this "outside history that is inside the history of the English"? [47] 

Donald Nonini adds to this discussion in his analysis of Stuart Hall's critique of Raymond Williams. He writes: "The issue here for Stuart Hall, is the requirements of "real" and "lived" social identities, and the manner of exclusion of recent immigrants, who although residence of England, have only been there for a few generations. Clearly they do not share the "long historical association with the land and forcible integration" upon it as Williams required for real citizenship. [48] This had major implications on Stuart Hall's work within the Birmingham School because he could not ignore the racialized aspects of Raymond Williams's cultural theory. In his essay, "Culture, Community, and Nation," Hall equates Williams's "cultural belongingness" through "actual, lived relationships of place, culture and community, amongst politically and culturally subordinate peoples" as a replacement for biological determinism and "coded language for race and color". [49] Therefore, Stuart Hall agrees with Paul Gilroy that there is overt ethnic absolutism within Raymond Williams work. Moreover, Hall concludes that post-colonial "diasporas of the late-modern experience" will never be "unified culturally" because they are products of "cultures of hybridity." [50] Hall equates this "hybridity" to a "diasporic consciousness," which meant that non- retain strong links with the traditions and places of their origins while adapting to their present circumstances, so that they can "produce themselves anew and differently." [51] 

In defense of Raymond Williams, Andrew Milner argued that both Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy misinterpreted Williams's position on race, citing Towards 2000 as an example. [52] Milner writes that Williams was not only vocal about race, but advocated the kind of grassroots social movements that would raise awareness for the "heterogeneous strands" of English society. [53] In fact, Williams describes anti-globalization social movements as "resources ... of hope". [54] Additionally, Milner relates Williams' analysis of social movements to his understanding of class. He adds that for Williams, neo- imperialist issues led 'into the central systems of the industrial-capitalist mode of production and ... its system of classes'. [55] He supports his position quoting Williams discussion of "rooted settlements" in Towards 2000: "Rooted settlements were 'alienated superficialities' of 'legal definitions of citizenship' with the more substantial reality of 'deeply grounded and active social identities.'" [56] This interpretation, according to Milner, was problematic for future Birmingham School scholars, particularly Paul Gilroy, who concluded that Williams's "authentic and inauthentic types of national belonging" followed the same racist rhetoric of British conservatives. [57] Milner, however, maintains that this was a distortion of Williams's original argument. He ultimately concludes that future scholars should reexamine Williams's position on race. [58] 

Similar to Milner, Donald Nonini and Christopher Prendergast presents Towards 2000 as the best evidence of Williams conception of racism and visible "others" in a post colonial context. Nonini cites Williams's observation that "the most recent immigrations of more visibly different peoples…have misrepresented and obscured pasts". [59] Nonini continues that Raymond Williams did account for the differences within British culture and the contested nature of citizenship. For example, Williams wrote that when newly arriving immigrants interacted with "true Englishman"…"angry confusions and prejudices" were evident because of the repression of rural culture and people within Great Britain. [60] Nonini interprets this as a sign of Williams' internalized colonist sentiment. [61] Therefore, Raymond Williams understood racism as the result of the "hostility between the 'formerly integrated peoples' and the immigrating 'more visibly different peoples' due to colonial ideology." [62] Moreover, Andrew Milner continues that Raymond Williams did not exclude blacks from "a significant social identity with their white neighbors," as Paul Gilroy suggests highlighting Williams's analysis of rural mining communities in Towards 2000. [63] Additionally, Stuart Hall's assertion that Raymond Williams not only questioned, but ruled out the possibility that 'relationships between blacks and whites in many inner-city communities' can be 'actual' and 'sustained' is even more unfounded when analyzing Williams's work in Towards 2000. [64] 

Christopher Prendergast clarifies that Raymond Williams did not consider this as "actual racism," but a "profound misunderstanding" due to "purely social and cultural tensions" between the English working class and who they perceived as outsiders. [65] While Williams seems to side with the ordinary, working-class man, Prendergast does specify that Williams did counter nativist claims in his conclusion that "foreigners" and "blacks" were "just as British as we are." [66] Therefore, Prendergast maintains that Williams understood the limitations of a merely legal definition of what it is to be "British". He adds that Williams felt that attempts to resolve issues around social identities were often "colluded with the alienated superficialities of 'the nation' which were often limited to the functional terms of the modern ruling class". [67] Ultimately, both Prendergast and Milner conclude that Raymond Williams was not oblivious to racial relations, citing Williams again: "It is by working and living together ... as free as may be from external ideological definitions, whether divisive or universalist, that real social identities are formed." [68] 

While Milner and Prendergast offer an apologetic interpretation of Raymond Williams and colonial relations, Paul Giles and Forest Pyle emphasize William's conception of culture as the liability in his analysis. In his essay, "Virtual Americas: The Internationalization of American Studies and the Ideology of Exchange," Paul Giles cites Raymond Williams's idealized conception of community as an "empowering and socially cohesive force"as problematic. [69] Williams's stubborn insistence in holistic communities and rooted settlements creates significant challenges when dealing with imperial relationships. Seemingly, Raymond Williams's cultural analysis accommodates a broadened conceptualization of culture that is inclusive of "colonizer-colonized relations, yet this never materializes. Instead, Williams's understanding of the cultural experience becomes overtly exclusive of colonial others, minorities, and immigrants due to his naturalized and geographically localized notion of English national culture." [70] As outlined previously with Forest Pyle, Williams's appropriation of culture as "inhuman and fictional" due to the 'pervasive and elusive' nature of the term itself in relation to colonial analysis. [71] 

Post colonial scholar R. Radhakrishnan provides a critique of Raymond Williams's cultural theory as a means of deconstructing Eurocentrism in a post colonial context. While Radhakrishnan acknowledges the insight provided in The Country and the City, he argues that Williams's continual self-reflexivity posits him in a contradictory position when it relates to colonialism and culture. Therefore his commentary becomes both "oppositional-marginal and dominant-central" and ultimately coincides with a "demonstrably metropolitan voice." [72] As a result, those within the margins or periphery of dominant British culture are "too easily and prematurely adjusted and accommodated within what Williams considered as a 'connecting process towards a common history.'" [73] Radhakrishnan maintains that what differentiates post colonial scholars such as Edward Said or Paratha Chatterjee from Raymond Williams is their awareness and articulation of subaltern marginality that often negates Williams's notion of a "successfully transplanted method of cultural commonality." [74] In that sense British nationalism or culture can be enacted in the postcolonial context to the detriment of indigenous, peripheral cultures because it fails to "speak for them". Therefore, Radhakrishnan concludes that Williams's cultural analysis is incapable of dealing with the nuances of either a colonial or post colonial world.

Nevertheless, numerous scholars have worked to


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