Raymond Williams


Raymond Williams : biography

31 August 1921 – 26 January 1988


Williams’s position about other writers on culture and society may surprise some readers. For example, in his short book about George Orwell, he sharply criticizes a figure with whom many people assume he has much in common. Williams also wrote in a critical way about Marshall McLuhan’s writings on technology and society. This is the background to the chapter in Television: Technology and Cultural Form (1974) called "The Technology and the Society." In it, Williams defended his visions against technological determinism, focusing on how the social has a prevalence over the technological when it comes to the development of human processes. In his words, ‘Determination is a real social process, but never (as in some theological and some Marxist versions)… a wholly controlling, wholly predicting set of causes. On the contrary, the reality of determination is the setting of limits and the exertion of pressures, within which variable social practices are profoundly affected but never necessarily controlled.’. His book on Modern Tragedy may be read as a response to The Death of Tragedy by the conservative literary critic George Steiner. Later, Williams was interested in the work of Pierre Bourdieu, though opining that the latter was too pessimistic in terms of the possibilities for social change.

Last years

By the 1970s, Williams was a Plaid Cymru member and a Welsh nationalist.Plaid Cymru website, http://www.english.plaidcymru.org/our-history/ He retired from Cambridge in 1983 and spent his last years in Saffron Walden. While there, he wrote Loyalties, a novel about a fictional group of upper-class radicals attracted to 1930s Communism. He was also working on People of the Black Mountains, an experimental historical novel about people who lived or might have lived around the Black Mountains, the part of Wales he came from. It is told through a series of flashbacks featuring an ordinary man in modern times, who is looking for his grandfather who has not returned from a hill-walk. He imagines the region as it was and might have been. The story begins in the Paleolithic, and was intended to come right up to modern times, always focusing on ordinary people.

Raymond Williams had completed it to the Middle Ages by the time he died in 1988. The book was prepared for publication by his wife, Joy Williams. It was published in two volumes, along with a postscript that gives a brief description of what the remaining work would have been. Almost all of the stories were completed in typescript, generally revised many times by the author. Only "The Comet" was left incomplete and needed some small additions to make a continuous narrative.

In the 1980s, Williams made important links with debates in feminism, peace, and ecology social movements, and extended his position beyond what might be recognized as Marxism. He concluded that because there were many different societies in the world, there would be not one, but many socialisms.

The Raymond Williams Society was established in 1989 "to support and develop intellectual and political projects in areas broadly connected with Williams’s work". Since 1998 the Society has published Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism, which is "committed to developing the tradition of cultural materialism" that he originated. The Raymond Williams Centre for Recovery Research was opened at Nottingham Trent University in 1995. The Raymond Williams Foundation (RWF) supports activities in adult education. A collaborative research project building on Williams’s investigation of cultural keywords, called the ‘Keywords Project’, was established in 2006 and is supported by Jesus College, University of Cambridge, and the University of Pittsburgh. Similar projects building on Williams’s legacy include New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society, edited by cultural studies scholars Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg, and Meaghan Morris, and , edited by Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler.