Raymond Williams’ ‘Culture is Ordinary’

Length: 5 Pages 1219 Words

Raymond Williams' (1921 - 1988) essay 'Culture is Ordinary' was written in 1958, a decade that was significant for its rise of commercial media and popular art in Western Society. In order to maintain a clear distinction between Popular Arts and High Arts, F.R Leavis (1895-1978) introduced his traditional definition of 'culture' inspired by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888). According to Williams' critique on Leavis and Arnold, this paper will discuss Arnold's and Leavis' classical ideas of culture and contrast those with Williams' anthropological definition of culture in order to highlight to what extent Williams contributed crucially to traditional Cultural Studies. In order to illustrate Williams' idea of ordinary culture, I will draw upon the British stencil street artist Robert Banks, also known as 'Banksy'. By arguing that street art embodies social movement and a resistance towards a hegemonic culture, I will outline that the working- class has therefore its own meaningful cultural institutions which contribute to the shaping of contemporary culture. In conclusion, I will state that any other definition of culture is discriminating towards any other societies and cultures worldwide. According to Leavis 'culture' is the intellect Continue...


As Arnold so does Leavis judges the 'Mechanical Age' for theloss of sense for quality. Inspired by Arnold, Leavis argues that only anacademically educated "literacy minority" that is able to make anintellectual distinction from trivial and high art is the remedy for thiscultural decline (Williams, 1966: 248). I put it another way: that there are in fact no masses, but only ways of seeing people as masses. , 1933: 12)In conclusion, Williams presents a socialist definition of 'culture' inrespect and awareness of other existing societies and their own individualsocial experience. Williams agrees "that society is poor indeed if it has nothingto live by but its own immediate and contemporary experience" (Williams,1966: 248). In other words,while a classical piece of art such as a Picasso is a stable culturalproduct whose meaning and value is merely obtained through its status of'just being a Picasso', street art has a more meaningful impact on culturein that it reflects contemporary social issues through visual echoes of"often marginalized and unheard voices" (Garcia, 2006: 1). In this context, Fedorak argues that street art has a morecrucial effect on contemporary culture "than the finest painting orsculpture in that it holds myriad messages that are interpreted, contested,and even transformed by its audience" (Fedorak, 2009: 71). , 1993:5) "Where culture meant a state or habit of the mind, or the body of intellectual and moral activities, it means now, also a whole way of life. Arnold defines culture as a perfection of the human mind, achievablethrough popular education in "the best that has been thought and written inthe world" (Arnold in Williams, 1966: 130). This separationleads to class division and creation of an elite "intolerant of anycontemporary social commitment" (Williams, 1966: 256).